Lebanon’s rapid urbanization through the prism of Italian architect Aldo Rossi’s work
A symposium and an exhibit marked the publication of the Arabic translation of Rossi’s book by Dr. Elie Haddad, LAU assistant dean of Architecture and Design.
Dr. Elie Haddad, LAU assistant dean of Architecture & Design, talks about why he decided to translate into Arabic Italian architect Aldo Rossi's 1984 book, A Scientific Autobiography, with the hope that Arabs will re-examine their approach to architecture.
Dr. Alberto Ferlenga, an Italian architect and author who has written extensively about Rossi, with Dr. Rachid Chamoun, director of LAU's Urban Planning Institute; Dr. Maroun Daccache, chair of LAU's Department of Architecture; and other attendees at the exhibition.
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The concepts of the late Italian architect Aldo Rossi were re-examined within the context of Lebanon’s rapid urbanization, during a symposium held yesterday at LAU Beirut’s Irwin Hall Auditorium.
The event was organized to mark the release of an Arabic translation of Rossi’s 1984 book, A Scientific Autobiography, which was translated by Dr. Elie Haddad, assistant dean of LAU’s School of Architecture & Design and associate professor of architecture at LAU.
Several renowned architects from Europe and North America gave presentations on the life and work of Rossi during the symposium, which was followed by an exhibition of Rossi’s drawings in the Sheikh Zayed Hall.
“Some people never die; they leave marks on this earth that keep us inspired,” said Dr. Elie Badr, assistant provost for Academic Programs and acting dean of the School of Architecture & Design, which organized the event.
“What caught my attention in his [Rossi’s] writing is the fact that he argued that a city must be studied and valued as something constructed over time,” Badr added, before quoting Rossi saying, “A city remembers its past and uses that memory through monuments, that is, monuments give structure to the city.”
“What is happening in Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular would probably make Aldo Rossi a very sad man because, as you can see, our city is not being fair to its history and we witness this on a daily basis,” Badr said, expressing hope that the architecture students who filled the Irwin Hall Auditorium would be inspired by Rossi’s teachings.
In his speech at the symposium, Haddad talked about the difficulty in translating the text from an English version while struggling to capture its meaning and finding the correct Arabic terminology.
“The important thing in the end is to respect the spirit of the text … and to bring it to the Arab world with the hope that it would lead them to re-examine their current approach to architecture, an approach which is leading us day after day to the irrevocable destruction of our heritage under the irrelevant promise of joining the league of international cities,” Haddad said.
He noted that Rossi was due to make a visit to Lebanon in November 1997 but was killed in a car accident a few weeks before the trip.
“If he had come to Lebanon, Rossi would not have been very impressed with the new skyscrapers, or with most of the new construction in the [Beirut] city center, and certainly not with the wild urbanization of the whole territory extending from the city to the mountains,” Haddad said.
“But he would have still found some consolation in some urban districts where some urban life survived despite the threats of the so-called ‘development’ which is gradually eradicating the urban fabric of the city under false promises of a new utopia, a utopia for the select few,” added Haddad.
During the 1970s, Rossi’s concepts and approaches to architecture were considered groundbreaking and sometimes controversial by his colleagues.
“He started to talk about urbanism and not city planning, which means he looked at the city as a whole, designing the building as a part of the city and not as an isolated volume,” said Dr. Pia Simmendinger, a professor of architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), where Rossi also taught from 1972-1974.
She added that Rossi left a notable impact on the school and that his teachings remain heavily emphasized in the curriculum.
Dr. Alberto Ferlenga, an Italian architect and author who has written extensively about Rossi, spoke about Rossi’s construction of the modern theory in architecture as well as its relevance and importance. He specifically focused on Rossi’s examination of the relationship between monuments and urban fabric.
He said Rossi believed that “the ability to understand and to improve the living places of human beings, and not the production of objects and fashion, can constitute the necessity of the work of the architect.”
Dr. Mary Lou Lobsinger, associate professor of architecture at the University of Toronto, Canada, also gave a presentation at the event, which was sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute in Beirut and the Fondazione Aldo Rossi.