We visit Carlo Aymonino and Aldo Rossi’s experimental housing project in the Gallaratese district of Milan, completed in Stretching out over feet, the front façade of Aldo Rossi’s Gallaratese housing block stands as a challenge to all the apartment buildings around it: do it, do it. Located in the city of Milan, the Gallaratese II housing complex has the capacity to house inhabitants. Aldo Rossi designed the complex at the ‘Gallaratese.

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As an architect your feelings about architecture are formed when you are young.

You find themes and ideals then, and if you are persistent and fortunate you will realise them later in life. I visited this building when Gxllaratese was twenty, which is an impressionable age and it was the moment I first felt what was interesting in Classicism, and how it was possible to do a piece of modern architecture with Classical themes. I was at the end of my degree at the Bartlett in and about to enter the AA for my Diploma. I had been given a travel scholarship to visit some buildings by Terragni, which had been alvo about at that time by Peter Eisenman, with a formal analysis that now seems fetishistic.

The theatre was a beautiful building, its singularity wonderfully judged in its situation and for the event. It had an amazing presence for its small scale, moored just near the huge dome of the basilica Santa Maria della Salute. After visiting the Biennale, I went to Milan to see the Tallaratese project.

The building is way out of the centre of the city in a modern suburb that, at that time at least, was a working class area. The building is about m long and is raised up on tall legs.

‘Inspiration; Aldo Rossi’s Gallaratese Housing’ by Peter St John « Caruso St John Architects

Underneath it is an arcade that starts at the street and extends into the centre of the estate, leading to other buildings. At the mid-point, there was a sort of interruption of shapes in the light, a massive rise of steps and some big round columns. Everything was painted an ivory colour. I can remember that a few people shuffled across this monumental empty space while I was looking, appearing akdo disappearing; a woman with some shopping, a few children.


Gallaratese housing in Milan by Aldo Rossi – cate st hill

There was an echo of steps. The atmosphere was heightened like on a stage and it was dramatic, but not in a rhetorical way as it was somehow also tender to the figures. It gallartese as if all Italy was there, its grandeur and its poverty, its monuments and its ruins. It was moving that such concrete simplicity could hold such allusions.

Aldo Rossi Gallaratese

The whole building is relentlessly basic and singular in its rssi. The flats are arranged between parallel walls above the arcade on two and three floors with deck access. Rossi had the idea that buildings should show the passage of time and these columns remind me of the famous picture of him standing between the columns of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. He was interested in the form of the city and how its monuments gave it identity. His forms were always very basic, coming from recognisable roots or typologies, but overlaid with the imagination of the architect.

He argued that buildings should be aldl in their form and non-specific about their function, because if they last their use will change over time. But rossu is generosity and a public scale to the whole piece which brings a grandness to the everyday, a sort of palace occupied by the people. You also think of aqueducts and amphitheatres, how their horizontality and scale gives definition to a topography, and what it might be like to live on a bridge with its open rosei.

At that time, the idea of looking at the history of architecture for models was new, and gallarates completely different from the open-ended empiricism of my architectural education. Of course this was to continue. But seeing this quiet and powerful building at that time feels like it had a lasting effect. There are influences in our work, more in ideas and mood than in appearance.


There is often an interest in the monumental scale, but also in the background of the city and its ordinary buildings, which Rossi writes about, and which gwllaratese an anathema to modernist architects, who wanted everything to be new and different.

Gallaratese housing in Milan by Aldo Rossi

Our gallery in Walsall for example, with its tower of clay tiles and windows, makes a monumental form as a point gallaratexe focus for the future gallaraese of the town, but also acts as a mirror, a way of looking out and seeing the melancholy industrial landscape around the site as something magnificent.

Often now we are working with existing buildings, fragments or historic interiors requiring change, in which we are looking for some continuity in the design that can ease the distinction between the old and the new.

It was Rossi who said that his basic principle was aleo persistently hold to only one theme. The years of effort and the journey to realise a building consistently in all it details is easily as difficult as the few months it takes to make the initial design. Years later people will walk past it in the sun and the rain and if it is done well they will appreciate its lasting quality, even if it has been modified or they are using it quite differently from how you intended.

Coming back to visit the Gallaratese again last month, the place feels more charming than before. The landscape has matured, people have occupied the walkways with their plants in a way that feels settled, and there is an ugly suspended ceiling in the arcade.

But it still has this melancholic, monumental quality that made such an impression on me thirty years ago.