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Book Review-Chapter One: The structure of urban artifacts

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Chapter One: The structure of urban artifacts

In the first chapter, Rossi states that the form of the city is summarized by the architecture of the city, since it is concrete data of real experiences. Hence, it is the form that allows him to approach the city’s problems. He describes the architecture of the city with two different meanings; first, the city is seen as a gigantic man-made object, growing over time; second, as urban artifacts characterized by their own history and form. These two aspects relate to the quality and uniqueness of the urban artifact. In the case of the Pallazo della Ragione in Padua, it is the form that shapes the city, regardless of functional multiplicity and is modified over time. In this sense, urban artifacts are superior to newly constructed buildings in terms of historic richness. However, the quality and uniqueness of urban artifacts are derived not only from their form which was developed in both time and space, but also from their characteristics as works of art. According to Rossi, the urban artifact as a work of art intimately relates to a specific place, event and form in the city. In this sense, Rossi criticizes the study of Camillo Sitte since Sitte, although, adding “beauty” as a criterion in his study, reduced the meaning of the city to a narrow and handy cipher which is insufficient to grasp the city as a concrete form and overall experience.

Rossi emphasizes the typological questions with criticism of naïve functionalism since he regards the type as a logical principle constituting form and a permanent object. In addition, the type developed the need and desire for beauty which tied into form and a way of life. On the other hand, functionalists overlook various aspects, except for function. For Rossi, the city is a totality, in other words, all urban artifacts and the city are a collective. Hence, concerning the urban artifact in its totality, this gives us a complete picture of the city. He also mentions permanence and classifies it into two sections; one is a historical or propelling permanence; the other is a pathological permanence. According to him, persistence changes urban artifacts into monuments, which take part in the process of a city’s development as a catalyst. As a result of the first chapter, Rossi underlines that the value of the city and the urban artifact is estimable not by their functions but by their permanent forms, since the form of the city is closely bound up with time of the city, while the functions are changeable and can be lost over time.

The Structure of Urban Artifacts

Urban Artifacts are unique places of the City and withstand the passage of time; they are characterized by their own form and history. Urban Artifacts can have different functions overtime which are independent of their form and they can shape the City. An example which is given by Rossi, is Palazzo della Ragione in Padua. The Palazzo as Rossi states, forms the City, its function varied throughout the years, and it has historical value. The uniqueness of Urban Artifacts depend on their form, which is affected by time and space and by being considered as a work of art, because they are related to space, events and the form of the City.

In order to criticize naive functionalism which addresses typologies in relation to function, Rossi emphasizes typological questions. Functionalism considers an artifacts’ function to be static, but Rossi argues that this classification causes problems to the City. He supports his idea through his argument that Urban Artifacts change depending on time and needs. Rossi considers type as a logical principle, which constitutes the form and the permanence of an object. Moreover, he believes that function can be articulated into form, and form has the possibility to exist as an Urban Artifact, so form can be articulated as an Urban Element. The form can persist through transformation and become an Urban Artifact par excellence.

Although Urban Artifacts are complex, some features to understand them are: their permanence beyond function, their nature is like a work of art and also they have a collective character. Rossi describes the City as a totality, as a result of its collective character. Concerning the Urban Artifact in its totality, this gives us a complete picture of the City.

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