It’s but a short step from a friendship to a container – and a quick, intuitive glance. All it took was a look exchanged by two old friends, Aldo Rossi and Luca Meda, to envisioning a piece that would very swiftly become an Italian design cult object. Aldo Rossi was an intellectual, an artist, a designer, an urbanist, an architect, an academic and, above all, a powerful interpreter of contemporary culture. He built the Umbrian Regional Council headquarters in Perugia in the Eighties, rehabilitating the Fontivegge district once occupied by the Perugina chocolate factory. Years later, while walking in the area with his friend and passing right in front of the great glass façade on the chimney side of the former confectionery manufacturer, he had a brainwave. Why not transpose the façade onto a piece of furniture? Or rather, conceive a furnishing object just like an actual piece of architecture, with an imposing front articulated by the regular rhythm of the windows. “This is my idea of design,” he said. “Being able to translate fantastic personal elements into a rational and repeatable design, not ad hoc objects made to be one-offs.”
Aldo Rossi was a born architect, and this art remained a constant throughout his life. The idea of turning a building into a piece of domestic furniture was broached by his friend Luca Meda to Molteni, a firm Rossi already worked with. So, once the correct proportions had been worked out, Piroscafo was born, and four versions immediately presented at the 1991 Salone del Mobile - two with white fronts and two with Prussian green ones. In 1993, Meda came up with the idea of placing a very special version of it, with a 13-metre-long façade, complete with red and black funnels, at the entrance to the Molteni&C. stand, again in the trade fair pavilions, sealing its enduring success. It now makes a reappearance in the exhibition Aldo Rossi. The Architect and the Cities, curated by Alberto Ferlenga, on at the MAXXI in Rome until 17th October 2021. The show also features his writings, including his Quaderni Azzurri (blue notebooks). This major retrospective, being held ninety years after his birth and twenty-five after his death, brings together more than 800 drawings, sketches, notes, letters, photographs, documents and a spectacular series of models that underscore just what a matchless and brilliant master this protagonist of the Novecento really was. Cultured and sensitive, he was deeply convinced of the ethical and cultural responsibility of architecture. Ada Louise Huxtable, a member of the 1990 Pritzker Prize jury, described him as “a poet who happens to be an architect.” Rossi won the prize that year, the first Italian architect to do so.