Giancarlo De Carlo continued

1976 – 2020

“I had got to know the Italian architect, urban designer and thinker Giancarlo De Carlo well, having worked with him at ILAUD (The International Laboratory for Architecture and Urban Design) most summers from 1979, when at the end of the millennium the publisher Axel Menges asked me to write a major overview of his work. De Carlo was enthusiastic to cooperate with the project, and it became linked to a proposal from the Pompidou Centre to mount an exhibition of his work.

I became involved in the exhibition in Paris, in its preparation and assisting Jacqueline Stanic in the curating; and while the book is a critical biography and far from an exhibition catalogue, the Pompidou translated it and it became the book to accompany the exhibition. At an opening conference for the exhibition in April 2004, I spoke about what I saw as the unique and perhaps difficult qualities in De Carlo’s work. I had written variously about De Carlo’s projects over two decades, but this synoptic project brought his career together in a new synthesis.

A full list of my writing on De Carlo is here.

I became a good friend of De Carlo, and his obituary which I wrote at the request of The Architects’ Newspaper (New York) in 2005 was widely republished on the web and is reproduced here.

Since this book, and De Carlo’s death, I have taken three specific and separate researches forward;

The first begins his involvement of the public in his work. “GDC et l’experience politique de la participation”, was part of a project marking the 50th anniversary of the CIAM meeting in Aix-en-Provence. My chapter contributes to an international (but basically French) study of architectural ideas in Europe in the aftermath of World War Two, at that moment of ‘anxious modernisms’ which focused on the birth of TEAM-X out of CIAM. De Carlo’s role as Italian CIAM delegate and founder of TEAM-X is little known in English writing (Peter and Alison Smithson initially airbrushed him out of Team-10 Primer), and his role was even less known in France.

Team-X meeting with De Carlo extreme left of image, Aldo van Eyck and Peter Smithson sitting to his left

Team-X meeting with De Carlo extreme left of image, Aldo van Eyck and Peter Smithson sitting to his left

De Carlo French Translation


This essay however, moves on from c 1954, to critique De Carlo’s contribution, as worked through the subsequent half century, in the context of CIAM and Team-X. It develops notions of ‘conflictual practices’, which it illustrates with varied, chosen De Carlo projects, drawing out the threads of potentially very different forms of participative practices. It is the first writing not in Italian to look closely and critically at these works, especially those for the town planning of Rimini. This book, though already recognised in Francophone academia as a valuable and original document about post-war European architecture, remains as yet unknown in English-language circles.

The second is a study of perhaps De Carlo’s most complex single building (published in Places : A Forum of Environmental Design (Pratt Institute, University of California in Fall 2003 issue – and downloadable here.)

Round Window in Places

Round Window in Architects'Journal

When John wrote about De Carlo’s Urbino University School of Education for a US and a UK magazine in 2003, intriguingly each, in ignorance of the other, chose virtually identical cover images of the prospect across city and countryside. (The ‘keyhole’ window is seen in the long view, seen shortly after dawn in winter, which introduces the Architects’Journal essay.)

Il Magistero in AJ

The third is a study of the role of two men and a woman – architect and clients – in the creation of one extraordinary domestic space.

This work is ongoing. A paper was given to a Gender and Built Space symposium “Men Making Homes” at Brighton University in 2005.

Since then I have got to know this unique building and its client extremely well, used it as the centre of my paper to DoCoMoMo in 2007, and in 2020 I have published this essay on it. Here is a little film about it.

Ca'Romanino, half buried on its isolated hilltop outside Urbino

Ca’Romanino, half buried on its isolated hilltop outside Urbino

... and John sitting in its double-height main room

… and John sitting in its double-height main room

Its almost subterranean approach

… its almost subterranean approach

circular study, where a great curving metal door either closes it from its balcony or from the house

… and circular study, where a great curving metal door either closes it from its balcony or from the house

An AHRB study leave award funded the basic research for the project which resulted in the first book on De Carlo for a decade, and the first to include the full range of his architectural work.

De Carlo was a complex figure, a committed man of action as deeply engaged with the intellectual and political culture as with urban planning and architectural design. Intentionally, he kept his engagement in these spheres quite separate, and these boundaries have not been questioned by his critics; political commentary has not looked closely at architectural intentions, and vice versa. This is the first book which integrates his architectural production and planning projects with analysis of his theoretical and political positions.

It is centrally an intellectual biography wherein designed artefacts as much as theoretical texts shape the discourse. There is very careful use of direct quotation (to avoid blurring of positions) and much of this had to be translated from Italian.

From being an almost forgotten architect in Italy a decade earlier, De Carlo’s reputation is now transformed, in part due to this publication.”