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The passing of Paolo Portoghesi

By the editorial staff

Much has been said about Paolo Portoghesi (1931-2023) in the days following his death on May 30, 2023 in Calcata, the small town between Viterbo and Rome where the architect and scholar had lived for many years with his wife Giovanna Massobrio, herself an architect and art historian. Gone with him was Italy’s best-known exponent of Postmodernism, a label on which Portoghesi had openly focused, working not only as a practicioner but also as a lecturer, magazine editor, head of the architecture section (1979-82) and president (1983-93) of the Venice Biennale. His historical-critical activity has impacted on several fronts: on the one hand, pointing to the Renaissance and Baroque ages as the indispensable premises (Roma Barocca, 1966; Borromini nella cultura europea, 1982, La mano di Palladio, 2008); on the other, contributing to the deciphering of the architectural landscape of the late 20th century and this early millennium (Dopo l’architettura moderna, 1980). Also of great value are the books, co-signed with Giovanna Massobrio, concerning still underestimated aspects of modernity: from Album degli anni Venti (1978), to Casa Thonet. Storia dei mobili in legno curvato (1980). Portoghesi’s vision is all the more controversial and divisive as he identifies with the profession of the architect. Some of his public buildings – theaters, multi-purpose centers, schools – can seem too literal in their reference to the past, and the transposition of certain stylistic features from the original materials (marble, brick, lime, stucco) to the grayness of industrial concrete and plaster sometimes feels forced. Probably not by chance, in Portoghesi’s copious sacred production, the most acclaimed work is not a Christian church but the mosque in Rome, designed in 1974 and inaugurated in 1995: as if his foreignness to Islam had obliged him to a simple and controlled interpretation of the theme. But the revival of the idea of dignity and harmony in the urban fabric is a valuable legacy we owe him, and the refurbishment of of San Silvestro square in Rome, which he laid out in 2011 and has yet to be finished, certify it. We published years ago by Portoghesi, at, La decorazione e il suo linguaggio, a text we recommend to all FD readers. It is to be hoped that the essay on beauty that Portoghesi was working on may see the light of day, even if posthumously. The previews provided by the author and published on May 31, 2023 in the online journal “Ytali”, at, are a far cry from clichés on the subject.

Homepage: Paolo Portoghesi photographed on July 15, 2013 while visiting Vignola, Modena (photo © ASP G.Gasparini).
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