Understanding Place: A Reassessment of the Built Work of Giancarlo De Carlo in Urbino, Italy
While regionalism and placed-based strategies have returned to the forefront of the design discourse in the United States––gaining acceptance as a part of sustainable practice and shaping academic curricula––the work of Giancarlo De Carlo has remained curiously in the margins. Although much has been written about the Milanese architect over the years, little is available in English. In history books, his accomplishments are limited to a few references: along with Alison and Peter Smithson, De Carlo was an important member of Team X following the general disillusionment with the CIAM and its Athens Charter. De Carlo’s initial study of Urbino (1964) is held up as a model for its consideration of place, social discourse and the role of the architect. Later, he emerged as an advocate of participatory design. Although both a writer and an educator, he left no singular treatise and was seemingly uninterested in theoretical pursuit as an end in itself. His built work, however, remains vital today––not just as a historical milestone, but for the lessons and insight that it offers. It is the purpose of this paper to gather and propose a codification of De Carlo’s understanding of place and its import to shaping architectural design. For De Carlo, design was a complex practice of back and forth negotiations between landscape (city–region–culture) and provisional design responses, each tested through the analytical process of “reading the territory”. Using a modern architectural language, he sought continuity of cultural forms through a placed-based design response that structured continued change while reinforcing the identity of its place. In support, this paper draws from the few writings that analyze his approach to design, his sources and influences, as well as from the author’s direct analysis of De Carlo’s built work in Urbino, Italy. Discussions with architects Antonio Troisi and Monica Mazzolani–
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