Zodiac, from Adriano Olivetti to Guido Canella

Enrico Bordogna

After «Hinterland», personally designed and founded in 1977, «Zodiac» was the second magazine directed by Guido Canella, substantially “re-founded” when, in the summer-autumn of 1988, Renato Minetto, a publisher and long-time friend, asked him to direct this new series of Olivetti publications. Together with Bruno Alfieri, Minetto had taken it over from the publisher Comunità, acquired previously in 1985 by Mario Formenton’s Mondadori.  This original tie-up with Olivetti was explicitly stated in the colophon which read as follows: “New series. International architecture magazine founded in 1957 by Adriano Olivetti. Published twice a year” – bearing the name, beside that of Bruno Alfieri, of Renzo Zorzi, right-hand man for Olivetti’s cultural activities, who, after the sudden death of Adriano in 1960, had taken over the direction of Comunità and the eponymous magazine, and hence also the direction of the last issues of the first series of «Zodiac» (from no. 18, November 1968). By unanimous desire, but especially on the part of Canella, Zorzi was asked to chair the Steering Committee, and he would then invite some of Canella’s closest Italian associates to join – Carlo Aymonino, Ignazio Gardella, Aldo Rossi, Gianugo Polesello, Manfredo Tafuri, and Francesco Dal Co – along with a group of international architects and historians, especially thanks to the contacts of Tafuri and Dal Co – Richard Meier, Rafael Moneo, James Stirling, and Kurt W. Forster.
Completing the editorial side of the new series was the name of Massimo Vignelli – recommended chiefly by Alfieri – the creator of the magazine’s sober and elegant graphics, with the signal choice of a cover in a deep saffron yellow, identical for the front and back cover and uniform from issue to issue, and the layout of the internal pages with an ordered classical composure.
Tafuri was to leave the Steering Committee for personal reasons in part linked to disputes over the proposal of Venice as the seat of the Universal Exposition of 2000 (from issue 4, September 1990), while from issue 5 (March 1991) Lionello Puppi was called to join.
The first five issues came out in a double identical volume, respectively an Italian version and an English version, while all subsequent ones were entirely bilingual, with the English text facing.
After the second issue, Minetto took over Alfieri’s share of the magazine, remaining its only editor and including the magazine in his Abitare Segesta publishing company. So far only demographic data. But what was the nature of this new series of «Zodiac»? In the first issue, after an editorial by Zorzi that recalled the planning intentions explained by Adriano Olivetti in Issue 1 of the first series, Canella, at the end of a dense editorial, summarized the reasons that persuaded him to accept to “resurrect this glorious publication”: not a trendy magazine – «since, also for reasons of age, together with those whom we asked to help orient it, we will not succeed in building an ideologically or poetically homogeneous formation» – but, said Canella, the desire to «restore some history to criticism, today so rambling», contributing to «making the commissioning of works of architecture less precarious and incompetent […] increasingly conditioned by an ambiguous public-private relationship», and in particular to the need to «privilege the principle of authenticity against the functional and formal counterfeiting of design [and] entrenching the international comparison in the context of every typological and figurative experience,»[1] objectives that were however substantially similar, Canella added, to Adriano Olivetti’s intentions of thirty years earlier. 
Browsing the indexes of the 21 issues in the second series (intentionally the same number as those of the first series between 1957 and 1972 and they too published at six-monthly intervals), what stands out is the recurrent layout of every issue, each about 200 pages, faithful to the policy objectives set out in the re-foundation editorial: monographs and miscellaneous numbers alternating in nearly equal measure, all introduced by an editorial with a strong theoretical commitment and by one or more historical-critical essays, followed by a review of projects and works of architecture from the main players of contemporary international architecture[2] accompanied by generous documentation described by the authors themselves without any outside comment, with the idea that the works and projects could speak for themselves, leaving personal judgement up to the reader without any editorial mediation, apart from the choice to publish or not. 
The monographic issues were divided in turn: some dedicated to a specific architectural category (theatre, museum, university, law court), split organically into editorial, typological analysis essays and achievements or relevant projects; others dedicated to the relationship between architecture-city and themes of an urban and settlement nature (such as no. 5/1991, on Who designs the city?, or no. 13/1995, on The spread of the centre); still others were long contextual monographs, with essays and projects dedicated to specific “regional” architectural cultures (Latin America, no. 8/1993; California, no. 11/1994; the Netherlands, no. 18/1998); and finally, others dedicated to specific individual themes, such as restoration in architecture (no. 19/1998), architects who had won the Pritzker Prize, from the year of its foundation to 1994 (no. 12/1995), the generation of architects born around 1920 (no. 16/1997), with original writings from Peter Blake, Dennis Sharp, Alison Smithson and Bruno Zevi, to contemporary criticism of architecture (no. 21/1999).
The monographic nature and the sheer bulk of each issue (which was substantially a book) were in part tied to the six-monthly periodicity, necessarily different from monthly or bi-monthly ones. However, this also corresponded to Canella’s desire to produce a “slow” magazine, remote from the fashions of the time, anxiety over the latest novelty, or passively reduced to a repertoire of ready-to-go upgrades. 
It is difficult to retrospectively reconstruct the contents of the individual issues and their editorial processing. One issue of decidedly particular affection was the one devoted to the Laboratorio Latinoamerica, namely, no. 8/1993, compiled for the five-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. An exceptional issue also for its length, over 280 pages, with an editorial by the Director and five incredibly dense historical-critical essays (together occupying the first 185 pages of the issue) by Mario Sartor, Juan Pedro Posani with Alberto Sato (Venezuela), Jorge Francisco Liernur and Roberto Fernandez (Argentina), Sergio Baroni (Cuban), with joint agreements being made for authors and works to be published as most representative of the individual national situations, rising up the continent from south to north, from Chile to Mexico. This issue had the very definite merit of bringing to the attention of Italian culture the extraordinary richness, in terms of composite and diversified traditions, of the architectural situation in Latin America. Alongside established names such as Oscar Niemeyer, Carlos Raúl Villanueva, Luis Barragán, Rogelio Salmona, Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral, Eladio Dieste, Amancio Williams, Clorindo Testa, were lesser known or publicized experiences but of extraordinary vitality and destined to be widely studied later, namely the Brazilian works of Lina Bo Bardi, the Cuban art schools of Garatti Gottardi and Porro, or the singular experience of the Amereida Cooperative of the Open City at Valparaiso, perhaps the first time this had been presented in an Italian publication. An issue that indicated, in line with Canella's intention, the incredibly rich experience of the Latin American subcontinent as the most convincing response to the degeneration of International Style and the uncertainties of contemporary international architecture, yet capable as a whole of providing useful guidelines and fruitful terms of comparison with current design research in the West, be it European or North American. 
Equally dense were issues 6/1991 and 7/1992 on the Museum and the University respectively, the former introduced by an editorial on “Certain deviances from the museum archetype”, and the latter by an editorial on the “University and the city”, immediately followed by an almost complementary essay by Antonio Acuto on the “University and the territory”. To probe the typological side, the issue on the museum also featured a long essay by Kurt W. Forster Shrine? Emporium? Theater? Reflections on two decades of American Museum Building, and a text of critical and poetic reflection by Robert Venturi From Invention to Conventions in Architecture to accompany the recently completed Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery in London, probably not yet publicized in Italy at that time. This issue concluded significantly with the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad realized in 1980-1982 by Marcello D'Olivo, who sadly passed away just after publication, and was remembered with affection and admiration by Canella as: “one of the most original (and perhaps for this reason neglected) personalities of Italian post-war architecture.”[3]
Among the typological themes, the theatre building certainly occupied centre stage, not only because it was the subject of a special issue, no. 2/1989, but also because, being a theme of particular affection and study on the part of Canella, it cropped up several times as the central theme among the works published during the whole of the second series.
Issue 2, on Theatre stories and projects, with its 223 pages in the Italian version alone, had two long essays, by Julius Posener (The construction of the theatre in Berlin from Gilly to Poelzig) and Daniel Rabreau (The theatre-monument: a century of the “French” style) on theatrical types between the nineteenth and twentieth century in Germany and in France, and a “transverse” essay by Canella (Theatres and pseudo theatres), more directly and operatively focusing on design, drawing on his many years of study into the “theatrical system”. As suffrage for this historical-critical section, the project documentation reported on the four projects of the competition for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (Hollein, Böhm, Stirling and Gehry, the winner), the Lighthouse Theatre of Aldo Rossi and Morris Adjmi on the shores of Lake Toronto, Canella’s project for a traditional theatre in Taranto to be included in the northern courtyard of the former City Hall (the project was accompanied by summary images to recall the many pseudo-theatres made or planned by Canella and accompanied by a fascinating diagram of the multi-purpose centre planned for the former Fiera del Mare area, designed as an outpost of the future theatrical system of Taranto), but above all devoted ample space to Theo Crosby's extraordinary project to reconstruct the Globe theatre in London, thus completing the issue’s investigations into type, from the theatre to Italian-style stages, to the “reformed” Franco-German room (from Soufflot to Schinkel at Bayreuth’s Wagnerian theatre), to the wholly original pattern of the Shakespearean theatre, experimentation on the theme by the modern avant-garde, the opera house and contemporary multi-purpose halls. Throughout the life of the magazine, Theo Crosby’s project had the good fortune to be published again, this time after being built, in issue 19/1998, dedicated to the complex theme of preserving and reconstructing, with a polemical theoretical assay by Paul Marconi on the alleged and unlikely practice (for the author) of rebuilding “where it was, as it was”, and reconstruction projects (or expansions) of historic theatres such as the Globe Theatre in London, La Fenice in Venice by Aldo Rossi, the Liceu in Barcelona by Ignasi de Solà-Morales, the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona by Oscar Tusquets. 
It must be said that all the issues, even the miscellaneous ones, did reflect an explicit critical intent in their specific approach, with respect to the architectural trends momentarily most in vogue and literature on the most popular works of architecture. However, the last of the second series was dedicated monographically to the theme of criticism, perhaps not by chance, Issue 21/1999 with its editorial by Canella on Architecture critics after Zevi, and some intense essays by Carlo Olmo, Jean-Louis Cohen, Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Stanislaus von Moos, Michela Rosso, Francesco Tentori, all turning, albeit with accents and different points of view, around the programmatic objective stated in the first issue, of operatively restoring history to criticism and the project, in an attempt to reinstate a cognitive basis in an architecture magazine, and not one that was merely hagiographic or illustrative. The essays were followed, almost in the form of an affectionate farewell, by works and projects by authors who were friends of the magazine, published several times during the decennial of the second series, from Robert Venturi to Clorindo Testa, from Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Isola to Gustav Peichl, from Luciano Semerani and Gigetta Tamaro to Gottfried Böhm, from Carlo Aymonino to Gianugo Polesello: authors, as we can see, impossible to group into “an ideologically or poetically homogeneous array”,[4] but grouped and comparable according to that discrimination of authenticity which the magazine always tried to pursue. This “authenticity” was a criterion which, although difficult to define, did allow, as an example, the publishing in the same miscellaneous issue (10/1994), alongside the modernist and state-of-the-art architecture of the Vitra in Weil-am-Rhein (with works by Siza, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando), the Max Reinhardt Haus by Peter Eisenman in Berlin, together with the works and the figure of the Turkish architect Sedad Eldem (with writings by Eldem himself, Luciano Semerani, Antonella Gallo, and Suha Ozkan), and the extraordinary project of Ridolfi and Frankl for the city hall in Terni, accompanied by a passionate comment by Christoph L. Frommel of the Biblioteca Hertziana in Rome. Canella dwelt on this criterion in the editorial policy of the first issue, because of its importance in the planning of the whole magazine, establishing an unexpected parallel between seemingly distant personalities like Adriano Olivetti, Piero Gobetti and Edoardo Persico, which he linked under the sign of that “religious secret” which all three of these personalities referred to when talking about the organization of the factory, one on Ford’s entrepreneurial spirit, the others on the new German architecture at Celle or Frankfurt. And so to conclude by quoting his long reasoning on this point: «In 1957, he [Adriano Olivetti] like Persico more than twenty years earlier, did not set out to raise a question of conformity either in favour of or against a given expression of modern architecture, but intended to establish a discriminant factor of authenticity [my italics], as testified by the collection of works gathered in Ivrea between 1934 and 1959, i.e. as long as he could personally supervise them: from the linearity of the first to the organic unity of the last interventions of Figini and Pollini; from the vibrant transparency of Gardella’s canteen to the constructivist expressionism of Ridolfi’s nursery school. (With our regret for the only exclusion he insisted on – as Silvia Danesi pointed out: the multi-function hotel designed by Cesare Cattaneo in 1942)».[5] A reflection to which we might add a reference to Longhi’s “criticism of the eye”, just as indefinable as the “religious secret” concept or “authenticity” (save for the formulaic characteristics of rigour, consistency, originality, and the like), yet clearly indispensable in the difficult task of valorizing works and authors. So that if, as was observed, and not without some foundation, in a national newspaper by an almost contemporary colleague, the magazine was the expression of a group of friends, which is certainly true, in the sense of a group of personalities bound not by any corporate motive but by a marked propensity to comparability and above all by the mutual ability to recognize precisely the value of “authenticity” in research and positions that were differentiated and also distant from one another, who never yearned to rise to poetically and ideologically homogeneous trends or to the coagulation of a generic internationalism. 
As has already been said, it is not possible to recall the contents of the individual issues here. What is obligatory is to at least recall the highly lucid critical and historical contributions of the personalities who honoured the magazine with their presence, such as Christof Thoenes (in the unparalleled translations of Giuseppe Scattone), Lionello Puppi, Daniel Rabreau, Julius Posener, Christoph L. Frommel, Marina Waisman, Peter Blake, Dennis Sharp, Alison Smithson, Bruno Zevi, George Baird, and many others. 
Canella’s editorials on the other hand, merit a quite separate discourse, in that, placed in sequence, they constitute a magnificent monograph on architectural criticism and theory, today more necessary than ever, with an index of the type: Authenticity and falsification, today; Reflecting on functionality and figuration; Architecture critics after Zevi; That “third generation” of Giedion; and so on, ending with editorial twenty-one (whose collection in a volume, together with those of «Hinterland», the undersigned already expressed the hope to see some years ago).[6] 

To close this brief overview, and to render in a flash the character of the second series of «Zodiac», perhaps an anecdote would serve: a rapid and sporadic exchange of pleasantries with Vittorio Savi who, at the beginning of the Nineties, after the publishing of the first issues (perhaps two or three), observed amicably that the new editorial undertaking of Canella seemed a little snobbish. He knew Canella well and only a few years earlier had curated a highly appreciated exhibition of his, with Mario Lupano, at the Palazzina dei Giardini in Modena), the equally amicable retort to which was, that one might consider «Hinterland» snobbish, but for the new series of «Zodiac» it would be more appropriate to qualify it as “elite”, in its greater interest in and curiosity for diversified researches and poetics. 
It would be fascinating to discuss the relationship between «Hinterland» and «Zodiac», and more specifically the character of «Zodiac» compared to other more or less contemporary architecture magazines, not only the bombastic «Domus» and «Casabella», but also those more to do with research and, so to speak, with known consanguinity, such as «Controspazio» or «Phalaris», but perhaps some other time.





[1] G. Canella, Fondazione e ripresa di una testata, in “Zodiac”, no. 1, first six months of 1989, pp. 6-10; this and the previous quotes are on p. 10.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] G. Canella, Su certe devianze dell’archetipo museale, in “Zodiac”, no. 6, March-August 1991, p. 10

[4] See Note 1.

[5] G. Canella, see footnote 1, pp. 8-9.

[6] See the Preface to the volume by Guido Canella, Architetti italiani nel Novecento, Christian Marinotti, Milan 2010, pp. 10-11.


  • Non ci sono refbacks, per ora.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

FAMagazine. Scientific Open Access e-Journal - ISSN: 2039-0491 ©