Humanist architect, historian and one of the protagonists of the Italian cultural scene, Paolo Portoghesi passed away at the age of 92 in his home in Calcata. His lesson of overcoming the inhibitions of modern architecture remains as an operative programme for our present, projected into the future

Enraptured by the magical spiral of the dome of Sant'Ivo della Sapienza from an early age, Paolo Portoghesi's declared passion for the work of Francesco Borromini, to whom he has dedicated important studies over time, has been accompanied by an interest in the curved line taken as the root of the other side of modernity. A line that also defined Casa Baldi (1961), one of his first architectural projects taken as a programmatic statement. The serpentine line, the one that William Hogarth in 1753 indicated as necessary Variety in his treatise The Analysis of Beauty, is the fertile root that the 'other modernisms' of the history of architecture, not only of the 20th century, take as a reference and that will lead Paolo Portoghesi to observe and support the need for a linguistic pluralism for architecture of which the "Strada Novissima" of the first Venetian Architecture Biennial in 1980 was the programmatic mirror.

The eclectic condition of the city

A series of ephemeral façades, which in their confrontation drew by analogy the necessarily eclectic condition of the city over time, followed one after the other in the Corderie of the military Arsenal, returned for the first time to the city and to visitors from all over the world, anticipating by a few decades the now consolidated practice of 'urban regeneration' and the reuse of the existing.

The rout of orthodox modernism

"The Presence of the Past", as the title of that historic edition read, was not so much a return to the practice of stylistic revival, but rather the declaration of the defeat of the exegetes of orthodox modernism: "the word modern in fact, born to designate continuous change, identifying itself with a style has undergone a process of sclerosis; contaminated by the static nature of an unproductive situation, it has paradoxically become the symbol of an abstract power to be fought and overthrown". What Paolo Portoghesi wrote in 'The End of Prohibitionism' at the opening of the exhibition catalogue thunders today, after almost half a century, as a globally established reality.

Portoghesi's lesson

Having definitively overcome the logic of zoning; taken on as a method the "thinking with architecture and not about architecture"; absorbed the way of conceiving history always as "contemporary history" and as "the subject of logical and constructive operations that have no other purpose than that of combining the real and the imaginary"; developed the awareness of considering the city "not only as a set of buildings and streets for those who want to penetrate its image and draw from it an experience of truth, but also as a set of men, a knot of past and present history: and therefore a text to be interpreted by relating the forms that offer themselves to ours with the civilisation and life that produced them", Paolo Portoghesi's lesson remains relevant for every architect engaged today in thinking about the city of today and tomorrow.

Historical and theoretical writings

His extremely rich production of historical and theoretical writings ranges from Baroque Rome to the famous monograph on Francesco Borromini recently republished; from the different seasons of modernity to specific contributions such as the one dedicated to Piero Portaluppi, a central figure of Milanese architecture in the 1920s, whom Portoghesi describes as a "hero of his time [...] a convinced advocate of a liberal modernism, eclectically open to the most daring experiments, but not animated by revolutionary or paling intentions. [Where] the new had to arise by spontaneous natural force from the already been and already loved, from tradition seen as an inextinguishable supply of ideas to be cultivated because it was always capable of flourishing in an unprecedented way'. After all, 'the negation of the past or rather the rigid morphological separation between present and past desired by the Modern Movement was, giving the term negation its Freudian meaning, a typical defence mechanism'.

What legacy?

Paolo Portoghesi, theorist of harmony and counterpoint, proponent in recent years of geoarchitecture capable of linking a critical reading of tradition with the necessary environmental awareness, has taught us to listen to the stories of the past and of our time, abandoning pre-established certainties and ideologies that architecture no longer feels the need for.