Even in death, Ignazio Gardella continued to be bludgeoned by Bruno Zevi in L'Espresso for helping Aldo Rossi design an 'obscene massacre' - the Carlo Felice Theatre, Genoa; but otherwise Gardella's demise on 15 March at age 94 was deeply regretted.
The Genoa project showed how far, by 1981, Gardella had taken Italian architecture away from its concerns of the 1930s while remaining profoundly (neo)rational. It was Gardella who with Terragni and others had created Italian Rationalism and he, more than others, surely had the authority to move on from there. In a 1984 essay he explained why modern architecture must evolve: 'We live in an enveloping soil, a life of events associated with places that nourish us through deep roots carrying vital fluids, replenishing the successive ages of our Art, each different from its predecessor but not forgetful of it. Rationalism may no longer have the immediacy it had when I was young but this does not mean it is no longer an active influence.'
In La Republica Vittorio Gregotti noted that Gardella's anti-tuberculosis clinic at Alessandria (1937-39) marked the start of a constant self- critical process that ensured he remained a leader until the end. His recent railway station at Milan Lambrate will be superb when completed by Iacopo (his son): a long copper-roofed semi-cylindrical building which by its presence will transform a shapeless space into a livable piazza.
In Il Corriere della Sera Arturo C Quintavalle describes how Gardella's early fascination with the metaphysical was the factor that enabled him 'to move on from the lessons of Gropius and Aalto . . . ensuring he was never excluded from the debate'. The model of his tower in Piazza Duomo (1934) seen at a recent retrospective in London's Heinz Gallery, was indeed metaphysical and reminiscent of
De Chirico, whereas a much later design for a metro station on the same site (1987) demonstrated how, from Mussolini to Prodi, he responded to transformations in society by updating himself: nonchalant about leaving the 1930s behind while never forgetting their inspirational potency.
Coming from a long line of architects and venerated on site as un signore (a gentleman), in 1991 at 87 years old he even recreated one of his own buildings, the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea (1947-53) after a terrorist bomb had destroyed it; working for no fee, he took out his original drawings and supervised the complete reconstruction, giving us back a museum whose poetic handling of light and space belongs to a time long gone.
His refectory/library for Olivetti workers in Ivrea (1953-59) came after the pac yet was stylistically different, embracing the landscape like Aalto and adopting a horizontality that dissolved the interior spaces into a continuous ambience on three levels like Wright, responding to the powerful new influences coming into Italian architecture.
The relationship between architecture and place was investigated in his famous Casa alle Zattere in Venice (1954-58), an abrasive, problematic precursor of contextualism which, decades before Rossi, was investigating how to make modern architecture respond to specific location and historical moment.
Ignazio Gardella was an open-hearted, courageous master who by drawing sustenance from the deep sources of life, was a consistent, true Modernist who practiced for nearly a century with an intelligence to which we should all aspire.