Rational architecture (1992)

Excerpt fr. John A. Walker’s Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.

John A. Walker
artdesigncafé - design | (Re-released:) 2 December 2021
This text is an excerpt from Walker’s 1992 glossary previously published by Library Association Publishing, London.

Rational Architecture is a term used sporadically in the history of twentieth-century architecture. Those architects deemed to belong to this tendency have been called "Rationalists" and even "the Rats". Rational Architecture appears to be an alternative description of the modern architecture of such figures as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Peter Behrens. Rationalists subscribed to a machine aesthetic, i.e. truth to materials, functionalism, rational as against irrational design, geometric as against organic forms, impersonality as against expression, grids and right angles, exactness, cleanness, precision of form and finish. (Art nouveau architects who did not follow these dicta were therefore dubbed "anti-Rationalists" by J. M. Richards and Nikolaus Pevsner.)

Italian Rationalism began in 1926 when seven young architects formed "Gruppo 7". Two years later they organized an exhibition of Rational Architecture and in 1931 formed MIAR (Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale). These architects proposed to serve Mussolini’s fascism. The group included Luigi Figini and Giuseppe Terragni. The latter’s "Casa del Fascio" at Como (1932-6), a severe half-cube, is considered to be a key example of the tendency.

In the post-1960 era the term "Neo-Rationalists" has also been applied to such figures as Aldo Rossi, Robert Krier and Ricardo Bofill. Rossi organized a show of contemporary Rational Architecture [in] Milan in 1973. Charles Jencks identified several different strands: Critical Rationalism, Historicist Rationalism and Surrationalism. According to Jencks, the latter stemmed from the fact that when "rationalism" was pushed to an extreme it became "irrational".

References and further reading
> J.M. Richards. "Towards a rational aesthetic". Architectural Review, 78, December 1935, pp. 211-18, reprinted in Sharp (below).
> Raffaello Giolli. L’Architettura Razionale: Antologia a cura di Cesare De Seta. (Bari, Editori Laterza, 1972).
> Sir James Maude Richards & Nikolaus Pevsner (Eds.). The anti-Rationalists. (Architectural Press, 1973).
> Aldo Rossi (Organizer). Architettura Razionale, XV di Milano. (Milan, Franco Angeli Editore, 1973).
> Alan Colquhoun. "Rational Architecture". Architectural Design, 45(6), 1975, pp. 365-70.
> Silvia Danesi & Luciano Patteta (Eds.). Il Razionalismo e l’architettura in Italia durante il fascismo. (Venice, Edizioni La Biennale di Venezia, 1976).
> Dennis Sharp (Ed.). The Rationalists: Theory and design in the modern movement. (Architectural Press, 1978).
> Wojciech Lesnikowski. Rationalism and romanticism in architecture. (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1982).