Aldo Rossi and Jesse Reiser

Recently, I read Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s book Projects and Their Consequences along with Sylvia Lavin’s Architecture Itself and Other Postmodernization Effects. Recounted in both books is the story of Jesse Reiser’s tutelage under Aldo Rossi at the Cooper Union which lead to his unique rendition of a Modena Cemetery drawing while he worked for Aldo Rossi in Milan. In 1979, Jesse Reiser got Aldo Rossi’s attention when the instructor was attracted to the meticulously realized models of the Second World War planes that cluttered Jesse Reiser’s desk. They discussed painting with lightened colors to approximate atmospheric effects to convey realism. They further discussed the fictional realism of Edward Hopper’s major oil paintings which conveyed realism through imagined settings. This discussion made an impression on Aldo Rossi as he invited Jesse Reiser to work at his Milan office after that semester. While working as an intern, Jesse Reiser was tasked with drawing a unique version of the Modena Cemetery (of which many versions exist). Rather than draw with misaligned corners and crayons smudged around and outside the lines, the drawing by Jesse Reiser entailed absolute perfection done with Day-Glo paint applied with fastidious attention to detail.

I studied Jesse Reiser’s Modena Cemetery drawing while reading Aldo Rossi’s Rizzoli monograph for additional insight. In the Modena Cemetery, the two figural objects arrayed along a strong central axis are the truncated cone (communal grave) and the square (ossuary). In Jesse Reiser’s drawing, these two figures are rendered in the signature red colors of Aldo Rossi rather than the bright and American Day-Glo colors. The square ossuary, rendered with a 45-degree angle cast shadows, is fictionally illustrated as if the cube is a thin and hollow shell —unlike the constructed reality which has a thick envelope loaded with circulation and program. Studying Jesse Reiser’s drawing of the Modena Cemetery made me better understand RUR’s obsession with figural objects with intense presence. For example, the Taipei Pop Music Center with its three figures suspended on a flowing and elevated surface plane appears to be a quotation of the Modena Cemetery and its figural objects floating on an irregular grid. The cube building in the Taipei Pop Music Center is also along a strong axis (this time east/west not north/south) and quotes the ossuary cube of the Modena Cemetery. Just as Aldo Rossi’s ossuary cube stressed a surface reading instead of a solid mass, Jesse Reiser’s Taipei Pop Music Center cube emphasizes a surface reading by differentiating each elevation with different surface treatments and articulations.