Life, Death, and Design: Revisiting Aldo Rossi's Cemetery at San Cataldo

Open Access
Connelly, Lindsay Mae
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 21, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Denise Costanzo, Thesis Advisor
  • Darla Lindberg, Committee Member
  • James Cooper, Committee Member
  • Craig Zabel, Committee Member
  • San Cataldo
  • Aldo Rossi
  • Rossi
  • Modena
  • Cemetery
  • San Cataldo Cemetery
  • Italy
  • Modena Cemetery
  • Funerary Architecture
  • Architecture
Referred to as “The Evil Twin,” “Temple of Death,” and “the City of the Dead,” Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo cemetery has generated both controversy and admiration since its conception in 1971. Arguably his masterwork, the cemetery has inspired ongoing scholarly discussion, analysis, and interpretation. Although it remains unfinished, San Cataldo is one of the most frequently featured examples of Rossi’s work in studies of postmodern architecture. However, despite San Cataldo’s significance, the cemetery is too often presented as an illustration of theoretical issues rather than a work deserving of study in its own right. In 2015, architectural historian Diane Ghirardo highlighted this situation and issued a challenge by asking, “To what degree have the criticisms of [San Cataldo] depended upon the constellation of interests and concerns of a specific historical moment? Is it possible to identify that which pertains specifically to the project and not only to the contingencies of time and space?” This thesis takes up Ghirardo’s challenge by studying subjects relating to the built work’s physical characteristics and fundamental purpose as funerary architecture. It does so through a critical analysis of four decades of discourse surrounding San Cataldo to identify gaps within the existing conversation about the cemetery. From there, it considers three central issues that have not received sufficient attention. The first is the materiality of the actual built work versus the more famous drawings of the project that are often treated as the “real” project itself. The second looks at death and commemoration as a cultural phenomenon, and how that affects the architecture of the cemetery. The third chapter compares San Cataldo to its more celebrated counterpart, Carlo Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery. This will extend the discussion on San Cataldo to provide a new, more comprehensive strategy for interpreting and understanding a famous but insufficiently understood project. More widely, this thesis contributes to a larger discussion about the place of funerary and monumental architecture in modernity.