Aldo Rossi designed the Cemetery of San Cataldo for a 1971 competition that called for an extension to the existing nineteenth-century Costa Cemetery. Employing conventions of perspective developed in the fifteenth century, Rossi uses an aerial view to give a sense of the cemetery in both plan and elevation. One enters this wall-enclosed space through a gate opposite what seems to be an abandoned house, a cubic structure designed as a collective or nondenominational temple to be used for funeral, religious, or civil ceremonies. As one proceeds along the central axis, it passes through successive rectangular structures, riblike ossuaries that rise in height as they diminish in length. The journey is punctuated by a cone-shaped smokestack monumentalizing a communal grave for the unknown, and referencing the industrial landscape beyond. Rossi's design is rooted in an Enlightenment typology of the cemetery as a walled structure set on the outskirts of town. It not only recalls the adjacent Costa Cemetery but, as Rossi says, "complies with the image of a cemetery that everyone has." A structure without a roof, it is a deserted building intended for those who no longer need the protection of shelter-a house for the dead in which life and death exist as a continuum within the collective memory.
Through his use of aerial perspective, elemental form, and color, Rossi constructs a visual passage through the drawing that corresponds to the journey contra natura through the cemetery. Shadows stem from a particular light source yet reference no particular time of day. Perspective, traditionally universalizing, is colored with a Northern Italian palette, and draws our eye not back into space but rather up the page. Like the cemetery itself, the drawing presents a road toward abandonment in which time seems to stand still.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Tina di Carlo, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, pp. 160-161.