The Incomplete Project.

The Incomplete Project explores the urban consequences of architecture in Europe from 1195 to the present, that has for various reasons, been left incomplete. This blog is a record of the travels and research of the 2013 recipient of the Rotch Scholarship, Robert Alexander.

Founded in 1883 in honor of Benjamin Smith Rotch, the Rotch Travelling Scholarship is the oldest of its kind in the United States. The roster of Rotch Scholars includes many of the country’s most distinguished architects: Henry Bacon, Ralph Walker, Wallace Harrison, Louis Skidmore, Edward D. Stone, Gordon Bunshaft, Victor Lundy and many others. For additional information, please visit:

The Intrigue of Indeterminate Systems (Part II):

Siracusa/Giarre/Riposto, Sicily - December 15th

Various Buildings and Architects, (after 1861)

In Sicily there is a style of building known as “incompiuto" or incomplete. This in the past has described buildings unfinished and left to ruin by corrupt builders, politicians, or by public officials concerned with the safety of the construction. There is another style of building in Sicily that is also incomplete but is much less cynical. In towns along the eastern coast of Sicily, “modern” parts of cities like Siracusa, Riposto, and Giarre, were laid out after the initial investments by the Italian government following unification in 1861. These sections of towns were built along neoclassical lines although many of the buildings were only built one story high, with further construction to follow (or not follow) over the course of the next century. The fragmented nature of these blocks are almost imperceptible if you are casually walking down the street until you glance up from the pavement and look into the second and third levels. Parapets of these buildings are finished with balconies cut into them protruding like tongues into the street. The effect of this architecture at street level continues a rhythm along the block established earlier by the first ground floor constructions. The open ended nature of this type of work has left a myriad of unique combinations, architectural styles, and mid block buildings that have created “valleys” and “islands” over the years. These buildings are fragmentary but for the most part do share very carefully constructed street elevations between them. This is a urban design strategy that starts with the premise that there will be a potentially long period of inactive construction and because of this is able to mark a process of transition in the design of the city. This is a part of a city’s development, an accretive process that creates layers, patina, and distinctiveness that is seldom seen in places (like Berlin) where cities can afford to build (or rebuild) entire blocks of urban districts from start to finish at one time.

The Intrigue of Indeterminate Systems (Part I):

Modena, Italy - October 25th

San Cataldo Cemetery, Aldo Rossi (1971) (1978-     )

”(…) the term “fragments” seems to me to be adequate to depict the situation of the modern city, the architecture and the society. (…) In its physical meaning (broken things, mutilated elements) or in its general meaning (part of a complete drawing which went lost) it is beyond doubt that the fragments belong to architecture; and they belong to it almost as constructive elements, almost as theoretical elements. (…) This is perhaps the big dream of the great civil architecture; it is not the harmony in discord, but the beautiful and tidy city thanks to the wealth and variety of its places. It is because of this that I also believe in the future city as the one in which the fragments of something broken in its origin are rearranged (…). (Rossi, 1978:7-8, in Ferlenga, 1978: 7-8)”

Aldo Rossi on Fragments

Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery is the newest in a complex of cemeteries just outside Modena that were planned as ideal cities for the dead. The first of these was planned by the architect Cesare Costa and carried out from 1858 to 1876. It is a closed system, a walled city whose perimeter architecture blocks the outside world. Tombs and crypts are positioned on both a piano nobile and inside a plinth underneath it identifying the status of the individuals buried there. The Aldo Rossi addition to the cemetery was intended as a similar closed composition, but as executed, the project is only a segment of the proposal he submitted for the 1972 competition. Being a fragment itself, it seamlessly fits with Rossi’s ideas about how buildings in cities have roles and functions that take on lives of their own regardless of their intended symbolic meaning. A cemetery by its nature is an open ended architectural proposition as it must serve to function as architecture in an incomplete state while the process of occupying it is ongoing. The layers of Rossi’s cemetery are even more poignant given its relationship to the two existing cemeteries, which are both closed “cities” unto themselves. Left unfinished and open to the highway beyond it, the newest part of the cemetery unintentionally lays bare the messiness of the contemporary city.