Manfredo Tafuri ‘Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology’ (1969)

Manfredo Tafuri was a Marxist architectural historian of the Renaissance and modern era and Italian architectural theorist. He is noted for his pointed critiques of the partisan “operative criticism” of previous architectural historians and critics like Bruno Zevi and Siegfried Giedion. He was influenced by the political turmoil and ascent of the radical left. He challenged ideas that Renaissance was the golden age and he believed architectural theory was a continuous toil played out on critical, theoretical, and ideological levels.

After Manfredo Tafuri received his architectural degree, he worked as a teaching asistant under Saul Greco, Adalberto Libera and Ludovico Quaroni.

Contemporary architecture’s circumstance was never more significantly theorised than by Manfredo Tafuri. Locating architecture’s intellectual project in the historical matrix of the bourgeois metropolis, Tafuri details the entire cycle of modernism as a unitary progression in which the avantgardes‘ visions of utopia come to be seen as an idealization of capitalism, last’s rationality into the rationality of autonomous form – architecture’s “plan,” its ideology. Getting together the strings that relation the sociology of Georg Simmel and Max Weber, critical theory of Georg Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Adorno, the structuralism of Louis Althusser and Roland Barthes, and the negative opinion of Massimo Cacciari, Tafuri recognizes what for him is contemporary architecture’s simply state of probability to collapse into the very system that warrants its demise or retreat into hypnotic solitude (Hays, 1998, p. 2).

Tafuri’s book Theory and History of Architecture concentrated on the architectural historian’s obligation to alter architecture substantially, rebuking the inadequacies of architects as historians. Tafuri has drawn on the work of Walter Benjamin along these lines, this book also foresees the failure of modernism, referring to modern architecture’s complicity with capitalism. As Mallgrave and Contandriopoulos said this book addressed not only the perceived crisis of modern theory but also question of whether modernism could in fact be interpreted as a unified body of ideas (Mallgrave & Contandriopoulos, 2008, p. 396). After this book his inventive book subjects proceeded and amid the 1970’s, Tafuri distributed his imperative works in Oppositions journal.

In the most recent decade of his career he embraced an extensive reassessment of the theory and practice of Renaissance architecture, investigating its different social, intellectual and social connections, while giving an expansive comprehension of uses of representation that shaped the whole time. Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects blends the historical background of architectural thoughts and projects through arguments of the great centres of architectural innovation in Italy.

Tafuri’s essay Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology published in the Marxist journal Contropiano. In this essay, Tafuri investigates architecture as an element within the city and changes of architectural ideology from the Enlightenment period to late Modernism through the lens of putting architecture inside the urban setting and additionally the part of urban planning on architecture. Concentrating on the genesis of the rational plan as manifested in metropolitan structure, Tafuri refers to seventeenth and eighteenth century ideas of the city and its connections to the nature, in other words city as a natural object; nineteenth and twentieth century modernism and pragmatism, in other words city as a rational object; then ideologies of Le Corbusier that architecture as a cellular object which totals and forms into an entire; in conclusion, architecture in present day and its relation to economy and capitalism as characterizing components. He brings the issue of architecture’s false awareness into more keen political focus and he makes a few claims with respect to the death of architecture’s avant-garde or utopian ideals despite its usurpation by late capitalist powers (Mallgrave & Contandriopoulos, 2008, p. 396).

The essay starts with the Enlightenment and the urban design theories of Marc-Antoine Laugier, an advocate of aesthetics of the pleasant, and his naturalism conception in planning and in addition the idea of the city as forest. Laugier writes “Anyone who knows how to design a park well will draw up a plan according to which a city must be built in relation to its area and situation. There must be squares, intersections, streets. There must be regularity and whimsy, relationships and oppositions, chance elements that lend variety to the tableau, precise order in the details and confusion, chaos and tumult in the whole.” (Bao, 2015, para.2). From Laugier, in order to discover an answer for the problems created by the cities, Tafuri brings up the increasingly political role obtruded Enlightenment architects.

Piranesi’s Campo Marzio introduced an experimental design struggle the problem of balancing opposites with regards to the city. This political role was shown in the urban design of Milan by Antolini, and his desire to infuse a totalizing message through bound unified architectural form.

As Andrew mention in his article Technology, Authenticity and Architectural Ideology, through investigating the course of the modern movement as an ideological instrument of capital, Tafuri breaks the history into three successive stages from 1901 to 1939:

  • Formation of urban ideology as a method for overcoming architectural romanticism
  • The increase of artistic avant-gardes as ideological activities, which then hand those activities over to architecture and urban planning to understand those ideals in tangible form
  • Architectural ideology turns into the ideology of plan

Tafuri proposes that architecture started to seem unnecessary and marginal regarding financial and political powers which tackled more prominent positions of power in the planning and dispersion of capitalism. Stage one is depicted by the usage of work of art by the avant-gardes as a field on which to project the sense of shock typical of the urban experience and of living in a city which functions as a machine whose gain is to concentrate esteem from its citizens and to provide a place to collect and to consume on a mass scale. That is the city is an instrument for organizing the cycle of production-distribution-consumption (Pun, A., 2011, para.7). Starting with nineteenth, form should considered as a creation of logic of subjective reaction with objective unity of production. Dialectic explanation of individualism shows itself as cubism, futurism, Dadaism and De Stijl. This comprehension of the city as an instrument can be found in the cubism of Picasso and Braque, in the work of the De Stijl like work of Mondrian and Futurist movements.

The ideals of the avant-gardes slowly merged into one vision of the city as a place of tumult and order, and into a single ideal of translating tumult into meaning and value. Tafuri defines the Bauhaus as the decantation chamber of the Avant-gardes, in which their goals were handed over to architecture and planning to be interpreted into reality. The first and clearest sample of this interpretation into the reality was Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin. Once the city was comprehended as an instrument of production, a tremendous social machine where the building is no more an object, rather it is individual cells that make physical form (Bao, 2015, para.7). The architect starts to play the part of production for an assembly line and turns into an organizer of the process. Tafuri proposes that Le Corbusier tested and improved the most extensive system of rational plans at different scales, and implemented them into different projects. He saw his project as the rationalization of the total organization of the urban machine utilizing the strategy of organic unity. The city’s arrangement must happen so that the magnificence of the entire will be subdivided into infinity of details. Each is not quite the same as each other so that there are always new interpretations arising; it is through this clear tumult or irregularity that characterizes great cities.

Through time the architect has slowly become removed from the creation and process associated with architectural design, and the first stages of this is exhibited by the architect as a manger of the process that create the architecture, not so must the creator of the built environment. This disassociation between architect and building is further intensified through the realization of vast potential of technology in the rationalization of the city and outlying areas. 1930’s architects afraid to share their ideological approach in the terms of political circumstance then they started to focus on technology. All this development brings to mind the idea of the proletarianization of the architect

Tafuri suggests that the after 1930, architectural ideology basically entered a stage of regression. He argues that ‘’the entire course of modern architecture… was born, developed and brought into crisis in a grandiose attempt…to resolve the imbalances, contradictions and delays typical of the capitalistic reorganization of the world market.’’ (Mallgrave & Contandriopoulos, 2008, p. 397).

Furthermore, he says that there can be no such thing as a political financial aspects of class, but just a class critique of political financial aspects and similarly there can never be an aesthetics, art or architecture of class, but just a class critique of aesthetics, art, architecture and the city and Marxist critique of architectural and urbanistic ideology can just demystify history behind the unifying classifications of the term art, architecture and city (Hays, 1998, p. 32).

In conclusion, Tafuri defines modernism period as a part of evaluation of the avant-garde’s utopian perspective which can identify as an idealization of capitalism. He analyses the architectural form and plans, failures and crisis of modernism under ideology.


Bao, D., (2015, March 17). Toward a critique of architectural ideology Retrieved April 9, 2016, from

Hays, K. M. (Eds.). (1998). Architecture theory since 1968. England: The MIT Press

Mallgrave, H. F., & Contandriopoulos C. (Eds.). (2008). Architectural theory: volume II-an anthology from 1871 to 2005. USA: Blackwell Publishing

Pun, A., (2011, November 26). Technology, authenticity and architectural ideology presentation Retrieved April 9, 2016, from