History against planning: The role of Manfredo Tafuri in the contemporary architectural thought


  • Panayotis Pangalos Athens School of Fine Arts
  • Sarra Matsa University of Patras




What kind of connections are there between history, ideology and urban planning? 

Through a process of "organizing the memory" for an ideological use, history becomes a technical parameter and the city is the field of its application. Therefore, in the construction of the collective memory, the boundaries between myth and history are often being refuted and the consciousness of the myth as a true story turns the mythical time into an experienced one. In this game, the spatial signs of time play a major role: monuments, buildings, ruins, become documents through which historians assemble the pieces of the past, establishes their constructions and tame the social present. Under this assumption, the city is not a place of spaces but of histories and the urban planning is the result of a systematic management of the ideologies. 

What role does the historian hold in the evolution of urban planning? 

According to Manfredo Tafuri, the position of the historian cannot be innocent. On the contrary, to the extent that he determines behaviors and directs actions, he is critical and dangerous. Through the historians’ writings, the past becomes one of the most powerful technological means, a dynamic way of producing moral and cultural models, capable of binding contemporary decisions. Each history constitutes a kind of ideological myth and every myth is a history brought into alignment with the needs of an ideology. The past is constantly reconstructed, in order to support the choices of the present. Historians can cure the theoretical voids of architecture and therefore historical word is easily transformed into a specific technical tool in the construction of interpretation of a specific urban form.

Is it though possible for the presence of history to function reversibly and, instead of strengthening architecture with certitudes, to provoke vivid concerns? Is there a critical history against planning?

Such enquiries will lead Tafuri to review the historical facts, and, as he will observe that “the discipline itself was rotten to the core”, get involved again with the writing of basic chapters of architectural history, making widely understood the fact that morphological revolutions are not destabilizing, because they flow from the economically powerful. Beyond Tafuri, architects cannot any more address to historians in order to purify conscience, to clarify notions, to choose rules, to break through doubts and build truths, because history constitutes a procedure of subversion par-excellence.

How do we owe to act today under the suggestions of Tafuri? Only if any field of planning is removed from the educational programs of architectural studies, we could expect a quality change of architectural thought. 


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How to Cite

Pangalos, P., & Matsa, S. (2016). History against planning: The role of Manfredo Tafuri in the contemporary architectural thought. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(5). https://doi.org/10.7480/iphs.2016.5.1313