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Figure 5 - Exhibition 'Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica', Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 5 – Exhibition ‘Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica’, Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Luigi Moretti: The Unity of Algorithmic Language
algorithmic fitness, Algorithmic Language, critique to empiricism, generative algorithms, Luigi Moretti, parameters, probabilistic outcomes, search space
Marco Vanucci, Marco Vanucci
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“The new art must be based upon science, in particular, upon mathematics, as the most exact, logical, and graphically constructive of the sciences.” Albert Durer

In the newfound spirit that emerged at the end of the Second World War, Rome became the epicentre of a cultural renaissance. Beside the swinging high life impeccably captured by Fellini in La Dolce Vita, the Eternal City shone as a cultural hub, not just attracting actors and film makers to Cinecittà but, rather, gathering artists, scientists, philosophers, architects and engineers.

The Valadieresque Piazza del Popolo was one of the epicentres of the city’s cultural life. At number 18, next to Antonio Canova’s studio and in front of Caffe Rosati, home to the literati, were the headquarters of Civiltà delle Macchine, a magazine directed by Leonardo Sinisgalli and house organ of Finmeccanica (an Italian company specialising in aerospace, defence and security), promoting the new technological and scientific zeitgeist. Nearby, in via Sistina, L’Obelisco gallery hosted Giorgio Morandi and Alberto Burri’s shows as well as the first exhibitions in Italy of René Magritte and Robert Rauschenberg. The second wave of La Scuola Romana (or Scuola di via Cavour) was also in full swing: the Caffè Aragno, on via del Corso, and the art gallery Cometa hosted discussions and exhibitions that challenged classicism in favour of new art forms, such as expressionism. The Italian “economic miracle” was thriving under the pressure of industrial development and the prosperous growth of the real estate market. The development of new infrastructure went hand-in-hand with the expansions of the cities through the construction of entire new neighbourhoods for the affluent working class. The deployment of a new apartment block typology, la palazzina [1], stretched far and wide in many parts of Rome and, beyond, across the country. Many notable examples were designed by the protagonists of a new generation of architects and engineers who, while promoting the ideas of modernism, were keen to establish a link between the new city and its architectural history. In the work of Ugo e Amedeo Luccichenti, Vincenzo Monaco, Pier Luigi Nervi, Mario Ridolfi and Luigi Moretti, the formal principals of Mannerism and Baroque evolved using reinforced concrete. They experimented with a new formal approach and often expressed new structural possibilities: the autonomous articulation of the façade, its depth, the expressive qualities of exposed concrete, as well as the daring structural solutions, were some of the characteristics of this new repertoire.

It is within this context, characterised by the productive tension between the innovative language of the modern avant-garde and the tradition of humanism, that Luigi Moretti became a central figure in the cultural landscape of the Italian post-war period, certainly one of its brightest interpreters.

Besides its lively cultural scene, Rome remained a place filled with traditional values, rituals, and multiple contradictions. The Italian novelist and Federico Fellini’s long-time screenwriter, Ennio Flaiano, described Italy as “the country where the shortest line between two points is an arabesque”. The paradox and inconsistencies of the Italian bureaucracy proved daunting to foreigners and newcomers, however, they were daily routine to the Roman citizens. Moretti navigated this intricate context with pleasure and ease. Many traits of his persona reflected this contradictory environment: he was physically imposing but elegant and refined; eloquent, charismatic and capable of attracting strong feeling of love and hatred; extroverted yet reserved, egocentric but generous with youngsters; an artist with a passion for science, coherent and multifaceted; a keen student of human nature with a strong temperament, which made discussions with him difficult and intimidating.

Moretti, however, had an eccentric side to his character. He rode with his chauffeur through the narrow street of Rome in a black and white convertible Chevrolet with bright red upholstery. One of his collaborators recalled that “he would enter the Roman trattoria like a Renaissance prince, … give precise instructions to waiter and chef…[and] unilaterally decide the menu for all”. [2]

Luigi Walter Moretti was born in via Napoleone III, on the Esquiline Hill, in the same apartment where he lived almost his entire life. He was the son of Luigi Rolland (1852-1921), an architect and engineer of Belgian origins. Having graduated in 1929 from the Royal School of Architecture in Rome, while assisting Professor Vincenzo Fasolo at the chair of restoration, Moretti won a scholarship for Roman Studies. He then worked with archaeologist and art historian Corrado Ricci at the Trajan’s Market, not far from via Panisperna, in Rione Monti, where he later established his first studio. Born one year before the publication of Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism, [3] Moretti absorbed the futurists’ conviction in the “magnificent and progressive fate” of technological innovation and translated it into his own theory and practice. His intellectual approach reflected the profile of a nineteenth-century polymath, a mixture of positivistic idealism and passion for the opportunities offered by the new technologies. He paired creativity with methodological rigour; he rooted his knowledge in the humanistic tradition, drawings inspiration from the late Renaissance and the Baroque, while cultivating a sensibility for mathematics and science. [4] For him, mathematics was the field of “purest contemplations” and “applicative wonders”, [5] so art was “to make humans rise to contemplation, to a sort of vivid bewilderment”. [6]

A New Humanism

Unlike the Futurists, who saw history as too heavy a burden to carry, Moretti considered the history of art and architecture as primary sustenance. He understood history as a continuum and Modernism as part of this long narrative. Luigi Moretti thought of himself as the epigon of that ‘mathematical humanism’ that flourished between Urbino and Florence in the quattrocento [7] Seminal figures such as Luca Pacioli and Piero Della Francesca were from San Sepolcro, half way between the Medici court and the Montefeltro, and each authored treatises on mathematics. Pacioli studied mathematical and artistic proportion, the golden ratio and its application to architecture. He taught math to Leonardo da Vinci who, in turn, drew the illustrations of the regular solids in De Divina Proportione [8] . History has it that Pacioli also introduced Albrecht Dürer to the study of the human body which, in the 20th century, inspired D’Arcy

Thompson’ series on the morphogenesis of forms. On the other hand, Piero Della Francesca was trained in mathematics and wrote three treatises [9], covering subjects such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, solid geometry and perspective. As a young scholar, Piero visited Florence to study Masaccio’s crucifixion in Santa Maria Novella, where Brunelleschi drew the perspective. This collaboration possibly inspired his work for the Madonna di Senigallia where he sought the collaboration of Bramante to help with the perspective. It is not a chance if Piero Della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ is considered the first ‘scientific’ perspective ever realised. It was still in Urbino where Francesco di Giorgio Martini mastered the art and science of fortifications, designed following the ballistic trajectories of the new firearms technology [10]. In Rome, this tradition spanned from Apollodorus of Damascus to Michelangelo, all the way to Borromini’s divine geometry where the influence of mathematicians such as Kepler and Leibniz cannot be confirmed but it’s likely have played a role. Moretti considered himself to be the incarnation of the baroque spirit. His passion for and study of the Baroque was deeply rooted in the cultural climate in Rome following the First World War, which was the result of a broader re-discovery of baroque architecture, especially by German and Austrian historians [11]. He also had the chance to study with Fasolo and Giovannoni, who were renown scholars of the Baroque. Moretti considered Michelangelo Buonarroti as his spiritual father. Particularly interesting are Moretti’s studies of one of his less known but most emblematic works: the Sforza chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, which, according to Moretti, was configured as “the fullest expression of [his] architectural genius”, a “living archetype of architecture [in which] the constructive feeling is one with the construction [and where] the material, in every aspect of its nature, is … folded, transformed into a work of art, since … it is ‘felt’ by the architect as something of his own blood”.[12]

In 1964, at the 25th edition of the Venice Film Festival, while Deserto Rosso [13] won the Golden Lion as best movie, the Art Film section (boasting a jury presided over by Giulio Carlo Argan and including Gio Ponti) awarded the 50-minute long Michelangelo [14], directed by Charles Conrad and Luigi Moretti. In the movie, the work of Michelangelo is analysed through a series of unusual shots and points of view on his art and buildings. Moretti explained that “the first purpose [of] it is the right figurative reading of the work, above all to shake from the eyes those thin, abstract and now worn images of Michelangelo’s masterpieces; images [which are] already false in themselves, since photographs [taken] with wide angle [lens … present] images that are almost always impossible in real life. The second purpose … is that of reading according to a true order that illuminates the compositional spirit of the works … [This] is of course the most arduous, and the commentary of the film [is to] try to facilitate it”.[15] In the documentary, Moretti made use of dramatic lighting, in the manner of Caravaggio’s paintings, to accentuate the theatrical atmosphere, and avoided symmetric shots to render the work from an unusual angle. Particularly interesting is his reading of the Cappella Medicea in Florence, where he placed the camera on the ceiling, offering the opportunity to view the compressed interior spaces. Here, the director seems to be influenced by his professor Vincenzo Fasolo, who used to work through axonometric sectional views to unveil the tectonic character and planimetric sequences of space. A similar critical approach would be used by Bruno Zevi, a few years later, to produce the models and the drawings that punctuated Michelangelo’s exhibition at Palazzo delle Esposizioni [16].

The New Century of Science

Moretti’s work and approach can be understood by examining the cultural context within which he operated and where a new alliance between art and science was being defined.

At the turn of the century, the proliferation of new scientific theories challenged the axioms of modern physics and introduced ideas of complexity and chaos. Babbage’s first programmable calculator, Ada Lovelace’s first computer programs , and Boole’s binary code, together with the dissemination of Hollerith’s punched card tabulating machine, marked the beginning of the new era of mechanized binary code and semiautomatic data processing systems. In 1936, Alan Turing published On Computable Numbers,[17] describing what will become the Turing machine, and, in turn, his focus on neurology and physiology will eventually pave the way for artificial intelligence. On the back of this experimentation with the first computational machines, multiple applications became possible: fractals, theory of complexity, chaos theory, thermodynamics, neural networks, generative algorithms, etc.

Moretti was also aware of the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and, on the pages of the USL Paris Review [18], among a collage of images of Antonelli, Guarini and Botticelli, he laid out images of the morphological evolution of biological specimens taken from D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form.[19] Moretti’s fascination for biology and natural systems supported his ideas that form can be mathematically described and computed, which became a founding principle in his further search for a new aesthetic in architecture and the arts. These scientific breakthroughs deeply influenced Moretti, who was searching for a more objective approach to the problem of architecture and city planning in the context of the post-war reconstruction.

In 1951, in the pages of Civiltà delle Macchine, Sinisgalli synthesises the new spirit [20]:

“Today, science comes to draw the skeleton of a crystal and to identify the weak points of a beam … These surveys beyond the visible, these searches for comparative phenomena in tools and materials, they allowed us to clarify the meaning of certain provisions which only seemed owned [by] the spirit, and are instead virtues of matter. Art must retain control of the truth, and the truth of our times is of a subtle quality, it is a truth that is of an elusive nature, probable more than certain, a truth “on the edge” which borders on the ultimate reasons … Science and Poetry cannot walk on divergent roads. Poets must not have [a] suspicion of contamination. Lucretius, Dante and Goethe drew abundantly [on] the scientific and philosophical culture of their times without clouding their vein. Piero della Francesca, Leonardo and Dürer, Cardano and della Porta and Galilei always … benefited from a very fruitful symbiosis between logic and fantasy.”

Moretti shared with the futurists his political views, which were aligned with the fascist ideology. At the end of his university career, in 1932, he met Renato Ricci, then the president of the Opera Nazionale Balilla [21] (ONB), who appointed him ONB’s technical director, succeeding architect Enrico Del Debbio. In this role, Moretti designed several youth centres in Piacenza, Rome (Trastevere), Trecate, and Urbino. In 1937, he took over the design and masterplan for Foro Mussolini (now renamed Foro Italico), where he created one of his masterpieces, Casa della Armi (1933), a rationalist structure subverted by the elegant use of curved lines and the masterful control of natural light. In 1938, Moretti participated in the design of the EUR (Esposizione Universale Romana), a planned (but never completed) development in the Southern part of the city, intended to host Rome’s world fair.

In 1942, Moretti disappeared from public life. Once he reappeared, he was briefly imprisoned in 1945 for his collaboration with the regime. In the prison of San Vittore, in Milan, he met Alfonso Fossataro, an entrepreneur and builder with whom he partnered to build several developments, right after the war. Fossataro and Moretti established the developing company Cofimprese, under which Moretti worked on a series of hotel buildings, and realised the Corso Italia complex in in Milan. The il Girasole house , in the Parioli neighbourhood in Rome, belongs to this period (1949) and is considered an early example of postmodern architecture. [22] The Roman palazzina captured the attention of Robert Venturi, who included it in Complexity and Contradictions as an example of ambiguous architecture, halfway between tradition and innovation. In turn, years later, the Swiss architectural theorist Stanislaus von Moos argued that the broken pediment of Vanna Venturi House is a clear reference to Moretti’s project. [23] In the same period, Moretti designed some villas along the Tirrenic coastline: the most famous of which, La Saracena and the nearby La Califfa, are fine examples of mid-century modernism.

During those years, Moretti entertained a relationship with the Roman aristocracy, the cultural elite, and the Vatican. Studio Moretti was in Palazzo Colonna, in Piazza Santi Apostoli, a regal palace in the heart of Rome which housed the famous Galleria Colonna. Prince Colonna occupied the most important secular position in the Vatican, and he constantly received important visitors: from monarchs to cardinals to prime ministers. Moretti’s office overlooked the main cortile of the palace, so that he and his staff (mostly architects and geometri) would enjoy a daily parade of celebrities and authorities, some of who would become clients.


The post-war period was the golden age for Moretti: his architectural production blossomed in the context of a striving economy which propelled real estate developments across the country. This is also the period of his intellectual maturity, where Moretti developed his sharpest and most relevant reflections on architectural theory.

Moretti’s reputation with the Roman intelligentsia was compromised by his right-wing political views. Bruno Zevi was probably the one who best understood his talent, but he was also his harshest critic. The world of architecture in Rome was dominated by these two figures, so distant and yet so very close. On the one hand, Zevi:

a Jew and a socialist, exiled during the war by Mussolini; an academic historian, an acute scholar and supporter of the Modern Movement with a predilection for Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto. On the other hand, Moretti: a conservative catholic, a supporter of the Fascist regime and an active practitioner banned from academia. They each edited an architectural journal which they used as a means to trumpet their architectural ideas. Zevi was, at one time, Moretti’s best interlocutor and strongest enemy. Despite their rivalry, their relationship could be, at times, relaxed and even civil. What is certain is that they probably shared more than they were ready to publicly admit: Zevi secretly hoped that Moretti would join the Association for Organic Architecture (APAO), a movement founded in 1945 by Zevi himself, Luigi Piccinato, Mario Ridolfi, Pier Luigi Nervi and others, aiming at creating a new school of thought, in open opposition to the reactionary model of the Faculty of Architecture of Rome. Legend has it that Zevi tried to convince Moretti to join APAO, promising to make him the greatest Italian living architect. Moretti refused and was for many years condemned to oblivion by the cultural elite. Despite the antagonism of his many detractors, in 1950, Moretti founded the magazine Spazio, [24] with a clear mission to find connections between different forms of art: from painting to architecture, from sculpture to film and theatre. Spazio burned bright in the Roman intellectual scene and, despite the stigma surrounding Moretti, became a beacon for the visual culture of the time, an elegant cultural project that nobody could dare ignore.

Spazio represents one of the most important moments in Luigi Moretti’s theoretical output. Although the magazine only published seven issues (ceasing publications in 1953), his writings published in the magazine represent his most relevant critical framework and constitute the heart of his theoretical production and cultural legacy.

Moretti was editor, editorial director and writer of most of the articles in the magazine. The opening editorial of the first issue of the magazine is titled “Eclettismo e unità di linguaggio” [25] (eclecticism and unity of language) and can be considered Moretti’s programmatic manifesto. The “Unity of Language” was not intended as a fusion of different artistic languages but rather their consonance: Moretti was aware of the differences between artistic languages, and he knew that, despite some emerging points of contact, they remained separate due to their “algorithmic and close” nature. He used the term algorithmic to describe the tendency of different systems to form the general structure of a building or piece of art. The way, for instance, a particular building deals with the modulation of light, the organisation of space and its bearing was considered by Moretti the algorithmic DNA of that structure. In other words, he conceived of architecture as a “reality of pure interrelations”.[26] Moretti believed that the algorithmic nature of the various artistic languages could finally converge and speak in unison.

“There are some periods of civilization that take shape and character from the splendour of a single language; others, very rare, in which the various expressive languages find harmony (…) and together they reach a dense maturity; they are the happy times of Pericles or of the early Renaissance or of the extraordinary seventeenth century. A unitary language is born, formal process of sorting and classification of the infinite parameters of reality and their relationships. Space thus becomes unitary, resolvable, and expressible in every point, and [a] mirror of a new balanced unity of mankind”. [27] [28]

Then in “Genesi di Forme dalla Figura Umana”,[29] in Spazio’s second issue, Moretti described the role of the human figure in the history of art. While these first two articles for Spazio were concerned with general topics, from the third issue onwards he started to explore more specific aspects that would unveil his operational approach to architecture. In “Forme Astratte nella Scultura Barocca”,[30] Moretti discusses how the non-figurative elements of baroque sculptures present a formal richness that could be subtracted from the composition and yet retain their autonomous aesthetic value as abstract forms. Analysing the Baroque sculptures, he noted that “they reveal some areas of their plastic application resolved in purely formal terms, far from any pre-eminent reference to an objective reality, so that it does not seem arbitrary to know that they belong to the abstract formal world”. A case in point is the sculptural palimpsest accompanying the four figures in Bernini’s Fontana dei Fiumi in Piazza Navona, where the landscape surrounding the human figure retains an autonomous aesthetic value.

The contemporaneity of historical art forms and the relevance of history in the world of today was often questioned and studied by Luigi Moretti. In “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie”[31] and “Valori della modanatura”[32] he presented a “close reading” of architectural elements: in the first article he tackles the figurative abstraction of mouldings in Romanic architecture, which he considered to be the most abstract in their pictorial simplicity, and yet very concrete in their constructive logic. Moretti juxtaposed on the same page the images of the Duomo di Pisa and Mondrian’s paintings. Signs, traces, geometric textures used in the pictorial compositions become, therefore, precious matrices to compose architectural plans, sections, and elevations. In the second article, Moretti questioned how cornices and profilescould be considered, rather than decorative elements, as pure form, as the only non-figurative elements of architecture that determine its plasticity and volumetric articulation. In “Discontinuità dello Spazio in Caravaggio”[33] and “Spazi-Luce ell’Architettura Religiosa” he continued to explore the role of light in the dynamic articulation of space. He argued that Caravaggio’s figures are always portrayed from the side, never frontal nor symmetrical, deconstructing mass and space through the interplay of light and shadows, with dynamic results. Here, Moretti made a subtle reference to his project for Corso Italia in Milan where he grafted a cantilevering mass protruding sideways from the urban street front.

Perhaps it is with “Strutture e Sequenze di Spazi”[34] that Moretti produced one of the most relevant critical studies for the culture of his time. In it, Moretti delved into the problem of reading and describing space. If the focus in considering Caravaggio was on perceptive glimpses of space, here the aim was to precisely investigate the relationship between the parts and the whole by studying the sequence of rooms articulated through the compressions and dilations of space. He systematically studies and analyses these aspects through a series of

historical examples: Villa Adriana, Guarino Guarini’s church of San Filippo Neri in Casale Monferrato, Laurana’s Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, and many others. For each of these projects, Moretti produced a series of models where the interior space is represented as a volumetric extrusion. With these, he developed an autonomous spatial reading of architecture not dissimilar to what Eisenman developed in the 1960s and 1970s, with the study of forms as pure architectural syntax. Alongside the models are a series of drawings and diagrams describing the density of the different spaces. Here, the form, the structure and the space itself are represented as a dynamic tension between the immaterial nature of space and its material representation.

It is, however, in “Struttura come Forma”[35] that Moretti elaborated the relationship between structure and form (critiquing the approach that prioritises form over structure) and, for the first time, talked about parametric architecture. Starting from the Vitruvian triad (stability, utility, beauty), Moretti argued that, historically, architecture oscillated between prioritising structure (Brunelleschi, Gothic and Roman architecture) or form (Baroque, Renaissance and 19th Century architecture). He then reflected on the direction function>form, pursed by the Rationalists and the Bauhaus. He considered the “function” as parameters determining the space and its concatenation. These parameters are either very limited, so that space can be easily deduced with scientific rigour, leading to the realm of pure technique (an extreme case of what he called parametric architecture); or these parameters are multiple and not clearly definable, so that the function is necessarily approximate, and only further articulation of the structure can define it more precisely. Here we return to the structure>form approach, where structure is, once again, understood as a complex set of relationships. The text is accompanied by an illustration by a young architect, Guido Figus, who worked on an iterative series of roof structures articulated through folded plates resembling origami. Figus’ drawings are fascinating: rather than proposing an optimum solution, they are exploring a series of possible (parametric) permutations for the structure.

An Other Art

The movement initiated with Spazio continued after the magazine ceased publication. On June 26 1954, in via Cadone, Rome, Galleria Spazio opened its doors with its first exhibition titled Caratteri della Pittura d’Oggi (Characters of Today’s Painting). The gallery was established through a collaboration between Luigi Moretti and the French art critic Michel Tapié de Celeyran. Jazz musician, curator, art critic and all-round cultural agitator, Tapié entertained close relationships with art galleries across Europe and North America that allowed him to promote and showcase his roaster of artists. He was also the author of Un Art Autre[36], a compendium about a “new art” of signs and matter, where he promoted and gave wide currency to the French style of abstract painting popular in the 1940s and 1950s called Tachisme. This movement was developed as a reaction to Cubism and was characterised by informality and an absence of premeditated structure, conception or approach (sans cérémonie).

The turning point in Tapié’s career was his friendship with artist George Mathieu. This would soon lead to his meeting with Moretti, through the Roman artist Giuseppe Capogrossi, whose large canvases filled with cryptic glyphs and dynamic forms were disseminated across Moretti’s studio and acted as an inspiration to his architecture. [37]

Moretti was seduced by Tapié; he comprehended his great potential and, with him, he seized the opportunity to promote contemporary art, pursuing the unity of languages and his eclectic vision. Under Moretti’s directorship, the art critic became “artistic consultant” of Spazio gallery. For the first exhibition at the gallery, among the large group of selected artists there were some on the brink of becoming internationally acclaimed: Pollock, Francis and Tobey from the States; Capogrossi and Dova from Italy; Appel and Jorn who, with Wols, formed the CoBrA Group; and Mathieu and Riopelle from France. In the catalogue of the exhibition Moretti wrote:[38] “The intensity, the splendour, the explosion of signs given to the surfaces, the brightness and power of relations, the pure relations these signs compose, are its justification”. He also wrote of “The dramatic beauty, the desperate egoism of these adventurous facts that today occur in art”.

Here, Moretti claimed that painting was of importance only to itself, “only tied to the personal algorithm, to the personality of the artist”. The joint venture between Moretti and Tapié, together with artists such as Mathieu and Capogrossi, represented a clear attempt to find new aesthetic and philosophical ways to make art and science converge.

In 1954, in the pages of the US Lines Paris Review,[39] Tapié claims:

It is time to reconsider the notion of rhythm, no longer by way of the only possible system of whole numbers, but rather by way of real and hypercomplex numbers; the notion of structure, no longer bound irrevocably to the ruler and compass, but to the richer and more general notions of continuity and contingency of present topology, within which classical geometry is now only an extremely specialised little chapter; the notion of content, no longer as a more or less theatrical subject-pretext, but as complying with the norms of scientific psychoanalysis; the notion of space and composition, no longer tied to a static formalistic logic and to an “equilibrium” of the same order, but rather to Galois’ Theory of Groups, to Cantor’s Theory of Wholes, to the present metalogic and to Lupasco’s dynamic logic of the contradictory.

Moretti and Tapié would often wander through the streets of Rome searching for artists and “new voices”. Among them was artist Carla Accardi who, years later, recalled visiting villa Saracena in Santa Marinella with Moretti, Tapié and the American artist Claire Falkenstein who was commissioned to design the villa’s gate.

The Roman architect and the French critic shared a common vision and a commitment to evolve the artistic language. After Spazio, they continued to collaborate for many years, far beyond the closure of the gallery, each of them following their artistic language, but sharing a precise vision: the critic called it Morfologie Autre, while the architect refers to Strutture di Insiemi, a term that Moretti borrowed from the study of Galois’ theory of groups[40]. In 1960, they co-founded the International Centre of Aesthetic Research in Turin, Italy, a facility for the study and exhibition of art, as well as for the publication and dissemination of critical, investigative, or theoretical works on art.

In 1965, they co-authored the book Le Baroque Generalisé: Manifeste du Baroque Ensembliste[41], a beautiful and rare publication where the language of the Baroque is articulated through mathematical formulas. This book synthesises Moretti’s fascination for a more scientific approach to architecture with his love for art, the Baroque and the unity of language.

However, Moretti continued to foster collaboration and intellectual exchange. One such association was with French poet Pierre Pascal, son of chemist Paul Pascal, anti-Gaullist and collaborator with the Vichy government, sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. Pascal left France in 1944 and took refuge in Italy, where Mussolini initially offered him hospitality at the Vittoriale on Lake Garda before he later moved to Rome. There, he found accommodation at Palazzo Caetani, which became the seat of the Éditions du Cœur Fidèle, a publishing company that Pascal co-founded with Moretti. The Cœur Fidèle would publish a forest of hendecasyllabic and alexandrine verse, and rhythmic prose; from the Persian quatrains of Omar Khayyam to Le Corbeau by Poe (deciphered in his arithmetic, geometric and gematric keys), from the Livre de Job to the Apocalypse of St. John[42]. The last is certainly the most significant: it is an interpretation in French Alexandrine, with sixteen prints of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypsis cum figuris[43] taken from the original woodcuts used for the prints of 1498 and 1511. The book is of exquisite quality and it represents the apex of Moretti’s erudition which borders into exoterism, a testament to the belief that his intellectual work was rooted in the line drawn by the great masters of the past. Ricerca Operativa Moretti’s passion for science and mathematics led to a friendship with the engineer and mathematician Bruni De Finetti. They may have first met in Via Panisperna, in Rome, where Moretti, as a young graduate from the school of architecture, opened his studio and where De Finetti, enfant prodige and graduate in applied math from the University of Milan, attended the seminars at the Institute of Statistics. At the time, Enrico Fermi was there leading the ‘Panisperna boys’: Edoardo Amaldi, Ettore Majorana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti, Emilio Segre [44], a group of bright and young scientists who opened the door to nuclear reaction and, later, to the atomic bomb.

Before collaborating with Moretti, De Finetti had been involved in studies on the economic viability of construction. In the magazine La Città,[45] the architect Giuseppe De Finetti (Bruno’s cousin), invites him to develop a mathematical approach where, thanks to a series of formulas and by establishing a relationship between land value, cost of construction and rental value, they calculated the optimum composition of the building. Such an approach would be further investigated by De Finetti in his collaboration with Moretti. Having spent many years at the University of Trieste, De Finetti arrived in Rome in 1954 as a professor of Mathematics at the Faculty of Economics. was one of the first scholars to lecture on Ricerca Operativa, [46]

(operational research), a branch of applied mathematics which was making its way into the Italian academia and intellectual environment. It consisted of analysing and resolving complex decisional problems through the development of mathematical models and quantitative methods (simulation, optimization, etc.) to provide supporting insights in the decision-making process. It is worth noting that, around the same period and with different purposes, Bruno Zevi was elaborating his theory on Critica Operativa[47], a pedagogic and cultural enterprise which aimed to create a bridge between history and modern architecture. Zevi was advocating the actualisation of those immutable characteristics of historical architecture, read and reinterpreted in a contemporary key. [48].

The problem of establishing a link between theory and practice, between thinking and making, was clearly a defining trait of the Italian culture in the post-war era.

During those years, Moretti was developing his studies on parametric architecture, an approach that consisted in the application of mathematical theory to architecture and urbanism. However, having asked De Finetti to bring his collaboration to this new field of research, Moretti wanted to go beyond the declaration of theoretical principles and, in 1957, they became respectively president and vice-president of the newly founded Institute of Mathematical and Operations Research for Urbanism (IRMOU). With them were a group of young mathematicians, architects and engineers: Anna Cuzzer (then married to Paolo Portoghesi), Giovanni Cordella, and Cristoforo Sergio Bertuglia. Moretti’s idea was to apply a more scientific approach to the challenges of post-war reconstruction in Italy. IRMOU, in turn, aimed at employing mathematical and statistical methodologies to provide solutions that were considered quantitatively and qualitatively more effective for a truly modern country. Bruno De Finetti played a particularly important role, not just as a prestigious scholar but also because he introduced the Institute to the use of computational machines, such as the IBM 610, a fixed-point decimal electronic calculator used for probabilistic computation. De Finetti purchased the machine for the University and installed it in via Ripetta, establishing the institution’s first computing centre. At the time, Moretti was involved in some of the most important commissions of his career. In 1958 he led the team involved in creating the new Olympic Village for the XVII Olympics in Rome (1960).[49] Between 1960 and 1966, following up on the masterplan developed for the Olympics, together with Cafiero, Guidi and Libera, Moretti designed and built the housing project Quartiere INCIS Decima, where the buildings were arranged following the roman castrum.

Abroad, Moretti built the Watergate Complex in Washington (which would become infamous in the wake of the 1972 political scandal) and Montreal’s Stock Exchange Tower, both projects commissioned by the insurance company Generale Immobiliare.

In 1968, he was commissioned to design a sanctuary at Tagbha, on Lake Tiberias in Israel. The project was approved by the Vatican, but was never built due to the outbreak of war between Israel and Palestine. Moretti also had commissions in Kuwait (including the headquarters of the Bedouin Engineers’ Club and Bedouin Houses s) and in Algeria (Hotel El Aurassi, the Club des Pines and a series of schools and residential projects).

Moretti was also involved in the new masterplan for the city of Rome and, with IRMOU, carried out studies to analyse and alleviate traffic in the capital. These projects led to the plan for the new subway branch Termini-Risorgimento, which culminated in the realisation of the Pietro Nenni bridge over the river Tiber, as well as the new carpark under Villa Borghese which opened in 1973. Around the same period, he also realised the project for the Thermal Bath in Fiuggi, where he mastered the used of reinforced concrete.

Architettura Parametrica

Having spent about 20 years searching for the new relationship between architecture and mathematics, in 1960, Luigi Moretti was invited to the Milan Triennale to present the work and studies carried out with IRMOU on Parametric Architecture. While IRMOU’s work mostly focused on urbanism (urban planning, urban flows, etc.), for the exhibition in Triennale, Moretti developed parametric studies on sport and leisure facilities: a football stadium, an aquatic centre, a tennis arena and a cinema. At the time, football stadiums andsports arenas in general were relatively new typologies. In addition, unlike many of today’s venues, they were mono-functional. For this reason, stadia were the perfect typology to establish parametric relationships between different components: the position of the spectators in relation with the goals, the sightlines between every seat and different areas of the pitch, etc. Moretti and his collaborators elaborated mathematical formulas to describe these dependencies. The mathematical models produced data points representing the optimum viewing areas of the stadium. The data points were elaborated using an IBM 610 Auto-Point computer.

Moretti explains the “necessity to formulate new logical chains aimed at identifying new architectural forms and their concatenation, dependent on various and complex functions”.[50] For Moretti, “each logical area that makes up the sequence of this new formulation of architectural thought must be the receptor and projective of mathematical thought, that is to say, it needs to be quantifiable … The solution is based on the determination of the elements conditioning the forms as a consequence of the functions that are required of it. That is to say: solutions based on qualifiable parameters, parameters that, one by one and in their quantifiable interrelation, fix the limits within which we identify and draw the forms that fulfil those functions”. And again, “the definition of the parameters must be called upon to assist the techniques and instruments of the most current scientific thought; mathematical logic, operational research and computers. To the study of this approach and to the new method and theory specified in its schemes and verified by the first exciting results, I gave the name of Parametric Architecture”. Moretti elaborated his parametric manifesto on the pages of Moebius magazine, in an axiomatic text which established the heuristic principles of parametric architecture.[51]

Bruno Zevi was intrigued by this new approach. However, confirming his opposition to Moretti, he was far from being convinced. Following the opening of the exhibition, Zevi wrote a sceptical review of it on the pages of L’Architettura Cronaca e Storia:

“Everything that serves to give us distance from empiricism and rationalism in design should be applauded. Especially in a moment like the current one in which the characteristic of the [working method] of most Italian architects is careless … A parametric method encompasses the tools, procedures, and objectives, but to what end? For these questions, electronic brains are barely useful, brains are needed. If parametric architecture is not to remain a brilliant intellectual exercise, it is indispensable that research is sustained by a high moral inspiration. For now, the idea surprises and fascinates us; tomorrow, it may convince”. [52]

Here, Zevi aired a certain dissatisfaction for the unfulfilled promises of parametric architecture. A scepticism that, beside the great advances in parametric and algorithmic design, many still share today.

However, Luigi Moretti was aware of the “high moral inspiration” required to pursue the new course of architecture. In a lecture at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, in 1964, he claims that “the new basic meaning” of making architecture must be identified with the “genius of a new morality, of an interior commitment to working in accordance with justice, in a superior economy, for our fellow men. This imposes a dedication, a seriousness in research and investigations and, above all, an underlying humility”. [53]


Moretti passed away suddenly in 1973. In his obituary, Zevi didn’t spare words of either admiration or criticism for his beloved enemy: “He possessed an authentic artistic temperament integrated with a notable if non-methodical culture and an extraordinary professional capacity. He could have assumed a determining role in the depressed Italian atmosphere; but a spasmodic desire for individual affirmation associated with an intellectualism like that of D’Annunzio, greedy for refinements and luxuries, reduced his creativity to insufferable conventionality. A waste in civil and human terms”.[54]

Moretti remained a controversial figure for many years after his passing. His legacy was long ignored or undervalued. However, much of the research and many of the questions raised by Moretti during his architectural life remained relevant and some still haunt architects today. What is the role of history in designing the city of today? What is the relationship between architects and technology? Is technology merely a tool to make or also a tool to think?

Moretti was aware of the necessity to not parametrise all things. He warned against “the dictatorship of the algorithm”. The Roman architect knew that his research was still far from the government of complex phenomena with suitable complex algorithms. He knew that architects “will have to educate the mind to scientific rigor knowing how to leave [their] imagination and expressive freedom intact, since free formal expression, personal lyricism, will always find a place in the spaces that the parametric functions will leave free”.[55]

One year before his departure, Luigi Moretti offered an interesting insight. In this brief excerpt from a conference titled “Technology and the ecological problem”,[56] he warned about the uncritical endorsement of new technologies, exposing the limits of his own thinking. While he seemed to have no doubt regarding the computational turn in architecture, he seemed to distance himself from any technocratic orthodoxy.

The authentic humanism in ancient civilization … was indeed a synthesis and integral consciousness of abstract thought … It is with the Enlightenment that an approximate rationality has entered, the production of algorithmic thought as something absolutely proper, acceptable, indeed dutiful and characteristic of man. … The whole critical situation of today’s world, from ecology to ethics, economy, politics, religion and spirituality is the result of two errors … Precisely:

1) the logic of algorithmic developments without limits;

2) [the validity of] this logic …, whatever the dimensions of the empirical field on which it operates.

Technologies produce mechanisms [that are] expressions of particular logical chains, dependent [on] or aroused by other logical chains. … Everyone now feels that it is not possible to continue with them indefinitely. This is obvious; … in the laws of technological development there is a need for a limit. … There is an asymptotic point for any technology beyond which it is in vain, it is foolish to proceed. … The limit of a technology is always inherent in it; it is equivalent to its death and death is an inseparable moment of the vital process in every organism …: we take logic and its algorithmic developments as valid whatever the dimensions of the empirical field on which they operate. This is false: the logical structures are NOT valid for each dimension of the field on which they are affected.

When I was preparing the exhibition of parametric architecture, which had this statement as a conducting background, Prof. De Finetti, one of the most acute intellects in today’s world, suggested to me as a slogan and introduction a stupendous step by Galileo, which roughly says: “if you want to make an animal fifty times bigger you will not have to enlarge the bones and structures fifty times, you will have to change material and study another completely different structure, otherwise you will make a fantasy monster” …

Now, in today’s world, the dimensions are enormously changed; … we continue to use concepts and logic, in the empirical life of our global community … and mustn’t the exceptional dimension of our empirical world lead to a completely new formation of knowledge (of thought)? How can we have logical chains that conclude with certainty as a good old syllogism? As we know, they will be only probable conclusions and consequent statistically verifiable situations. This concept of truth according to probability and statistics has for some time now come alive in every beat of our thought. [57]

On the one hand, he warns against the application of algorithmic processes to all the dimensions of knowledge, establishing boundaries to what can be known through algorithms and what should be left in the hand of the architect. On the other hand, the critique to empiricism leads Moretti to re-affirm a new form of scientific thought that advances by probabilistic attempts rather than by absolute truths. Thus, not dissimilarly from the logic of generative algorithms, Moretti understood that, in the new world, the algorithmic fitness of different parameters is to be found within the boundaries of a “search space” where truth is constantly fluctuant and, far from being univocal, has multiple probabilistic outcomes.


1 “Palazzina. This term, which came into use in the Renaissance as a term of endearment for palazzo, originally designated small buildings located within parks and gardens intended to offer asylum during parties and hunting parties … La Palazzina … thus began its disruptive parable towards the city in the 1920s, replacing the continuous fabric typical of the ancient city [with] a discontinuous fabric in which the building volumes are placed side by side without any formal relationship connecting them, divided only by a thin strip of green, usually divided by the high walls erected on the boundaries of the lots.” (P. Portoghesi, The Angel of History, [Bari: Laterza, 1982])

2 Adrian Sheppard, “Luigi Moretti: a testimony” (Montreal: 2008)

3 Marinetti wrote the manifesto in the autumn of 1908 and it first appeared as a preface to a volume of his poems, published in Milan in January 1909. It was published in the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dell’Emilia in Bologna on 5 February 1909, then in French as Manifeste du futurisme (Manifesto of Futurism) in the newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909. Luigi Moretti was born in Rome on 2 January 1907.

4 “To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Da Vinci

5 B.Baldi, Le Vite de’ Matematici, 1587–1595, cit. in F.Abbri, E.Bellone, W.Bernardi, U.Bottazzini, P.Rossi (eds), Storia Della Scienza Moderna e Contemporanea. Dalla Rivoluzione Scientifica all’eta’ dei Lumi 1, 136, TEA, 2000

6 Luigi Moretti, Forme Astratte Nella Scultura Barocca, Spazio n.3, 20, October 1950

7 Andre Chastel introduced the notion of “mathematical humanism” in his book Centri del Rinascimento: Arte italiana 1460-1500 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1965). Chastel identifies three strands of humanism and specifies that the mathematical one “finds its most important base in Urbino” (41), noting that “the case of Luca Pacioli is not isolated: on the contrary, it well represents the intellectual environment of the quattrocento, an environment in which theory and practice walk hand in hand without, however, adapting themselves to one another perfectly” (47, 49).

8 Luca Pacioli, De Divina Proportione, Aboca Museum, San Sepolcro, 2009

9 Trattato d’Abaco (Abacus Treatise), De quinque corporibus regularibus (On the Five Regular Solids) and De Prospectiva pingendi (On Perspective in painting).

10 Scaglia, Gustina, Francesco Di Giorgio: Checklist and History of Manuscripts and Drawings in Autographs and Copies from Ca. 1470 to 1687 and Renewed Copies, Lehigh Univ Pr, 1992

11 Literary works of architectural history such as Der Cicero by Jacob Burckhardt (1855), Studien zur Architektur geschichte des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts by Robert Dohme (1878), Renaissance and Baroque by Heinrich Wölfflin (1888), and Barock und Rococo by Auguste Schmarsow (1897), prepare the ground; added to them at the beginning of the twentieth century were Michelangelo als Architekt by Heinrich von Geymüller (1904) and Die Entstehung der Ba rokkunst in Rome by Alois Riegl (1908). In the aftermath of the Great War, came Michelangelo-Studien by Dagobert Frey (1920) and the volume on Borromini by Eberhard Hempel (1924).

12 L. Moretti, op. cit. in Casabella LXX (2006), .78-79.

13 Red Desert, director M.Antognoni, written by M.Antognoni, T.Guerra, starring M.Vitti, R.Harris, C.Chionetti, Italy, 1964

14 Michelangelo: The Man with Four Souls, directors: L.Morfetti, C.Conrad, Italy, 1964

15 L. Moretti e Charles Conrad, presentation to the premier of the movie ’Michelangelo‘ at Circolo del P Greco, Roma, Hotel Hilton, 14 Luglio 1964 (Archivio Moretti Magnifico).

16 P. Portoghesi, B. Zevi (eds.), Michelangiolo architetto (Torino: Einaudi, 1964), with Giulio Carlo Argan, Franco Barbieri, Aldo Bertini, Sergio Bettini, Renato Bonelli, Decio Gioseffi, Roberto Pane, Paolo Portoghesi, Bruno Zevi, and Lionello Puppi.

17 A. M. Turing, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 1937

18 A.Imperiale, “An ‘Other’ aesthetic: Moretti’s Parametric Architecture”, Log 44 (2018)

19 D’Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form, Cambridge University Press, 1917

20 L. Sinisgalli, “Natura, Calcolo, Fantasia”, Pirelli 3 (1951) 54-55.

21 Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was an Italian Fascist youth organization functioning between 1926 and 1937, when it was absorbed into the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (GIL), a youth section of the National Fascist Party.

22 Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.

23 Stanislaus von Moo, Venturi, Rauch, & Scott Brown: Buildings and Projects (New York: Rizzoli, 1987),244-246

24 Spazio made its debut in July 1950 taking the form of a grandiose project, capable of combining typographic and contributor quality, investments (editorial staff in Milan, Rome, and later Florence and Paris), international screening (abstract in English, French and Castilian). The director’s writings are numerous and of absolute importance. The editor-in-chief, Agnoldomenico Pica, is the author of several texts and is flanked by recurring collaborators: Umberto Bernasconi, Angelo Canevari, Gino Severini, Sisto Villa, Ugo Diamare. Over the course of 7 issues the magazine has promoted artists and architects such as Carlo Mollino, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Alberto Burri, Renzo Zanella, Antonio Gaudi, Adalberto Libera, Ugo Carrà, Vico Magistretti, Carlo De Carli, Ettore Sottsass, Atanasio Soldati, Gianni Monnet, Vittoriano Viganò, Franco Albini, Carlo Pagani, and Luciano Baldessari. The layout was masterful, governed with skilful technique, taste and originality by the director himself

25 L.Moretti, “Ecclecttismo e Unità dei Linguaggi”, Spazio1 (1950)

26 “For me personally, the search for this secret fabric as a link between the various elements of a work, which renders, or attempts to render, the single forms as interrelated parts to the others, in a consciously inseparable fabric, is the habitual way of consider a work (descendant) above all from the eighteen pages of Galois that opened the new objective world to us as a reality of pure interrelations”. “Ultime Testimoninaze di Giuseppe Vaccaro”, L’Architettura Cronaca e Storia,201(1972).

28 L.Moretti, “Ecclecttismo e Unità dei Linguaggi”, Spazio 1, (1950).

29 L.Moretti, “Genesi di Forme dalla Figura Umana”, Spazio 2 (1950).

30 L.Moretti, “Forme Astratte nella Scultura Barocca”, Spazio 3 (1950).

31 L.Moretti, “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie”, Spazio 4 (1951).

32 L.Moretti, “Valori della modanatura”, Spazio 6 (1952).

33 L.Moretti, “Discontinuità dello Spazio in Caravaggio”, Spazio 5 (1951).

34 L.Moretti ”Strutture e sequenze di spazi”, Spazio 7 (1953)

35 L.Moretti, “Struttura come Forma”, Spazio 6 (1952)

36 Un Art Autre Ou il s’Agit de Noveaux Dévidages du Reel (Paris: 1952).

37 In the article “Structure comme forme”, published on the United States Line Paris Review, Moretti defines the mathematical equivalent of what he sees in Capogrossi paintings as the theory of differences, which he develops into a method to design dynamic architectural forms.

42 Pierre Pascal (curated by) Apokalypsis Ioannoy ou la Revelation de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ a Saint Jean, more often titled Apocalypsis Iesu Xristi / for the first time paraphrased in Alexandrian verse by Pierre Pascal (A l’enseigne du Coeur Fidele, Roma 1963)

43 The Apocalypse (Latin: Apocalipsis cum figuris) is a series of fifteen woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer published in 1498, depicting various scenes from the Book of Revelation, which rapidly brought him fame across Europe.

44 The Via Panisperna boys (Italian: I ragazzi di Via Panisperna) were a group of young scientists led by physicist Enrico Fermi. In Rome, in 1934, they made the famous discovery of slow neutrons, which later made possible the nuclear reactor and subsequently the construction of the first atomic bomb.

45 The magazine La Città: Architettura e Politica was founded and directed by Giuseppe De Finetti in 1945. Only four issues were published between 1945 and 1946. The aim was to discuss “the study of the future city”. The magazine mainly discusses the problems of reconstruction, the fate of the cities destroyed by the two wars, and the problems of traffic; “the task of rebuilding the city, of giving it back its usefulness and beauty”.

46 B. De Finetti, “Gli strumenti calcolatori nella Ricerca Operativa”, Civiltà delle Macchine, 5, 1 (1957), 18–21.

47 B. Zevi exposed his ideas regarding the relationship between architectural history and contemporary design in the opening lecture of the
academic year, held in the Aula Magna of the Rectorate of the University of Rome, on the 18th of December 1963.

48 In addition to Moretti, the team for the new Olympic Village in Rome was formed by Vittorio Cafiero, Adalberto Libera, Amedeo Luccichenti and
Vincenzo Monaco

49 L. Moretti, “Ricerca Matematica in Architettura e Urbanistica”, letter to Giulio Roisecco, director of Moebius magazine

50 L. Moretti, Moebius, IV, 1 (1971), 30–53.

51 B. Zevi, “Cervelli Elettronici? No Macchine Calcolatrici”, in L’architettura Cronaca e Storia VI, 62 (1960), 508-509, (translation A. Imperiale)

52 L. Moretti, “Significato attuale della dizione Architettura”, in Spazio, Fascicoli(1964). See also: Luigi Moretti, “L’Applicazione dei metodi della
Ricerca Operativa nel campo dell’urbanistica”, in Spazio, Fascicoli, (1960); Luigi Moretti, “Strumentazione scientifica per l’urbanistica”, in : Cultura
e realizzazioni urbanistiche, Convergenze e divergenze, conference proceedings, held at Fondazione Aldo Della Rocca, Campidoglio, Consiglio
Nazionale delle Ricerche, (Rome: 1965).

53 B. Zevi, “Computer inceppato dal dannunzianesimo,” L’Espresso (July 29, 1973), reprinted in Cronache di Architettura 2, 982 (Bari: Laterza,
1979), 145.

54 L. Moretti, “Architecture 1965: Évolution ou Révolution”, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, 119 (1965), 48.

55 “Tecnologia e problema ecologico”, round table with the participation of V.Bettini, S. Lombardini, L.Moretti and P.Prini. Civilta delle Macchine 3-
4 (1972)

56 Ibidem

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