Tafuri on Hous-‘ing’: Housing History as City-making Praxis


  • Irina Davidovici ETH Zürich




Manfredo Tafuri’s assessment of modernist housing projects as “islands of realised utopia” summarises dilemmas still faced in the production of European cities today. In his writings, Tafuri has consistently shown that housing is not only about industrial production but, fundamentally, social reproduction. Understood as a discursive practice, the history of housing as a history of ideas reveals fundamental mechanisms in the production of urban space. The historian’s perspective necessarily engages with cycles of cultural production and economic enterprise, intertwined in endless discourse.  On this basis, this article reviews the research methodologies distilled from Tafuri’s housing case studies in Berlin and Frankfurt, Vienna and Rome, in order to, firstly, re-evaluate the critical instruments of the housing historian, and secondly, trace their transformation as theoretical discourses into practices of city-making. Taking into account Tafuri’s notion of historical analysis as a contradictory, complex and constantly renewable operation, the paper proposes a revised understanding of twentieth-century housing history as a history of productive urban practices.


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Author Biography

Irina Davidovici, ETH Zürich

Irina Davidovici obtained her doctorate in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge. Before that, she qualified as an architect and practiced in the London offices of Herzog & de Meuron and Caruso St. John. Drawing upon her dual foundation, Davidovici pursues research in the field of modern and contemporary architecture, with a focus on Switzerland and Britain, as well as the history of social housing, with emphasis on ideology and urban planning. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich, where she is finishing her Habilitation thesis on the integration of early residential estates in European cities and working on the research project Flora Ruchat Roncati at ETH Zurich, 1985–2002. She has lectured at ETH Zurich, the Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio, EPFL Lausanne, and Kingston University, and has served as jury member for the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 2014. Her publications include the monograph Forms of Practice: German Swiss Architecture 1980–2000 (2012, second edition 2018), the edited volume Colquhounery: Alan Colquhoun from Bricolage to Myth (2015), as well as articles in OASEAA FilesCasabellaarchithese, ARCH+ and Werk, Bauen + Wohnen.