Il Deserto Rosso (Red Desert)
Michelangelo Antonioni
1964

The violent transformation of the countryside around the city has had a strong effect on me. Before, there were immense groves of pine trees, very beautiful, which today are completely dead. Soon even the few that have survived will die and give way to factories, artificial waterways, and docks. This is a reflection of what is happening in the rest of the world. It seemed to be the ideal background for the story I had in mind—naturally, a story in color. The world that the characters in the film come into conflict with isn’t the world of factories. Behind the industrial transformation lies another one—a transformation of the spirit, of human psychology…
—Michelangelo Antonioni, L’Humanité Dimanche, September 23th, 1964


Preface
The first impulse of the reader, including the expert, warns about the counter-intuitive alliance between autonomy and urbanism. Common sense exacerbates the contrast between both terms. But while tension is accepted and even promoted, this dissertation argues that the self-governing aspiration of autonomy and the collective character of urbanism only exclude each other when an impulsive interpretation of terms substitutes the patience of research. Since its introduction into architecture theory in the 1930s, the term autonomy has been systematically reduced to a disciplinary redefinition, with some exceptions. The discourse on architectural autonomy gradually dissociated design from society. It acquired a negative connotation over time based on the assumption that its self-governing condition relegated the cultural causes and consequences of design. But autonomy is not independence. The premise of this dissertation counters the dominant narrative within design, which understands autonomy as detachment rather than engagement. It investigates the barely studied alliance between autonomy and urbanism to address the role design plays within the local and global challenges faced by our contemporary societies.
Autonomy is not proposed as a self-centered disciplinary redefinition but as a culturally and historically conscious design method that paradoxically rejects any form of subordination. The increasing narcissism of architectural autonomy resulted from a design reflection for its own sake. But the autonomy of urbanism aspires to provide a cultural reflection on design. This dissertation counters the assumptions of architecture on autonomy based on habits, customs, or terminological wisdom through the evidence of its historical and cultural formation. It studies the philosophical, political, aesthetic, and architectural progression of autonomy to formulate the theoretical and practical framework of a latent urban interpretation exposed by the current historical conditions but whose origins date back to the eighteenth century.
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