In Remembrance of Bruno Zevi

Written by  Paolo Ravenna
"FOR me Biagio Rossetti IS LIKE a father, a brother, a colleague, a friend."

A phone call in the late autumn of last year. One of Bruno Zevi's many brilliant, intriguing calls. This magazine had asked him to write an article upon the conclusion of the restoration of the walls of Ferrara and he had accepted with enthusiasm. As a citizen of Ferrara who held Zevi's views in the highest consideration, this was an encounter I had been longing for.

But, on 9 January, Zevi suddenly left us. Now I have been asked for my recollections of him. Not easy, given the larger than life personality and the many events that come flooding to mind. Above all there lingers the extremely lively image of a man of all-embracing humanity, an extraordinary scholar, and a sharp, volcanic spirit.

Zevi was the man who discovered and gave the world a dimension of Ferrara that will endure in time: the city of Biagio Rossetti, the architect he studied and raised to the rank of one of the all time great town planners, whose insights solved the troubled dichotomy between the ancient and modern city, between past and future. This city-symbol is, in Zevi's view, Ferrara, his beloved Ferrara that is ever present in his academic production.
I met Zevi for the first time in 1973, in Ferrara, when I was preparing the conference on the university and the old city centre for Italia Nostra. With him I visited some buildings and I remember his fervent remarks and his extraordinary knowledge of the city.

From that moment a dialogue began between us that ceased only with his death. Thus, when the great venture of restoring the city walls began, Zevi immediately became one of the decisive points of reference. In 1978 I talked to him about the idea of the "Addizione verde", that is to say the recovery of the city wall and the creation of an urban park within a strong unitary system. From then on he became a convinced supporter of all the initiatives that gradually took shape, to the point that he eventually became chairman of the commission "FOR the walls AND the urban park" set up by mayor Soffritti in 1985.

Long gaps often punctuated our meetings but there was not one fact of relevance to Ferrara that Zevi was not aware of and he kept himself up to date with regular telephone calls.
The dialogue became intense in the Nineties, owing to the incident regarding the cornice of the Palazzo dei Diamanti, an event that aroused his provocative, pugnacious spirit in defence of Rossetti's brickwork: "FOR me, Biagio Rossetti IS LIKE a father, a brother, a colleague, a friend", he wrote to me, "if his WORK IS defaced, someone has TO pay AND that someone IS me because I intend TO refuse an honour that IS dearer TO me than ANY other accumulated IN life". And in fact he sensationally refused the much sought-after freedom of the city that the council had decided to confer upon him.

Only when he felt that the row had been resolved did Zevi come to Ferrara, in July 1997, and, in a memorable ceremony in which the freedom of the city was conferred upon him, he reviewed his half century of commitment to the city and urged the authorities and the people of Ferrara to make the qualitative leap in architectonic-landscape planning that he felt was necessary if Ferrara was to maintain its leading role in town development.