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Bridge between Rowe’s “Collage City” and Colquhoun’s “From Bricolage to Myth”


(From left) Rowe’s Collage City, Michael Graves’ Hanselmann House, Michael Graves’ Portland Building

  • Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, “Collage City,” from Collage City, manuscript in circulation from 1973; published later (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978)
  • Alan Colquhoun, “From Bricolage to Myth, or How to Put Humpty-Dumpty Together Again,” Oppositions 12 (Spring 1978)

This blog post will compare the ideas in Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s “Collage City” and Alan Colquhoun’s “From Bricolage to Myth, or How to Put Humpty-Dumpty Together Again.”

Theory_Presentation2-02General Idea of “Collage City” and “From Bricolage to Myth”

  • Rowe believes cities should be collages of utopia and tradition, exhibit and scaffold, etc.


  • Colquhoun states that Graves’ work is a collage of various overlapping languages such as form, function, structure, and history.

→ Both Rowe’s ideal city and Graves’ work are collages of different elements. However, they are concerned with collages at different scales.



  • Rowe is concerned with the relationship between buildings and its urban context. He is interested in its relation to surrounding buildings, surrounding urban conditions such as parks and roads, and the historical context of its site.


  • Graves is concerned with the relationships between the elements within buildings. For example, in his later work he experiments with architectural forms such as arches and columns. He is also interested in the relationships between buildings and nature (According to Colquhoun, “[Graves’] houses respond to the natural environment, which itself is modified by the building.”) His work is not concerned with the building’s connection to its urban context.

→ Rowe’s collage is at the urban scale, Graves’ collage is at the architecture scale.



  • Rowe states that architecture can never be scientifically resolved. He borrows the term “bricolage” from Claude Levi-Strauss to explain that urban planning should be based on the principles of bricolage.


  • The elements within Graves’ early architecture do not have historical connotations. Colquhoun borrows the term “myth” from Roland Barthes to explain how these de-historicized elements can be considered to be mythical and timeless.

→ According to Rowe, urban planners should be bricoleurs; according to Colquhoun, early Graves is a mythologist.


Theory_Presentation2-03Elements within Collage / Relation to History

  • Elements within Rowe’s collage city retain their connections to their source and origin.
  • His collage has a non-chronological approach to history; it is up to the subjective opinion of the urban planner to imagine how traditional and utopian elements should coexist in the city.


  • According to Colquhoun, in Graves’ early work elements within the collage are based on modernist forms that do not retain their historical meaning.
  • In Graves’ later work traditional ornamentation with historical connotations is added to the earlier, minimalistic architecture.

→ Therefore, both Rowe’s collage city and Graves’ later buildings work with forms and history from different time periods. However, Rowe has a non-chronological approach, while Graves’ later work is chronological in that it builds upon the modernistic elements of his earlier work.


Starting State of Collage

  • Rowe believes that in the collage city, multiple layers of history should lie in a condition of “inter-dependence, independence, and multiple interpretability.” In other words, the city should be in a state of historical Palimpsest. New cities should be designed with these multiple layers of history, as if it had been built over a long period of time.


  • Graves does not consider the surrounding urban context when designing a building; he begins with a blank slate = a tabula rasa.

→ Rowe believes new cities should be designed as a palimpsest; Graves begins with a tabula rasa.


Theory_Presentation2-04Why use Collage

  • For Rowe collage is a method of “inclusion” – it is a method of including all traditional, utopian, etc. elements. “Collage is a method deriving its virtue from its irony, because it seems to be a technique for using things and simultaneously disbelieving in them, it is also a strategy which can allow utopia to be dealt with as image, to be dealt with in fragments without our having to accept it in toto.”


  • For Graves collage is a method of creating layers of meaning that “produce ambiguities which gently subvert their primary and unequivocal meanings, and give rise to less obvious correspondences.”

→ For Rowe, collage is a method for creating liberal space; for Graves, it is a method for creating new interpretations.


Approach to Modernism

  • Unlike the modernist architect who was an engineer, Rowe believes architects should be bricoleur; unlike the modernist architects that advocated one, all-encompassing method of organizing the city, Rowe advocates collage. Rowe has moved beyond modernism into post-modernism.


  • In the beginning, Graves created minimalistic architecture heavily influenced by modern architecture.
  • Later on, Graves added figurative, historical elements to his earlier minimalist work and moved beyond modernism into postmodernism.

→ Both Rowe and Graves learned from the shortcomings of modernism to propose a postmodernist urban planning/architecture methodology.


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