Analogical City
A conversation with Cameron McEwan on his forthcoming book "Analogical City".

Analogical City argues for architecture’s status as a critical project. It revisits architect Aldo Rossi to study a neglected aspect of his thought and excavate its critical potential. A grammar of the analogical city as a critical project is put forward under the headings: Imagination, Transformation, City, Multitude, and Project. At a time when we are threatened by the irrationalism of thought, post-truth narratives, and when architecture has disavowed its political possibility; the present moment is a crisis of collective imagination. It is necessary to develop critical strategies, figures of thought, and knowledge practices to think and act otherwise.

Analogical City will be published open access by Punctum Books in 2022.

KOOZ What prompted your publication on Rossi's Analogous City?

CM It is clear that we are living through multiple crises—social, spatial, political, environmental; a crisis of knowledge production itself. The political theorist Franco Berardi describes the situation as a crisis of social imagination, while Paolo Virno calls it a crisis of human experience. Other major thinkers such as Chantal Mouffe, Slavoj Žižek, and McKenzie Wark—from different perspectives— have emphasised the civilizational scale of the challenge and the need to find ways of connecting different kinds of thought and practice. Alternative types of critical practice are required to develop ways to engage with diverse fields, collectively. Another way of thinking about and understanding architecture, the city, and collective life is necessary. Imagining the city and the world otherwise is an urgent task.

Analogical thinking is nothing if it is not thinking otherwise and thinking by connection. Consequently I thought that revisiting Aldo Rossi’s work, the analogical city in particular, may be a helpful framework to bring different areas of thought and practice together. I argue that the analogical city is a model for a renewed critical project for architecture to bring about broader social and political change. Some of the lessons of Rossi are his belief in collectivity as a subject position, in thinking as a form of action, the city shaped by individual and collective imagination, and architecture as a critical tool. Those lessons seem to me to be important to hold, even if we operate in a different period with new challenges.

I argue that the analogical city is critical, collective, and emancipatory. It is both poetic and political. It offers all sorts of lessons on architecture, critical thinking, and the city.

KOOZ What is the value of revisiting this seminal work and the very notion of "analogous city" within our contemporary architectural landscape?

CM Rossi never theorized the analogical city in the way that he theorized the city as an artifact or the idea of type in his most well-known book, The Architecture of the City. Instead the analogical city was primarily represented in Rossi’s drawings, reprized as marginal in his essays, and mostly implicit in Rossi’s major books. Indeed, critics unjustly overlook the analogical city; they are often explicitly hostile to the idea, or uncritically celebrate its “poetics.” Often the analogical city is cited as the moment when Rossi succumbed to the solipsism of autobiography and irrationalism. Manfredo Tafuri, followed by Rafael Moneo—both of whom I strongly admire and have been heavily influenced by—amplified that false narrative, with repercussions for a whole generation of architects and thinkers. On the contrary I argue that the analogical city is critical, collective, and emancipatory. It is both poetic and political. It offers all sorts of lessons on architecture, critical thinking, and the city. I use Rossi and the analogical city as a point of departure for rethinking the status of architecture in the broadest way, with implications for how to live together in the city, for how to think architecture and the city differently, for the significance of architecture as a critical tool.

KOOZ What thoughts and propositions does the publication offer in reaction to the "present crisis of collective imagination"?

CM Rossi argued that the city is a synthesis of values concerning the collective imagination and that the city itself is the collective memory of its people. It meant that the city embodies all the ideas we have of ourselves as a society, including the conflicts and injustices; while at the same time, the form of the city shapes those ideas. It works both ways. When looking at the city, experiencing the spaces and forms, typologies, densities and institutions, it is difficult not to conclude that we are impoverished: the privatization of public spaces, the destruction of working class districts, gentrification, housing as a commodity, the ongoing proliferation of corporate landmark buildings and “smart” cities, massive land extraction, and ever new forms of exploitation. Forms of development—whether architectural, urban, social—produce forms of subjectivity: the consumer, the indebted student, the precarious worker, whoever. I propose that revisiting the critical potential of the analogical city may provide the conditions to discover reasons and analogics other than those of capitalist development.

Architecture must engage in the relations of possibility to articulate new visions of the world; to imagine new forms and new forms of living; and to articulate dignified spaces for individuals and collectives to act thoughtfully and with a sense of agency. Collective life, which is the social world of the planet; our built, imagined, and natural environment, is not inexhaustible. We exist in a world with material limits. The crisis of collective imagination is the realisation that we are an existential threat to ourselves and to the planet; it is an urgent collective task to articulate a more radical imagination of what we want to be.

I propose that revisiting the critical potential of the analogical city may provide the conditions to discover reasons and analogics other than those of capitalist development.

KOOZ How does the project approach the value and potential of the architectural drawing?

CM I argue that the analogical city is poetic and political; it always refers beyond itself toward a collective and critical project of the city; and yet it invites a series of formal, spatial, and graphic operations comprising erasure and negativity followed by transposition, repetition, substitution, and remontage. I use a slightly expanded idea of drawing to include other visual explorations including montage. My drawings and montages are partly analytical and partly generative. I aim to articulate the formal agency of representation in relation to the theoretical agency of writing. The drawings explore the formal operations and critical strategies at stake in the analogical city. The images develop a dialogue with Rossi’s analogical city in particular; functioning more broadly as a methodological and theoretical contribution to the formal knowledge of architecture and the city as a critical project. Architectural drawing is more than communication. It is a particular way in which the architect gains critical purchase. Today, the image has increasing power and agency. It is about putting that to critical effect, transgressing the image industry of digital capitalism by critical reflective acts.

The crisis of collective imagination is the realization that we are an existential threat to ourselves and to the planet.

KOOZ What is for you the power of the architectural imaginary?

CM Against the capitalist forces shaping collective life and the city, there is a need to articulate the radical imagination and develop a language of possibility. If the analogical city is in the register of the imaginary, it is a social and collective imaginary.

Society produces itself through a grammar of forms, ideas, and conventions, which provide the elements that articulate collective imagination. The critical theorist Cornelius Castoriadis called this the instituting social imaginary. For Castriadis, the imaginary was not only the image of society, but the social and historical production of forms and ideas through which a concept of the world may be articulated. The architectural imaginary is the world of signification that enables a sense of collectivity to be enacted. The problem today is that the social imaginary is structured by a grammar of consumption: commodification, competition, consumerism, individualism, privatization, self-interest, spectacle. What is collectively considered appropriate has become thoughtless. Collective imagination is too often reduced to questions of style, personality, feelings, and weakened levels of critical engagement in processes that have an impact on our lives; from education to politics, architecture to cities. A central challenge is to think and act differently.

Architecture’s challenge is to articulate new forms of institution and urbanism to allow that to happen. The power of the architectural imaginary is to mediate collective modes of agency, resistance, and democratic possibilities with different levels of discourse and institutional form making. It is to challenge the commodification, fragmentation, and privatization of all parts of our lives, from knowledge to the public sphere of the city and the exploitation of natural and collective resources.


Cameron McEwan is an architectural theorist and educator at University of Central Lancashire Institute of Architecture and trustee of the AE Foundation, an independent research institute for architecture and education. Cameron’s research focuses on the relationship between architecture, representation, and subjectivity to engage the city as a critical project. His work is published in Architecture and Culture, arq, Drawing On, Journal of Architectural Education, LoSquaderno, MONU, Scroope: Cambridge Architecture Journal, Outsiders at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and elsewhere. Cameron co-edited Accounts (Pelinu, 2019) and the Architecture and Collective Life issue of Architecture and Culture (Routledge, 2020). Cameron’s book Analogical City is forthcoming (Punctum, 2022).

05 Jan 2022
Reading time
8 minutes
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