ALDO ROSSI - whose selection as the 1990 recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize was announced yesterday - was in his office in Milan, Italy, working late one recent evening when the phone call from the United States came with the news. ``I was surprised,'' he said, ``and completely elated.'' One of a dozen men chosen from around the world over the past 11 years to receive the award, he has been singled out as having made a significant contribution to humanity through his art.
Rossi admits he is a workaholic. At 58, he is also one of the youngest to win the Pritzker, which is to architecture what the Nobel is to peace. Complete with a $100,000 grant, medallion, and formal citation, the prize will be presented on June 16 by Jay A. Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, in a ceremony at the Palazzo Grassi Museum in Venice.
``I am very familiar with this museum,'' says Rossi, reached by phone in Milan. A professor of architecture at the University of Venice, he has often visited the Palazzo Grassi. ``The event on June 16,'' he adds, ``will be especially meaningful.''
Rossi has designed stadiums, large urban developments, opera houses, museums, cemeteries, lighthouses, furniture - even coffee servers and teapots. One of his most unusual projects was a floating theater for the Venice Biennale in 1979. It seated 250 people around a central stage and was towed across the lagoon to the Punta della Dogana.
He has been compared to Le Corbusier as a painter/architect and described by Pritzker juror Ada Louise Huxtable as ``a poet who happens to be an architect.''
Currently Rossi and Morris Adjmi, an associate in his New York office, are working on the School of Architecture for the University of Miami. ``The Tower will be outstanding,'' Mr. Adjmi predicts. ``It is a cone, sphere, and cube - the forms which are the building blocks of architecture.''
Ask Rossi about his yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams, and this man who has designed city halls, bridges, museums, even toys replies, ``To create a villa for a wealthy family - this intrigues me.'' Will it feature his favorite color - and what is that? At first Rossi quotes the German poet Goethe, ``The rainbow.'' Then he says his personal preference actually runs to robin's-egg blue - ``the light blue of the Madonna.''
Rossi doesn't believe in innovation and change just for attention. He prefers continuity of architecture through designs that re-use, modify, and build upon what exists. Recently he suggested, ``I still have a dream of great civil architecture, not the concordance of discords but the city that is beautiful because of the wealth and variety it contains. I believe in the city of the future for this reason. It is a place where the fragments of something once broken are recomposed.
``In truth, the recomposition does not seek a single overall design, but the liberty of a life of its own, a freedom of styles. A city that is free.''
Rossi has been widely acclaimed for his writings, especially two books, ``The Architecture of the City'' (1966) and his ``Scientific Autobiography'' (1981), where he reveals with emotion and depth his feelings about his art. In that book, he notes that his interest in architecture flowered rather late. And he says, ``Architecture was one of the ways that humanity had sought to survive; it was a way of expressing the fundamental search for happiness. I came to regard architecture as the instrument which permits the unfolding of a thing.''
Rossi's father manufactured bicycles, but young Aldo showed a deep love for theater that persists to this day. ``If I wasn't an architect, I believe I would direct films,'' he says. It shouldn't come as a surprise that several of his designs are are for theaters.
In 1959, Rossi received his architecture degree at the Polytechnic University of Milan. While still a student, he met his mentor, Ernesto Rogers, and began working for him on the leading architecture magazine in Italy, Casabella-Continuita. ``I was there until 1964,'' he explains. ``Then I was appointed as a professor at Milan Polytechnic.''
Today, even with projects under construction in the Netherlands, Japan, England, Germany, and the United States, he still gives lectures and serves occasionally as a visiting professor in the United States and elsewhere.
His workload continues to grow. In 1988, he created a civic center, the Palazzo Regionale, in Perugia; a funerary chapel in Giussano; a town hall for Gorgoricco; a shopping center in Parma; and in Turin the Casas Aurora, an office headquarters for GFI, parent company for fashion's Valentino, Ungaro, and Armani.
``It's been nonstop this year too,'' he acknowledges. He has been in Galveston, Texas, for the inauguration of his monumental arch; in Coral Gables, Fla., for the groundbreaking of the School of Architecture at the Universtiy of Miami; and in Japan for discussions with the Fukuoka Art Gallery.