For Tafuri, architectural history does not follow a teleological scheme in which one language succeeds another in linear sequence. Instead, it is a continuous struggle played out on critical, theoretical and ideological levels as well as through the multiple constraints placed on practice. Since this struggle continues in the present, architectural history is not a dead academic subject, but an open arena for debate. In his view, like other cultural domains, but even more so, due to the tension between its autonomous, artistic character and its technical and functional dimensions, architecture is a field defined and constituted by crisis.
During the 1970s, Tafuri published important essays in Oppositions, the journal directed by Peter Eisenman. Although he always had a strong interest in this area of research, in the last decade of his career he undertook a comprehensive reassessment of the theory and practice of Renaissance architecture, exploring its various social, intellectual and cultural contexts, while providing a broad understanding of uses of representation that shaped the entire era. His final work, Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects, published in 1992, synthesizes the history of architectural ideas and projects through discussions of the great centres of architectural innovation in Italy (Florence, Rome, and Venice), key patrons from the middle of the fifteenth century to the early sixteenth century, and crucial figures such as Leon Battista Alberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Francesco di Giorgio, Lorenzo de' Medici, Bramante, Raphael, Baldassare Castiglione and Giulio Romano.
Tafuri held the position of chair of architectural history at the University Iuav of Venice.
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