The directions of history

January 13, 2011

Or: using blogs as a pretext to investigate the vanguard

I invite you to read this post on De Architectura after which a little discussion has generated to which I have participated.
Essentially, the post comments on a Christmas operation for which the windows of the Duomo in Milan have been lit from within. In this way, an unusual effect for the city has been created, since the rule says that the light passes through those glasses from outside to inside, and that only those who are inside can perceive the effect. Here you can see photos of the intervention.
In the named blog, particularly through the comments, various opinions come – it is to say – to the light, but the total judjement is negative for three orders of reasons, which can be summarized thus:
Economic and trade: the intervention is funded / sponsored by the local light enterprise (AEM), so there is a reason of interest;
Lay-consumerism: the curia indulges in marketing strategies, which have little to do with spiritual affairs, «Does artificial light, shining in the night inside the Milanese cathedral, making it seem as a great Christmas light visible only by those staying out in the secular space, allow the spiritual experience of elevation of the mind to God?» (commentary by Paul Gobbini);
Philological: the windows are made to be viewed from within and from below, while the outside is a mirror image; it generates «the forcing of the will to “read” a work of art in different conditions than those for which was conceived and created» (commentary by Enrico Delfini).

Accepting as a plausible reason to dissent only the first of three lines of argument, I intend to refute the other two and propose a different interpretation of the operation.
For brevity, I’m reporting the central part of my commentary to the question:

Personally, in fact, I believe that the reinterpretation (if not invasive, and this certainly is not) of objects of even ancient architecture by contemporaries is not only a right of theirs, but even a duty. If architecture is, in fact, civil – and thus social – art par excellence, it was designed to be used and to evolve along with the same uses that are not fixed in time.
Then, a “delicate” (in terms of reversibility) operation like this, should not be condemned just because philologically incorrect, because philology, on closer inspection, has little to do with art.
And to be honest, I like the intervention. I have a less philological spirituality too, probably, but if I was more convincedly Catholic, I’d say that looking at the lighted windows of the square, it would come to my mind, first, that there is no need to enter a church to be in a church.

Which is the maximum goal of a work of architecture, isn’t it?

Now, we expand the subject a little and try to understand why it may be interesting for us.

So, studying Zevi or Benevolo acquiring their method means, first, giving the history of architecture (and especially that of modern architecture) an oriented reading, which is a kind of teleology, or rather more properly of hermeneutic phenomenology. It means, in other words, to interpret it as an attempt by man to emancipate himself in one direction. For the two giants of history, is to be freed from the yokes of historicism and what comes next is history – one could say with a pun on words.
In my view, this approach can still be used, if we consider that the continuous changes of our understanding of space should reflect changes in the way we design, occupy and manipulate it.
As I had occasion to rule on several occasions even within this blog, is my opinion that the role of theoretical reason for architecture is inseparable from that of the designer and the objective of this Janus-faced figure is precisely to indicate how and why we must plan. So now the direction that history is following is towards the clearance of a number of spatial concepts which are characterized by logic and geometric hierarchies that have been overcome long ago.

Among these, it seems clear that it is also the contradiction in / out. Concavity and convexity concepts are now quite ambiguous due to the emergence of topology and types of “zero volume” planning that transcend the traditional architectural dimension.
Then, an intervention such as the Milan one, which – perhaps unwillingly – allows the reflection on the potential by the out to possess some of the characteristics of the inside, can only generate great interest, prompting even the passer with a critical question: what actually separates the aisles of the Duomo from the churchyard, the square?
Just shallow, instead, are the old criticisms about the consistency with some initial conditions that are generally only roughly suppositories.
And all this apart, of course, an idea of church community that is more frankly indefensible as it perches on geometrical considerations, choosing his allies among the rear guard of each sector. But that is another matter.

The bad schooltenant

December 31, 2010

Each urban reality has what it deserves, is whato one could say, when an article like this pops up on Il Giornale dell’Architettura (look for yourself: on page 21 of issue 90, December 2010-January 2011). And if the amazing ambition of Bari can reach the absurd to apply for candidacy as European Capital of Culture for 2019 (for the skeptics: here, with lots of glossy pictures) with, at the moment, not a museum of international level, then we can not even be surprised that Nicola Signorile – known (and only as well) architectural journalist (sic) of the city -, or whoever, has had a brillant idea of letting this precious gem appear on the national magazine.
Now: that the intent of the article is sarcastic, it is obvioulsly clear. What leaves me seriously puzzled, however, is the fact that such an article actually exists.
In other words, what happened to the new Faculty of Architecture is a self-evident scandal. Not only the oxymoron between the massive prefabrication and the absolutely unacceptable building time (equal for the construction of the Maxxi) is absolutely glaring, but there is more than some questioning about the project as a whole, where the neo-classical-nauseating forms are just the tip of an iceberg of embarrassing lack of quality. The two elephantine carcasses, each hovering around 50×50 m in plan for an area that, in a rough calculation, will exceed 15,000 square meters, do not contain more than cstunted lassrooms, while the exhibition halls are derived from residual disjointed spaces, devoid of any identity. All for a sensational architectural shallowness, just where the artistic education and perception of students starts (should start). Students who, of course, can only welcome the novelty with bland satisfaction, used to the only possible alternative to this mess: nothing. And this is even when, from the first step, it is clear that the structure is finished, so to say, modestly – naturally: any available funding would be dematerialized after a decade of building site! – and lacks even the most obvious equipment to make it usable by the students, from electrical outlets for laptops.
For these reasons, Signorile’s irony, in this case, is not worth that much more than a complete submission to the regime of Claudio D’Amato, whose name should never appear on anything entitled “Profession & Training”, since he actually has little to do with one thing and the other, being basically unable to draft a plan that does not exceed 5 times the available budget, or just one that respects the cultural-aesthetic canons with which he constantly insists on limiting the imagination of his unfortunate pupils.
Then, when the reportage of the situation of Bari, depicts with delicate colors a tragedy shown gently – and with a certain satisfaction with his own sharp wit – in front of the nation as if it were the angle of the self-styled cynical “expert” in the neighborhood magazine, we have the duty to scandalize and not to accept any position other than a cry of anger or, if nothing else, the dignity of a more intelligent silence.

Poor old future

March 19, 2009

Let’s start then with the very first post of my Strategies against architecture, posts that, as written here, want to be devoted to a critical analysis of the deterioration of mass information that generalist media are making in terms of architecture, and a sort of first explanation of some stereotypes that distort the common opinion.

Although the topic is vast alas, we need to start from somewhere and we will commenting on a recent episode of The stories – Italian diary, beautiful cultural program conducted by Corrado Augias, broadcast Monday to Friday from 12:45 pm on Rai3.

Particularly, in the episode of March 6th, the homeowner met Vittorio Gregotti who, not yet satisfied for having been guest in Philippe Daverio’s Passepartout a few weeks earlier, had the opportunity to present his latest Against the end of architecture, indeed, even at Augias’. To understand what we’re going to discuss, I strongly recommend spending about twenty minutes in the vision of the transmission, which Mom Rai makes available here (forgive me for the reference, but unfortunately embedding is not possible from .

First, I’d say – trying to quell spontaneous motions of irritation that are generated in me when hearing similar comments – starting a popular transmission with an almost indiscriminate attack to the (alleged) sins of an (alleged!) architecture is not exactly reason for pride by qualified people with vast experience in the study of the discipline history. This consideration be read as a something that I think would be appropriate to write before any kind of paternalistic speculation, that is any discussion held in the form of lessons and then directed to an audience of listeners considered mostly ignorant on the scope thereof. The use of such a technique makes it even too easy to play without a contradictory at par (not to say anything to the good Augias, highly educated person but not a scholar of architecture), mostly when the rapporteur is involved in the interest conflict of those who implicitly advertises its job with his mere presence; with the demolition of others’ intentions, the final obstacles to the affirmation of his (still alleged!) intellectual superiority are easily removed.

This is just to speculate on the method, but to get on rather, I consider embarrassing Gregotti’s speech made (by Augias’ mouth) to hit the easy target David Fischer on his famous rotating skyscraper. The arguments are, to say it politely, definitely wit-lacking: the skyscraper is «a nonsense» and «an insulting waste» (why, if it technologically makes sense to the point that it is energetically self-sufficient? why, if it interprets in a such formally simple way the not-new desire of architecture for movement?); the skyscraper is big – and so on with Koolhas’ Bigness, something wrote not less that fifteen years ago with very, very different aims – and big is evil, which is certainly a statement of undoubted freshness; the skyscraper is «bizarre», a word last used maybe in Victorian age, whose opportunity is called into question by the talks of the same Gregotti (concerning the existence of Villa Girasole in Marcellise since 1929) and Augias (which rightly reminds Brunelleschi).

And then, the apotheosis of the critical decay. The roles invert: Gregotti righteously defends the theory of architecture and notices, perhaps appropriately (but we could discuss this very long), the scarce use of the theoretical study as a background for so much contemporary design; at that, Augias takes refuge in the beastly syllogism: Le Corbusier made houses where I would not ever live / Le Corbusier was «one who theorized much»/ theory gives birth to monsters.

Once again, an attempt to the “cultured” debate is reduced to the designer of Palermo’s Zen’s self apology, to the accuses to politics, to the description of the architect as the one that makes beautiful but awkward houses, and essentially to the usual historical, artistic, aesthetic, philosophical, sociological and poetic nothing, that it is the only portrayal that all these Sunday scholars can make about the state of art, summarizing the issues of architecture from Brunelleschi the Milan Expo in fifteen minutes.
No wonder the audience, seeing these aberrations called planning the future, seek peace backwards in a sad eclectic anachronism.

Contemporary architecture told through negations

Today, I’m starting this new series of posts that will be built with the intent to openly denounce the bad habit, alas widespread in Italy, for which the mass information made on some architectural themes of broad interest is generally entrusted to low competent characters, which, moreover, become spokesmen for absolute rearguard positions, almost always unworthy even from a purely historical point of view.

The problem is particularly virulent, however, because of a contemporary profound crisis of the publishing industry that fails, for some years now, to be a counterpart of sufficient authority and communicativeness to overcome the excessive media power that influence the public opinion through television.
Many have spoken, in recent times, about the cloud that seems to cover, for instance, two historic magazines as Casabella and Domus, in the last editions respectively headed by Francesco from Co and Flavio Albanese. If the former, in fact, has long been rarely able to produce issues consisting in something better than a series of projects of more or less known international studies, the second in general tends to stylish positions closer to applied art; but both suffer from the same inability to implement articles of historical depth, of really current view, of great importance: in a word, actually memorable.

And it is precisely this substantial inability to deeply understand the great changes taking place in society and therefore in urbanism and architecture to give into the hands of persons of dubious aptitude the role of educators of people on the same subjects. Thus, while it is true that we have to be filled with indignation, we cannot be surprised to find Sgarbi or Grillo involved with what, knowingly or not, is a systematic strategy of sabotage of the progress of architectural historical evolution. They have no opponents. [Ahi serva Italia (I can spontaneously occur), how much this situation reminds the democratic disease plaguing my country! The populist Right party is fully comparable with the still ongoing proposition of old models that easily get consensus among the unqualified, while as for the publishing, which party does it take? The one of Left, who loses its place in parliament as a consequence of having been too long far from the real? Or perhaps that of an opposition unqualified itself, scared, silent, vaguely conniving?]

Someone could say that television is not meant to be and actually has never been a source of high-level investigation in any area or topic, and that wishing this happening in architecture just when the crisis is deeper because coming from inside, is foolish if not unlawful. True. But it’s also true that no real information is given if the information, although superficial, isn’t fair at least. For this reason, from the little I can, I will propose these new post as an opposing voice. A reason to think that what was just said in teevee could not be true.

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