Latest activities

October 19, 2010

Here’s a recap of the previous episodes. It was quite an eventful summer.
First, the text Le parole e le cose (words and houses), which can be found in the post below, participated at the third edition of Young Critics Competition, organized by presS/Tfactory_Associazione Italiana di Architettura e Critica [Italian Association of Architecture and Criticism], and on August 27th won the second prize in Venice (some details here) in a side event of the XII Architecture Biennale.

At the award ceremony, under request by the jury, it was also brought a short video that, for the considerable efforts it caused me (voice, text and drawings) and the most patient Massimo Lastrucci (photography) and Daniel Mantellato (videoediting and concept support), I decided to publish here as a witness.
Please forgive in advance the indefensible unpleasentness of my tone of voice, but I did not have anything better then! For the rest, of course it is nothing more than an attempt to lighten a theoretically heavy text – starting with a title made out of a foucaultian pun, which Professor Prestinenza Puglisi liked very much – which otherwise would have been difficult to summarize in a video that is just two minutes long.
Sorry, but I haven’t any English version of it.

Then, we must mention two more episodes of collaboration with Salvatore D’Agostino (Wilfing Architecture).
In the first, I had occasion to put a question to Luca Molinari, curator of the Italian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Here are the question and answer:

Rossella Ferorelli: During a visit to the Polytechnic University of Bari by Boris Podrecca some time ago, I remembered I an interview the architect gave to Repubblica in May 2006 whose epilogue had frozen me: “Compared to young Italians who are in my atelier, Dutch or Swiss peers have more verve, humor and imagination. Among you there are many little professors, with a few projects but a lot of talk and attendance at exhibitions; they live architecture through magazines, and are not familiar with its issues.” This was the Austrian architect’s opinion, who identified the source of the problem “in the fact of having lost two generations after ’68. You have written books, and you know all about Palladio or Giulio Romano, but not how to put a window.”
I would therefore propose a theoretical reflection on the scope of architecture in general, and particularly in Italy. How is it possible, in fact, that the problem of the general depression of the sector is the one developed by Podrecca, if nor in the field of theoretical research (clearly distinguishing it from the historical one) anything memorable has actually been produced in our country for years?
Personally, I therefore propose you to discuss an interpretation of the problem that sees a resoluting glow in a real hang-up between theory (the theory of “hardware” foundations of philosophy, science and policy that are behind the social function of the architect), and design, and I would like to ask you about which function may still an institution like the Venice Biennale have in the push to solve the architectural of Italy. In particular, as a student, I ask you also to overreach in an academic reflection and to think to the actual and possible relations between universities and the Biennale with the aim of a more continuous and constant striving for future research, not only chasing the lustrous showcases of the various festivals that are in a worrisome trend of multiplication.

Luca Molinari: The problem of the theoretical work in contemporary architecture is serious but perhaps we should change our perspective. Perhaps it is no longer a time of great theoretical narratives, decisive volumes moving thematic centers of gravity, perhaps the karst and fragmented system of contemporary bloggers are changing the way we produce and exchange theory in architecture. Together I believe that the architectural culture should make a different effort and seek, in a world that is radically and dramatically changing words, the incentives and resources for redefining disciplinary boundaries and evidence for theoretical reworking. As for the university I have no problem to say that most of the Italian university system is inadequate to address the current situation and especially to bring within it those vital, viral and critic elements that there is much need for, to a fight cultural stiffening and the syndrome of encirclement that the university must leave behind to survive.

To read all the questions addressed to Molinari on Salvatore’s Blog, click here.

The second collaboration was established by a brief introductory of the [BEYOND THE SENSE OF PLACE] investigation I attended in August 2009. You can find the text here.

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 Rai.tv) .

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.

There’s no doubt the Venice Biennale is the trendiest of architectural events in Italy. And there’s no doubt therefore, that anyone belonging to that world, not to feel out of it, must indubitably write something about, taking position.
But the fact of being all, necessarily, forced to give an opinion about the Biennale, constitutes one of the most catastrophic media effects in the architectural field. As a consequence, what can be seen once a biennium, in Italy, is nothing more than a sort of judgments competition, made of opinions given as quickly and shallowly as possible. Feature of this disturbing phenomenon, is its independence from the importance of the author of the criticism. To name one for all: Philippe Daverio. A most interesting personage, with an intrinsic humor and an irresistible taste for the eclectic an provocateur pun, but sometimes prey of a lower tendency to the slogan form and of a general reluctance in accepting some issues of contemporary, mainly in architecture. This is properly the case of last Sunday’s episode of PassepARTout*, that I suggest to see as a counterpoint (better if later) of what you’re about to read, if you’re likely to do it.

Once made this brief recrimination about the communicative urge by the which everybody seem taken when dealing about the Biennale, I admit I’m going to let it take me too, then I’ll face the subject; but my precise intention is to seek inside it traces of the thread I’m following with this blog.

Let’s start, then.

As everybody knows, this year’s exhibition has been organized by Aaron Betsky, already curator of other expositions and architectural criticist, with the title of Out there: architecture beyond building.
Attracted by the theme of the exposition, last spring I had went to Rome, to the Faculty of Architecture of Valle Giulia, to listen to an introductive speech that Betsky himself was making about the Biennale (and, as a matter of fact, also about the student world challenge associated to it as always, in the vain hope to participate it). I can’t state that the lecture (that’s  what it was) was free from a certain rhetoric of advertising and slogans; nevertheless, the impression upon me was globally convincing. A sensed series of considerations had been made about the blurriness  of contemporary city, the regulatory function of the sign beyond the volume, to the asymptotic tension of the architectonic artifact to the natural object, to architecture considered as «a gathering together of what already exists», to the didactic function of art for what concerns new approaches to space, to photography as the real discoverer of architecture and to architecture as an «uncovering, figuring out, revealing» factor of the world, and so on. Shortly, a (well dimensioned) poetical sum of the main question of the contemporary scene.

But how much of these good intentions Betsky has been able to bring to the exposition is what I’m about to discuss, and I guess a good way to do it is to examine the manifestos presented to the Arsenale by a series of international studies of architecture.

In general, this method of communication can be interpreted in many ways. It could be said that its function is to please the nostalgic of the avant-gardes of the first and second part of the XX century but that it is an anachronistic choice for the lack of any real contemporary Movement with a precise direction; but it could also be said that it is for this same reason that the choice is interesting and provocative and that the presentation of a long series of “personal manifestos” of the single groups instead of a collective one is to witness this exact meaning. Anyway, a starting manifesto, more than a collective one, is Betsky’s.
A manifesto that deludes me in many parts, if compared to what I had heard from the mouth of the same author some months before.
Acceptable although trivial is a hint to the fact that, since «the buildings are not, mostly, designed by architects», everything goes wrong in our cities. «Yet the architecture is beautiful». Indispensible information. «Building is building. It is a verb.»
And here I’ll allow myself into a period of absolute linguistic formalism (forgive me, these are fetishes I can’t do without). Exploiting an apparently purely glottological clarification accomplished by Betsky, I lead my short crusade against the deviated use commonly made of the word. In the name of God, please stop using it as a synonym for “work of architecture”! Just like the Divine Comedy is not a poetry by Dante Alighieri and Moby Dick is not a literature of Herman Melville, the Pompidou Center is not an architecture by Rogers and Piano, but one of their works, generally a building, properly a museum, physically a project, actually the realization, and so on.
But do not judge my statement too harsh, because I’m sure that if Betsky himself had spoken the same way, he would have received far less criticism; instead, the use of a distinction between architecture and construction declared in terms that would have been making even Leon Battista Alberti yawn, mixed to a few truly contemporary opinions, inexorably preludes to a disastrous conclusion: «Buildings or architecture. The buildings can be avoided.»

And hence the widespread discontent, which can be summed up in a blind lapidating of the curator for what is not there inside the Arsenale.  Blind and shallow, because it doesn’t consider a basic fact, namely that the architecture is nothing but what is not there (or we would be dealing about sculpture, confusion in which Gehry clumsily falls in his manifesto) and as a consequence it can, must go beyond building when meant in a classical dimension, because this constitutes only a small subset if it (although, obviously, not all the act building belongs to the categories of architecture). I wonder what kind of exposure to the Arsenale would had met the various censors taste: perhaps a succession of models, as in the 2004 show? Nor, for even the practice of exposing what is not strictly made is deprived of its legitimacy. Then, maybe, a more convincing sequence of photographs, perhaps including views of the yard. It is quite weird, if one looks, that the same voices (alas greatly able to influence the public opinion, particularly those of the sector outsiders) exhaustingly accuse architecture of being perennial disrespectful (of what, it seems irrelevant ) with this taken as an incontrovertible law of the universe, and as much as a constitutionally unchallenged dominion of what is made

But going back to the manifestos. Let’s have a quick look to the others to build a first idea. We could say that they can be roughly divided into four categories: the past, the spicy, the fool, the trivial.

Among the authors of the past, some will redeem themselves in their corresponding installation, as Barkow Leibinger Architects, which links a manifesto for a concrete architecture to the realization of an interesting material garden, made of metal pipes, but shapely variable following the viewer’s will and not lacking of aesthetic quality; some instead, like Gehry, is stuck on descriptions of the profession that could easily belong to the past century and are unable to obtain even better results with their installation which seems awkward, redundant and old and is easily overcome in terms of poetry from the carpenters banquet hidden just behind.

Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher belong to the same species, with a manifesto that, not realizing its anachronism, proposes a new “ism” entirely lacking of content, which nobody (never the authors themselves) will remember tomorrow, with a dejà-vu sculpture in a perfect zahahadid-style, completely empty of any meaning.

Among the some way spicy manifestos I feel like including Francesco Delogu’s, culminating with a captivating promise: «One day we will be able to build structures supported by the space they contain. This way, architecture will communicate with the environment, and will not distinguish from it. At the same time it will be closer to humans, being their highest expression». Worthy of note is undoubtedly Droog & Kesselskramer’s writing, associated with one of the most successful performances of the exhibition: “Single Town”. The stand, also attractive for the general public, does not surrender to banality: the manifesto argues the very important concept that the more a city is populated by singles, the more multiple and complex interconnections it requires and the more the architect must «go beyond the building». Really an effective and appropriate interpretation of the theme of this year Biennale.

In the category of spicy, Guallart Architects can also be named, with their precise description of the contemporary situation and their proposal “Hyperabitat. Reprogramming the world”, which sums in the domestic scale the need for a closer information network linking everything in order to schedule, as far as to the limits of programming, changes and improvement;

Coop Himmelb(l)au, which exhume a forty years old work, but a work then so revolutionary that it is only understandable today, Philippe Rahm, with its “Meteorological Architecture”, which is concerned in creating, rather than spaces, temperatures and atmospheres, in an interesting link between the infinitely large, the infinitely small, the infinitely complex and the infinitely impalpable (the installation, however, is disappointingly late-rationalist), and finally M-A-D, which includes, in addition to Chris Salter, even that Erik Aadigard who had written Architecture Must Burn with Betsky in 2000, book that contains many of the theories that are behind the choice of content of the Biennale (Biennale that, it should be noted, therefore suffers the presence of ideas born already 8 years old at least).

Then the award of fool, that is devoid of any meaning, is won by the documents by Massimiliano Fuksas (a plenty of syntactically disconnected nouns perhaps in an attempt to imitate somewhat a grammar after Joyce), Nigel Coates (deliria about the need to introduce eroticism in architectural design), Totan Kuzembaev (a total of six sentences, the most senseful of those sais: «Winter thoughts are far more valuable than summer ones»), An Te Liu (a total of eight verses the most useful of those sais: «I find architecture boring when it is too practical / and not practical when it is too visionary»), but somehow are saved by the installation, and David Rockwell with Jones Kroloff (structured in gaps to be filled by anyone considering this fun for some reason).

As for the trivial, this statement is, in a higher or lesser extent, to all the other maifestos who presented to the Arsenale, that, being them incomplete, self referenced, inconclusive or simply passed, are of little or no interest as for the man in the street as for the theorist. While some installations may be considered some way worthy of attention (such as “Furnivehicles” by Atelier Bow Wow), the other are essentially superfluous, if not harmful (embarrassing the “Hypnerotosfera” by Nigel Coates).

* PassepARTout is a very successful Italian tv transmission, now at its 8° edition, written and conduced by Philippe Daverio, a very capable Italo-French art criticist, also director of  Art e Dossier, an art magazine. PassepARTout is probably the best art tv show we have in Italy. On air every Sunday at 01.30 pm.

Enamel above nothing

June 18, 2008

Gehry - Hotel de Riscal

A short reflection after reading Casabella 752.
I was very interested in Dal Co’s article, with the title of Lo smalto sul nulla [“Enamel above nothing”], about the controversial (just to be clement) Hotel Marqués de Riscal, by Gehry, and the nihilism which can be said to philosophically found deconstructivism – or any other architectonic theory characterizing the work of the Canadian architect who wisely rejects to declare himself for anyone of them.
Reading Benevolo, I was once stroke by the simple but sensible observation that architecture is the most slowly evolving art; for obvious technical and institutional reasons, it definitely carries a delay. Nothing wiser, in my modest opinion. It is true indeed that every age corresponds to its architecture, but the fundamental evolutions however come with the delay of almost a century; particularly from the 700’s, when the world started to accelerate all its vital cycles. It is not a case that Lightening produces definitely ancient régime architectures, Decadence takes to romantic buildings, Pirandello’s ‘900 loiters upon safe positivistic positions: maybe it is just now that Heisemberg starts to move the architect’s hand towards complete indetermination.
But nothing can justify Gehry for the de Riscal eyesore. A metallic-plate-shaped auto-quotationism covers, maybe for lightening shyness, a whole architectonic nothing. Is this the state of art?
Luckily, there are Isozaki and a newly discovered Carlo Scarpa giving a hope to this issue. Jean Nouvel makes his part too, while this time Mrs. Hadid seems to have not much to say.

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