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.

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