Since commencing our PhD in 2009, three of the design-based researcher’s at Architecture, Dundee, have presented a modest Work in Progress, free-style exhibition. A grab from the Dundee website reads, “PhD research at Architecture, Dundee is pursued through design and focused around two interrelated themes that support priorities in creative practice and sustainability: Architecture and Intellectual Culture; and Architecture and the Environment.”
I presented study drawings of Fagnano Olona Elementary School, Italy by Aldo Rossi and used the analysis to speculate about Rossi’s analogical praxis in the Aldo Rossi in his Study montage and accompanying sketch studies. These examine the relationship between observation, memory and imagination within an analogical framework and depict the type-forms, type-elements, monuments and anonymous architecture which are at the foundation of Rossi’s praxis.
Fagnano Olona Elementary School is defined by its courtyard plan-form and axially-arranged accommodation. Within the courtyard, wide steps lead to the double height gymnasium, from which one can look toward the cylindrical library with its glazed roof. We can read this analogically and equate the gymnasium with fitness and physical health; opposite the library which is for knowledge; between these are the square and steps which is where the life of a city unfolds. The school is thus a city in microcosm.
The city is where Aldo Rossi’s thesis begins. He developed a theory of types in The Architecture of the City, which was a theory for the building forms that repeated and endured most in the history of architecture and the city. Out of this evolved his concept of the Analogical City, a conceptual framework for transposing collective types and individual monuments from architectural history to be repositioned alongside the most anonymous elements of the city. Mixed, like Canaletto’s vedute and Freud’s composite dream-image.
The recently established Foundation for Architecture & Education is an independent forum for the exchange of ideas about architecture and founded by Samuel Penn and Penny Lewis, who tell us, “Architects work within a rich canon. Defining the position of contemporary work in relation to the vast body of work that has gone before it is important.” The Foundation for Architecture & Education organises events, produce publications and coordinate a post-graduate course in architectural studies. The premise of which is to provide a framework in which each participant can develop their understanding of the discipline through the study of built work. The year long course is split into three parts: Model, which involves the study of a building that exemplifies a particular idea about architecture; Axiom, which demands that participants develop a clear position on their own practice in the context of a broader appreciation of shared concerns for architecture; and Locus, which offers the opportunity to design a building in a specific location. The building chosen to study in Model provides the building type to design in Locus. Each year, a new question is asked, which will be returned to in all of the work undertaken. This year is the question of size: what size should a building be?
This post is about term one Model, which concludes with an Open Review this Saturday 5th of May after a talk and presentation by architect Raphael Zuber and Christoph Gantenbein on Friday night. The building selected to study is Aldo Rossi’s school at Fagnano Olona, a small town, 40 km northwest of Milan. Designed in 1972, Rossi had built only the Segrate town square in 1965 and the Gallaratese housing block in 1970, completing the school at Fagnano Olona in 1976. Thus, it is considered one of Rossi’s early works.The selection of this building is: first, Rossi is regarded as a significant architect and Fagnano Olona school is recognised as significant in the development of Rossi’s built and theoretical work. Second, when published, it is often illustrated in plan only and as with all of Rossi’s projects, is accompanied by beautiful sketch studies and photographs. However, the site context and sectional drawings are almost always missing. Third, the building type is sufficiently complex to use as a base for term three, Locus. Finally, and from a personal point of view, Rossi forms the foundation of my PhD, and as readers of this blog will know, there was really no other choice…
Fagnano Olona school is defined by its courtyard plan-form and axially-arranged accommodation. The elevation is punctured with large square openings set in line with the internal wall thus articulating the shadow that falls on the external surface. One enters underneath a large clock, and with the adjacent conical brick chimney (containing the plant), it is like walking into a painting by de Chirico or Sironi. When I visited (see this post), it was the Summer holiday so the school was empty and the association of de Chirico was perhaps intensified by this. The chimney marks the entrance and primary axis of the school, which is organised northeast to southwest between an assembly hall and a linear pergola. Within the courtyard, wide steps lead to the double height gymnasium on the northeast, from which one can look toward the cylindrical library with its glazed roof. Double-corridor wings surround the courtyard and contain twenty-two classrooms (over two floors), staff facilities and a dining hall.It is interesting to note a recent AR. The February 2012 issue has a short section on schools, in which Christian Kuhn offers four attributes for the building type: flexibility, clustering, common core, and connectivity. We can analyse Fagnano Olona via these attributes.
Kuhn’s attribute clustering, is the division of the school into a hierarchy of smaller clusters. We can see this at Fagnano Olona in the blocks that extend outward from the central courtyard. The longer ones contain four classrooms with a corridor that is 2.5m, and repeat over two floors. The shorter ones contain three classrooms and a room off the corridor (the courtyard end), used as an informal teaching/learning space. These cluster blocks are a single storey with a 2m corridor. The blocks frame an external space with trees and grass.
Flexibility is about the granularity of room sizes and not necessarily about open-plan layout. At Fagnano Olona, the classrooms are repeated units, arranged within the four linear blocks. The other two block contain staff rooms and the dining hall. There is variation in this. At the end of each block the final classroom extends to the width of the corridor. A further subtle variation exists in the northwest end classrooms because the corridor is widened to 2.5m, from the 2m width of the southeast block. Thus, there are three classroom forms, although a fourth informal one exists as the teaching/learning space, which is roughly half the size of the small classrooms and constitutes both circulation space and space for learning.
At Fagnano Olona the common core is the central courtyard with steps. A playground, assembley space, town square and theatre. But also the informal teaching/learning spaces act quite readily as an indoor meeting place.
The final attribute that Kuhn offers is connectivity: the school as a node in a wider network of learning. He cites other learning institutions including secondary/primary school, nursery, and library at the local level; with ICT connections at the global level. At Fagnano Olona, the school includes a library, the circular element in plan, which is also part of the courtyard and adjacent to the entrance. One imagines this space to be used by the community as, for example an exhibition space.
The significance of Rossi’s work is in it’s associative links and typological investigation. Fagnano Olona is no different. A de Chirico clock and chimney mix with the pergola as a reference to the archetypal hut. The courtyard is a typological form, a town square, its steps like an amphitheatre. The library which looks like a baptistry. At Fagnano Olona my interest is in the clarity of composition and investigation of repetition and variation.
Although Rossi is often attacked for dismissing human scale, studying Fagnano Olona in detail reveals the opposite. From the over-scaled square windows which contain four smaller-sized square windows within, to the subtle difference in corridor width, the modest teaching/learning spaces and in particular I was struck by the ledge at the entrance vestibule where children can sit and shelter from the rain, peering, and thinking about that strange chimney, framed by a large square window.
Something between remembering and forgetting? The dialectic that exists in memory, I mean the mis-
In The Architecture of the City architect Aldo Rossi says that the past is being partly experienced in the present. With Paris and the thesis of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs on Collective Memory in mind Rossi writes, “… the actual configuration of a large city can be seen as the confrontation of the initiatives of different parties, personalities, and governments. In this way various different plans are superimposed, synthesised, forgotten, so that the Paris of today is like a composite photograph, one that might be obtained by reproducing the Paris of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Napoleon I, Baron Haussmann in a single image.” Forgotten. This passage brings to mind one by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who in, Civilisation and Its Discontents uses the city of Rome as an analogy to illustrate the accumulation and preservation of material in one’s unconscious. Freud writes that in mental life nothing that has once existed is ever lost. He asks us to imagine Rome to be like the unconscious, “a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent.”
And back to Rossi. He concludes A Scientific Autobiography by re-drawing twelve projects. His selection dates from 1962 to 1980, and each are signed summer, “estate 1980.” These fragments exist alongside one another in the present.
In my investigation of this, each of Rossi’s twelve projects are superimposed. Like in Freud’s Rome, a composite image is built. Starting with Gallaratese (1970) in Milan, then Segrate (1965), Modena (1979), Venice (1980) and others, each project is drawn, and then painted over. Drawn then painted over, and the process is repeated for each. Rossi’s twelve projects exist in a single image, superimposed. The present image partly experienced by the previous one, or two or three. The drawing sits somewhere between remembering and forgetting. A kind of mis-remembering.
Pencil sketch plans, Street elevation and photograph of scale model”]The film maker Sergei Eisenstein proposed that with the method of montage “any two sequences, when juxtaposed, inevitably combine into another concept which arises from that juxtaposition as something qualitatively new” (Eisenstein, 1938). Montage is a visual technique that superimposes images (and/or text) or places images (and/or text) adjacently in order to produce an impression, illustrate an association of ideas, or analyse by comparison.
At a recent presentation on “Urban Aesthetics” in Dresden, Germany I was asked, in relation to my “contextual” design for a city centre site in Dundee, Scotland: “What do you think about “cut and paste?” Before proceeding with the reply, it is worth outlining the project. The brief proposes a building or buildings that interface with the city, the programme of which is defined by the current Local Development Plan and supplemented by the addition of an Education and Research facility. The design proposes two urban blocks to either side of an existing building. One block investigates a regular courtyard plan; the other is informed by the irregular plan of the adjacent context: the footprint of a neighbouring block is rotated, pasted to the site, re-aligned with the street and cut to fit. The elevational treatment proceeds in a similar way. The existing street elevation is drawn and the relationship of solid to void is noted. The proposition is wrapped by a series of these drawings, cut and altered as the programme necessitates. It is the “double” of the neighbouring block.
My reply to the initial question: “‘Cut and paste’ is similar to the way in which film from the 1920’s uses montage. New ideas emerge through the juxtaposition of images. In urban design, a ‘modification’ takes place in-between the ‘cut’ and the ‘paste.’ The modification is something new. It is placed in a context, which is readjusted by it, to read as something new.” In the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, The Double is our opposite. A shadow. “Analogy” is a process of reasoning that uses existing material as reference in order to construct something new. The design project shares an analogical relationship with both the context and its shadow.
After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Hand of San Carlone and the Theatre’s of Life at Fagnano Alona and Broni
Mounting the stair of the plinth, the pilgrim enters the body of the saint. After ascending the interior of the body, one arrives at the head and peers through the eyes of San Carlone toward the grey lakes of Maggiore. Two Regionale trains and a wet walk from Milano Centrale, it takes a little under two hours to reach the location of Rossi’s drawn, re-drawn and drawn again hand of San Carlone at Arona. Architect Cerano designed the 35 metre high iron structure, enclosed in folded copper that one can climb by hooking into a harness and reaching toward the heavens by ladder.
A detour home via Sunday bus service and a further one and a half hour stroll, I received a pleasant welcome from a teacher named Virginia Mont who guided me around Rossi’s elementary school in Fagnano Olona. The school is organised around a central courtyard with steps that lead to the double height gymnasium. Like in the preliminary studies for San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena (both designs of the 1970s), a skeletol plan form emerges, with classrooms arranged linearly along the legs. One enters at the head of this skeletol creature, underneath a clock and adjacent chimney, and proceeds to the circular, meeting space, which unfortunately is now showing signs of water penetration. The elevation is punctured with large square openings set in line with the internal wall thus articulating the shadow that falls on the external surface.
The intermediate school in Broni, south of Milan, further interrogates the courtyard as an organisational device. Now, a single storey encloses an hexagonal meeting space. A halt in the enclosing wall of classrooms allows views toward the housing that surround the school. As with Fagnano Olona, Rossi sets the square window frames flush with the inside. Shadow again allowing one to visualise the passing of time.
Ben Huser recently posted an homage to Aldo Rossi in which Huser included some of his beautiful photographs of the floating Teatro del Mondo. To make a comparison, the central hexagonal space of Broni is reconfigured within Rossi’s sketch studies for his floating pavilion at the 1980 Venice Biennale: with only a slight modification, a theatre of life becomes a theatre of the world. A similar comparison can be made with the San Cataldo Cemetery and Fagnano Olona School which merge into one another: one a theatre for the dead, the other a play of life.