A thesis that starts with an image. A collage by the author, titled Three Propositions. Fragments of images are cut out and pasted onto cartridge paper which has been coated with a layer of white chalk, over which marks have been made using pencil and the long side of the chalk. At its centre is Aldo Rossi’s Analogical City, itself a collage that uses photocopies. Rossi’s image is around two metres square and consists of projects by Rossi, his collaborators and his references, drawn in a mixture of projection techniques: orthographic, oblique, perspective. So we get plan, elevation, perspective, and oblique sharing the same space and with equal authority. Rossi has drawn a figure, which, in my collage is displaced vertically and overlaps onto Canaletto’s vedute painting of an alternative Venice, which Rossi used to illustrate his concept of the Analogical City.
Canaletto’s painting depicts three buildings by Palladio as if they were composed in an actual cityscape. They are not. The bridge is unbuilt and the buildings either side are in Vicenza. Rossi says that an imaginary Venice is built on top of the real one. The painting is aligned with Sebastiano Serlio’s 10×10 square grid which is at the start of his Renaissance treatise in Book I On Geometry. In Book II On Perspective, Serlio illustrates the technique of perspective using the theatre sets that Vitruvius’ described in De Architettura: Tragic, Satyric, and Comical. I have cut out the one Serlio draws without the set, leaving only a gridded pattern and the outline of where the walls of the set would be, and placed it underneath the Analogical City image. On the oblique is another part of Serlio’s theatre, the semicircular seating.
On top of this and aligned with the seating is a notebook extract by Rossi. To the left of the Analogical City is Jacques Lacan’s diagram of the image-screen from the chapter “What is a Picture” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Following the diagram, Lacan says the screen is the “locus of mediation.” As Freud has said, memories are projected onto this screen as images, where they are superimposed on one another. Images are thus built on top of other images. Rossi says the city is the “locus of collective memory,” and I place Lacan’s diagram between Serlio’s geometric grid, and Rossi’s Analogical City. It directs the view toward another of Rossi’s notebook extracts in which he writes about collage in architecture, the construction of the city by parts, and the Analogical City as a compositional system that uses existing elements in new combinations, like the Canaletto painting.
The two quotations at the bottom of the collage, in their juxtaposition constitute a narrative framework:
“Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”
Aldo Rossi A Scientific Autobiography 1981, p. 78.
“I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it.”
Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City 1966, p. 40.
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.
In attendance were Cameron McEwan, Alex Pearson, Jorg Schroeder, Karla Spennrath, Naira Chilingaryan, and others. The panel of critics included Prof. Ralf Weber, Architect and Environmental Psychologist at Dresden University of Technology and Prof. Dr. Alexander Schmidt, Architect and Urban Designer from University of Duisburg, Essen.
Attendees presented work on such topics as: phenomenological concepts of architectural design; digital configurations of urban space; case studies; public art in the city and city edge housing.
This author divided the presentation in two: first an overview of the PhD, then a focus on the conference theme “Aesthetics,” in particular “Urban Aesthetics,” demonstrated through a design project.
Included here is a selection of extracts from the presentation.
Study for an urban design proposition on North Lindsay Street, Dundee. Freud’s repressed thoughts are superimposed over an historic photograph of Lindsay Street, above which is positioned an unrealised prison complex for Dundee. Seriality is implied as both a critical reflective practice; and formal design operation.