Architecture of Analogy

Island: A recent exhibition by the AE Foundation and a note on the category of authorship.

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on December 12, 2014

In November the AE Foundation put on an exhibition at Whitespace in Edinburgh of eight new house designs for the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The exhibition, curated by Samuel Penn and Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde, included designs by, amongst others, Christ & Gantenbein Architects, Raumbureau, Raphael Zuber, and Pascal Flammer.
The project, entitled “Island,” revisits the tradition of using a client to advance the formal and conceptual preoccupations of an individual architect through the design of a private house. The main purpose of the project was to challenge the formal preconception for houses designed for the Highlands and Islands.
Accompanying the exhibition was a book that compiled the house designs and an essay (authored by me), which appraised each of the eight designs then briefly reflected on the category of authorship. My analysis focused on space and form rather than style or experience and was intentionally abstract rather than figurative because this was a way to discuss the shared characteristics of a series of spatially and formally varied designs.
Crucially, another shared characteristic of the architects in the exhibition is their belief in the status of the architect as singular author. This position – the architects authorial role – has suffered in recent years particularly since the turn of this century due to participatory tendencies and of consensus driven design decisions.
What is at stake in current architecture is not new forms (although the production of form is clearly a quintessential critical tool of architecture), but rather the atomisation of the architect-author and the fundamental cultural value of architecture itself. The point here is that the architects social purpose, their intellectual role as critical thinker and their contribution as form giver to society is now replaced by a technocratic and managerial role within the weak pluralist ethos of today.
As the history of architecture shows us, we need committed individuals – uncompromising architects – to produce strong architecture to develop the discipline with a view to overcoming the current architectural impasse.

 

For details of the exhibition and essay see here: aefoundation.co.uk

 

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Notes on Architecture and Cultural Production

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on May 18, 2014
Montage of Rossi (1976) La città analoga; and Serlio (1545) Scena Tragica. On the left, Rossi places a standing figure into the city making clear that the city is the result of human labour, both manual and mental. On the right, Serlio emphasises the street as a public space defined by a wall of buildings.

Montage of Rossi (1976) La città analoga; and Serlio (1545) Scena Tragica.
On the left, Rossi places a standing figure into the city making clear that the city is the result of human labour, both manual and mental. On the right, Serlio emphasises the street as a public space defined by a wall of buildings.

 

While it is clear that architecture is not autonomous from culture, it is possible to understand architecture as autonomous in relation to culture because architecture is a discipline with its own rules, values, formal and conceptual principles which are put forward in theories, drawings, built and unbuilt examples. Yet architecture gives concrete form to culture and came into being with the first traces of the city. Architecture is rooted in the formation of culture and civilisation so that the history of architecture, which is the city, is also the history of culture. Architecture, culture and the city are therefore relational and co-determinate. The purpose of the following notes will be to briefly reflect on these points.
“Mind takes form in the city;” said Lewis Mumford in The Culture of Cities “and in turn, urban forms condition mind.” Mumford’s words remind us of architecture’s formal condition and that the city embodies the sensibility, attitude, and dominant worldview of any given culture. Then, urban forms – architecture as such – condition the sensibility of any given culture because the architecture of the city is both a human creation of manual as well as mental labour and the willed expression of power, whether in the name of the state, religion, corporate patronage or some other authority such as a single figure. The city thus embodies private passions and desires, shared beliefs and needs, as well as the conflicts of a people, which always results in both the construction and destruction of the city. Think of the construction of great arches during the Roman Empire to celebrate war victories; or infrastructural projects like Haussmann’s Paris boulevards that destroyed vast areas of the city to represent an affluent Paris as a crucial centre of Europe; or the production of “iconic” buildings in the 1990s and 2000s that attempted to turn relatively unimpressive cities into global tourist attractions. By understanding architecture and the city as the embodiment of culture – of shared beliefs and needs as well as common sensibilities and attitudes – we can ask what is the culture of our current condition and how is this formalised in architecture?
There has been considerable recent discussion by commentators who describe culture today as a “crisis of social imagination.” [1] Let us note two examples. According to Paul Virilio, “Progress has become excess.” In the past, progress was the shared improvement of living, working, and education conditions. As Virilio states in The Administration of Fear progress is now excess. For Virilio, excess means the proliferation of unnecessary objects so that we are saturated with images, sounds and words. These are produced at an excessive speed with the purpose of feeding our desire for immediate satisfaction. The excessive speed of contemporary culture and the constant speed of post-industrial society has caused the fragmentation of rhythm, whether daily and habitual, seasonal, or something other. Virilio extrapolates this to various scales including human, city, and military. He comments that society accelerates at all times and without pause for reflecting on our desire for new things. The planned obsolescence of technologies such as phones and computers (as well as cars and new homes) is an example. We dispose of them at a quicker rate because they are produced at a quicker rate so we endlessly consume. Virilio reminds us that the need to constantly update our Facebook and our Email is another example of the acceleration of reality. The implication of the desire to “update” is that we are always behind where we need to be: behind on work, family, and friends. Because of its banality the sense of “being behind” goes unnoticed as a way of controlling our sensibility that results in deep feelings of anxiety. Lastly, Virilio reminds us that modern culture equates progress with economic expansion and the excessive proliferation of facts, figures, percentages, profits, and statistics, which is what Virilio calls the “mathematicisation of reality.”
Let us recall another example. In Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity Gerald Raunig says the following: “Knowledge economy, knowledge age, knowledge-based economy, knowledge management, cognitive capitalism – these terms for the current social situation speak volumes. Knowledge becomes commodity, which is manufactured, fabricated and traded like material commodities.” Here, contradictory keywords are conjoined: knowledge and economy, knowledge and management, cognition and capitalism. Knowledge is understood as collectively produced shared thinking and is founded on human cognition which is immeasurable and cannot be controlled nor quantified. By contrast economy, management, and capitalism represent mass-individualisation, extreme competition, and hierarchical control. In Raunig’s reflections, we can read the struggle between the human value of knowledge versus its gradual commodification by dominant power.
The points made by Virilio and Raunig on the quantification of life and knowledge help frame the following architectural examples which can be read as symptomatic of a deeper cultural pathology that increasingly rejects the human sensibility for critical and creative imagination. Koolhaas’ (et al) Mutations, although now a dated text, is worthwhile recalling because it is the model of numerous recent texts. It surveys contemporary global urbanisation from cities and city-regions in Europe, America, and Asia. The text measures cities through statistics and indexes, and is illustrated by countless charts. Significantly, Mutations opens with a series of page spreads that comment on global population trends. The first reads: “At the outset of the twentieth century, 10% of the population lived in cities. In 2000, around 50% of the world population lives in cities.” This is a tiring statistic which is constantly repeated.
Another text, Content, is a history of OMA/AMO since S,M,L,XL of 1995 and situates Koolhaas’ practice within the scope of global culture. In the chapter entitled “An Autopsy” global culture between 1989 to 2003 is charted in relation to the production of “iconic” buildings and the Dow Jones Financial index. It makes clear the link between architecture and its commodification within the framework of economic markets. In the photomontage that illustrates the chapter, we see buildings by Zumthor, Gehry, Foster, and SOM amongst many others. We also see photographs of Kofi Annan, Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, and images of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, as well as art exhibitions such as Damien Hirst’s in MOMA, New York. Comment should also be made on the objecthood of the book: a small, thick, glossy paperback magazine, saturated with images, photomontages, ideograms, advertisements, essays, interviews and statistics about global culture. It is an analogical reflection of the loud consumerist ethos of our age. Yet, to qualify this, Content still asserts the role of culture and understanding the city as a prerequisite for the production of architecture. While these are only two examples, we can cite many others to indicate the recent emphasis on quantifying the city, architecture and culture via technological-scientific language. For brevity, a few book titles should suffice: Weak and Diffuse Modernity, Recombinant Urbanism, The Endless City, A New Urban Metabolism.
The preceding examples – from the critical reflections by Virilio and Raunig on the implications of “mathematicisation of reality” and social imagination, to the quantitative analyses of Koolhaas and others – serve as illustrations of our current cultural condition and its interplay with architecture in general. To end, here is the crucial point: instead of constructing complex mathematical models to “measure” architecture or endlessly analysing the city through “data,” we should remember that architecture is a form of cultural production and based on human sensibility, which is of immeasurable importance. Let us remember that architecture is an intellectual inquiry that questions urban life as such by putting forward alternative ways of living and critical interpretations of existing conditions.

 

[1] See for example the following: Franco Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012); David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2014); Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century (London: Abacus, 2014); Antonio Negri, Art and Multitude: Nine letters on art, followed by Metamorphoses: Art and immaterial labour, trans. by Ed Emery (Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, 2011); Paul Virilio and Bertrand Richard, The Administration of Fear (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012).

 

This essay can also be found at http://issuu.com/level6portfolio

 

Notes on the Autonomy of Architecture

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 22, 2013
C McEwan 2013 School-Cemetery [montage] Left: Fagnano Olona School, Right San Cataldo Cemetery, Both drawings by Rossi.

C McEwan 2013 School-Cemetery [montage] Left: Fagnano Olona School, Right San Cataldo Cemetery, Both drawings by Rossi.

One place to situate the theme of autonomy in architecture is in Emil Kaufmann’s discussion in the 1930s on the work of Enlightenment architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Kaufmann emphasised formal aspects such as: cubic masses, bare walls, frameless apertures, and flat roofs. For Kaufmann, the isolation of parts, their dialogue as either repetitive or oppositional elements, represented a formal autonomy. Autonomy re-emerged in the 1970s when architects challenged pseudo-scientific and technologically-driven projects, such as: Kenzo Tange’s 1960 project for Tokyo Bay with its raised roadways from which residential units could endlessly aggregate, Buckminster Fuller’s 1962 domed geodesic smog shield over midtown Manhattan, Archigram’s pop-image megastructures like the 1964 Plug-in City, Paolo Soleri’s anamorphic urbanism, and in Italy, Archizoom’s anarchic No-stop City, a continuous urban structure “without architecture.” In projects like these, formal issues are replaced by statistical analyses, technological optimism, and the potentially infinitely extendable, “open-form.” This path of development is opposed by those architects who follow the theme of autonomy in architecture. In recent years, autonomy has been discussed once again in texts by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Michael Hays, Reinhold Martin, and Anthony Vidler. [1]

The introduction of historical critique into the discipline of architecture is a characteristic the theme of autonomy. However, it is complicated by two general positions that refer to the argument about what kind of historical critique is appropriate. One kind of critique proposes an ideological critique of the history of architecture. An examination of all the contributing factors around architectural form, such as the social, cultural, economic and political, in order to understand how architecture is produced through power. The other kind of critique proposes a typological critique of the history of architecture and its formation as the city. An examination of typological-form in order to understand the processes, principles and formal operations that underline the production of form. In particular, the relationship between the form of the individual building as it relates to the wider collective realm of the city, and the history of architecture. It is important to say that both attitudes are independent of one another, but share a commitment to the repositioning of the “I” of architecture to the “us” of the city. Whether through understanding the form and role of architecture within the city as a product of social, cultural, economic and political concern. Or as much for architecture as a product of the historical, urban and typological structure of the city itself. Again, both positions prioritise the collective mind over the individual.

There is a problematic overlap in these positions because architecture supports social, cultural, economic and political aspects and is their concrete manifestation. Thus, architectural form cannot be considered as a single, isolated event because it is bounded by both the material and immaterial reality in which it exists. However, what the theme of autonomy can do, is open a discussion on what it means to view architecture as autonomous. Thus autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, which can be instrumentalised by the architect through the production of images, and texts, aswell as buildings. It is worthwhile to note a few specific examples in the recent history of architecture.

Manfredo Tafuri, in Architecture and Utopia bleakly surmised architecture to be an instrument of capitalist development used by regimes of power, thinking it useless to propose purely architectural alternatives. However, he said that it is the conflict of things that is important, insisting on the productivity inherent in separation. In Critical Architecture Michael Hays writes that architecture is an instrument of culture, and also is autonomous form. The former view emphasises culture as the content of built form, and depends on social, economic, political and technological processes. The latter concerns the formal operations of architecture, how buildings are composed, and how architectural form is viewed as part of a continuing historical project. Aureli develops an autonomy thesis in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, in which he articulates an engagement with the city through confrontation. Aureli writes that it is the condition of architectural form to separate and be separated. In this act of separation, architecture reveals the essence of the city, and the essence of itself as political form. For Aureli, it is the process of separation inherent to architectural form that the political is manifest.

In the work of Aldo Rossi the autonomy of form produced critical distance between the legacy of modern functionalist architecture and its critique, of which Rossi was a key proponent. To outline an example, we can refer to two projects undertaken in the early 1970s. A school at Fagnano Olona, and a cemetery outside Modena. Both projects share a precisely defined bi-lateral plan-form. Extending perpendicular from this axis are wings which arrange classrooms in the school, and graves in the cemetery. Either end of this central axis is marked by a circular and a square element. At the school, the circular element is a library which enters into the courtyard, and the square element is a gym hall. At the cemetery, the former is a conical grave and the latter, a monument to the war dead. Both plans refers to the axially arranged institutions of prisons, hospitals and asylums. In so doing, function is superseded by autonomous form, and the history of architecture is collapsed into a single building.

By way of conclusion it is illuminating to recall the political category of agonism posited by Chantal Mouffe in her book On the Political. We can think once again of the I/us relationship of the opening paragraphs, and more particularly the interrelated, we/they relationship. For Mouffe, the agonist principle develops from the idea of the political as a space of permanent conflict and antagonism, and hence a constancy of the we/they opposition. In antagonism there is no shared ground in the we/they opposition, so opponents are enemies. While in agonism, there is recognition of the legitimacy of the opponent, so enemy becomes adversary. Remembering that autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, we could say that a crucial meaning of autonomy in architecture is to constantly produce a form of agonism through the production of images, texts, and buildings.

[1] See for example: Aureli, Pier V. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (MIT Press, 2011), Aureli, Pier V. The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism, Reprint 2012 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), Hays, K. Michael. Architecture’s Desire (MIT Press, 2009),
Martin, Reinhold. Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (University of Minnesota Press, 2010),
Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (MIT Press, 2008).

 

This essay can also be found at http://www.aefoundation.co.uk

Forgetting Fundamentals

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on September 19, 2012

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel. [From top: Basilica by Vitruvius, illustrated by Cesariano (1521), Holl (1980) study of H-Type building, Serlio (c1537) centralised plan (left); Schematised plans of eleven of Palladio’s villas (c1570) via Wittkower, Piranesi (1761) study of Roman ruins with temple]

Established in May 2011, the AE Foundation provides an open independent forum for the discussion of architecture. The Foundation brings together an international community of practitioners, academics and graduates who wish to pursue architecture seriously with a view to contributing to and disseminating architectural knowledge and understanding. To, “promote the significance of the discipline, to encourage scholarship and foster an active architectural culture, in partnership with individuals in practice and academia – and to be a centre ‘par excellence’ for intelligent dialogue and debate in architectural theory, history and practice based in Scotland.”

One such discussion was undertaken during the Spring months of this year, 2012, under the general question: can we talk about fundamentals in architecture? Our exchange was at times flippant, at times philosophical, and at times biting of each other’s position. Some of us decided to formalise our thoughts in short essays. What follows is a summary. An extended version of the essay can be found on the AE Foundation website.

I started with Aldo Rossi’s rumination on the alternative title for his book A Scientific Autobiography,

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.”

It links the building types: school, cemetery, theatre; with their conceptual analogues: life, death, imagination. In this space of association type in architecture is both material and idea. In a theory of types, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. That is, from Vitruvius, De architectura, Serlio and Palladio’s books during the Renaissance, to Durand’s manual which codifies buildings, Venturi’s manifesto, and the pamphlets of Holl. In Rafael Moneo’s 1978 essay On Typology, republished in a 2004 edition of El Croquis he writes that typology raises the question of the nature of the architectural work itself. In my view, it is therefore legitimate to postulate type as one place to begin a discussion about fundamentals in architecture.

For the first part, type is a way of thinking in groups, which is, analysis through classification. In architecture, the most common theories of classification by type have been according to use: national monuments, town halls, prisons, banks, warehouses, factories, as can be seen in Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1976 A History of Building Types; and according to form: centralised plan, linear arrangement, courtyard. Aldo Rossi tell us that the former understanding is limiting because the use of a building is independent from its form. Buildings evolve over time, so a warehouse becomes an apartment block, an apartment block becomes an office block, an office block becomes a brothel. Or as, for example, Atelier Bow-Wow show us in Made in Tokyo, all of these can be contained as a hybrid, so that above the warehouse is an apartment block, which is below an office, and the building terminates with a penthouse brothel.

Rossi’s quote, “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,” is significant for its location within The Architecture of the City. It mediates between a quotation by the Enlightenment architectural theorists Antoine Chrysôthome Quatremère de Quincy and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Both Quatremère de Quincy and Durand acknowledged, in different ways the relationship of memory and history in the idea of type. Quatremère de Quincy linked type with that which is archaic, elemental and primitive, and we could say to memory. Free from this metaphysical speculation, Durand’s technical understanding geometrised history. And as Rossi has said, history is the material of architecture. Thus in the adjacency of each quote we get the opposition between the conceptual and the material once more. Rossi’s quote then, mediates between the “permanent and complex,” which is archaic and elemental, something “prior to form;” and of the “logical principle,” which is that constituted by a reading of history.

And of forgetting, Rossi writes,

“In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reverence which subsequently becomes confounded with memories.”

Freud tells us that in forgetting, we commit something to the unconscious, where it is worked over during regression, which is an impulse to the archaic; and then to surface again when remembered, only now transformed, and reverent. The type is worked over within the collective history of architecture, to be transformed by a kind of temporal and formal regression.

 

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel 2. [From top: Durand (1805) Elements of Building, from the Précis, Rossi (1970) Gallaratese elevation, plan, photograph, Canal side tenement in Milan, Quatremère de Quincy (c1832) study for a gateway]

 

The Architecture of the City at IUAV

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on November 2, 2011
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First published by Marsilio in Padova, Italy 1966, Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary this year with a new 2011 Italian edition. In honour of this, the IUAV University of Venice organised an international conference and exhibition, supported by the Fondazione Aldo Rossi, the MAXXI Architettura, Rome and Casabella, the journal that Rossi first wrote for and then edited.

Aiming to promote an open and wide discussion on all things Rossian, the conference first recalled the original context that generated the text; then mapped the network of translations that The Architecture of the City undertook; and finally it investigated the contemporary threads of Rossi’s legacy.

Alberto Ferlenga, Director of Doctoral Studies at IUAV and author of many texts on Aldo Rossi, introduced the conference by stating that The Architecture of the City was conceived as an, “in progress synthesis of a particular time period for urban studies.” He said that the matters mentioned by Rossi are still only partly developed and waiting for further consideration by an architectural community looking for theoretical orientation. Ferlenga compared the text to one of those “unfinished works” that Rossi continuously re-worked: a sketch, a plan, a building.

Many presentations emphasised the importance of Ernesto Rogers and Casabella had on Rossi. Serena Maffioletti, and others, said that the journal was the first to publish Rossi’s writings and was among the first to publish his designs. The individual writings for Casabella were thus the route towards The Architecture of the City. The book, then is a collage. Diego Seixas Lopes considered the fragmentary nature of The Architecture of the City to be a collage-like construction. He noted that the wide range of sources from disparate fields intertwined with mentions to Milizia (Enlightenment architecture), Poete (French geography), de Saussure (linguistics) and memories of cities walked by Rossi. Showing preliminary photographs of the making of the book, it looks similar to the way Rossi makes the Blue Notebooks. Freehand writing, with sketch drawings and photocopies of “things” pasted together.

The Verbal and Non Verbal”]

I learned via Elisabetta Vasumi Roveri that the alternative title of The Architecture of the City was to be The City Planning Manual. Uncannily timely, my own contribution noted the alternative title of Rossi’s second book A Scientific Autobiography was to be Forgetting Architecture. I used the article by Adam Caruso titled Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture and published in AA Files 2009 as my starting point to investigate a lineage of Analogue Architecture from Aldo Rossi to the contemporary Swiss architects Christian Kerez and Valerio Olgiati. I outlined the article by Caruso, who offered a concise section on Aldo Rossi’s two tenure’s at ETH Zurich in the 1970s (Kerez and Olgiati are one step removed from being students of Rossi), and then considered the opposition offered by Carl Jung to Sigmund Freud on analogical thinking. Jung said that analogical thinking was both verbal and non verbal, which invites speculation on the relationship between writing and built form. I suggested the image mediates. Similarly when we speculate on Rossi’s alternative title, Forgetting Architecture, the opposite of forgetting is remembering; and via Freud it is mis-remembering that mediates. Equating these two mediating principles, I offered an analogical reading of Kerez and Olgiati, and suggested thus the contemporary state of Analogue Architecture. A controversial implication. The title of my own contribution was rather cheekily Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture? Perhaps I should drop Caruso an email…

and Caruso A (2009) Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture [article title] Mis-remembering the Image. Somewhere between the verbal and non verbal”]

Now for the exhibition. The publishing history of The Architecture of the City was presented as original books, artefacts; around which, a timeline according to Rossi’s Blue Notebooks was charted. Extracts of which were scattered as loose fragments. A little bit lost looking.

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The publishing history reads: Italy 1966, Spain 1971, Germany 1973, Portugal 1977, Italy 1978, France 1981, Spain 1982, USA 1982, Greece 1987, Japan 1991, China 1992 (2 of), Brazil 1995, Italy 1995, Portugal 2001, Italy 2006, and the new 2011 Italy Edition. It is interesting to note the front covers. For example, the first edition of Italy 1966 superimposes a Renaissance Ideal City over an aerial landscape; Italy 1978 shows the Mausoleum of Hadrian (later transformed into the Castel Sant’Angelo). While France 1981 the Analogical City appears five years after it was first presented, then Japan 1991 the Mausoleum again after it was used by Eisenman in the 1982 USA introduction where he juxtaposed a drawing of a labyrinth, setting up ideas about journey and transformation. The China 1992 shows the Analogical City for the second time. The new Edition for 2011 is from an ArtForum article titled Fragments and depicts a storyboard dated 1987 New York.

And those enigmatic Blue Notebooks. Text-based notes, diagrams of objects and projects, self portrait sketch studies, fragments of train tickets, photocopies of newspapers and photographs of views are pasted within. Indeed, I took pleasure in finding out that the Notebooks measure 220mm by 175, when laid flat.

These are just a few highlights in a short Blog Post. The conference was dense with knowledge, intensely focused and in true Rossian style, it was both lucid and murkily ambiguous. I am grateful for the opportunity to share such a platform and thank those who selected my proposal. Indeed, especially to Eamonn Canniffe who forwarded me the Call for Papers and Graeme Hutton for allowing me the short leave. My only criticism is that there was very little questioning of Rossi in general, and considerably less questioning directed at the speakers, in particular. Perhaps this is okay but resistance is welcome, and criticism directed at the individual research presentations should have been encouraged.

The City That Thinks; A Walk on the Digital Sublime

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on November 2, 2011
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Two views of the Exhibition “City That Thinks” by Paul Guzzardo, a media artist and attorney based in St. Louis and Buenos Aires.

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art until November 11

 

To walk on the digital sublime  click here

 

After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Hand of San Carlone and the Theatre’s of Life at Fagnano Alona and Broni

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on July 5, 2011
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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

After Architect Aldo Rossi: Alberti in Mantua, Canaletto’s “Forgetting” and the Palazzo della Ragione in Padova

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 26, 2011
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Before travelling north to Vicenza and Padova, I paused in Mantua and watched the mist enter Alberti’s basilica of Sant’ Andrea. Alberti’s wall is interrupted by a colossal arch that reaches from entrance to the underside of the pediment. The facade is square in proportion but reads as a combination of wall and column architecture. Inside, the plan extends linearly and the internal elevations share an analogous relationship to the facade. The pediment is removed and replaced with a stunning vaulted and columnless space. San Sebastiano, Alberti’s other basilica in Mantua is a centralised plan with vestibule placed outside of a square plan. The facade of which is enclosed in a square, like at Sant’Andrea, the width corresponding to the height from the entrance to the apex of the pediment. With very few openings, pilasters rather than columns as decoration, it reads as “wall architecture.”

 

A preliminary question in Vicenza (via supervisor’s Graeme Hutton and Dr Lorens Holm) was to what extent has Canaletto faithfully represented the buildings in his vedute ideate of La Basilica di Vicenza e il Ponte dia Rialto, that hangs in Parma (refer to the post dated June 24 for photographs). I do not plan to fully answer this question here, but I will make some observations. The painting depicts a quiet scene that contains numerous boats and gondolas. It is the Grand Canal in Venice. At the centre is the Rialto Bridge, to the right is the Vicenza Basilica. Lining the canal on the left and only just visible is the Palazzo Chierecati. These three buildings are designs by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio whose treatise The Four Books of Architecture dates from 1570.

 

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Canaletto has replaced the present bridge, erected in 1587 and designed by Antonio da Ponte, with a composite of designs extrapolated from Palladio’s Four Books. Canaletto’s bridge has three arches, the central arch is one height of stone higher than the sides and thus also wider, unlike Palladio’s second design for the bridge which has three equal arches. The first design has five arches similar to that drawn in Riconstruzione di Castel Sant’Angelo (hangs also in Parma). The bridge painted by Canaletto is symmetrical in elevation, with a barrel vaulted roof over the two smaller arches, while that of Palladio’s appears not to be so. On the relationship of the Basilica and the Palazzo Chierecati, the rhythm of each of the buildings’ horizontal bays corresponds to that of the built projects of Palladio in Vicenza. Similarly the column Order for both is Tuscan to “ground” level, unadorned Ionic above, and faithfully represented by Canaletto. The vertical proportion of the Basilica accords to the common Palladian ratio of 4:5. In the Four Books the Chierecati is drawn to the same ratio as the Basilica. However in Canaletto’s depiction, if one follows the perspective line from the Basilica and returns with the Chierecati, it appears that although the column Order is the same, the vertical proportion is not. Canaletto has extruded the Palazzo Chierecati vertically and doubled the steps that reach from ground (water in the painting) to loggia. Has he “forgotten” Palladio’s ratio? Why the Palazzo Chierecati? It has an open loggia. In general, loggia’s are used to front public spaces, like in the built project in Vicenza, they do not usually front onto water. Additionally, buildings that line the canal in Venice are usually solid, so why did Canaletto not use the Palazzo Thiene, a building that defines a street edge in Vicenza, and one that might better define a water edge in Venice. Perhaps it just was not Venetian enough…

 

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Rossi uses the Palazzo della Ragione in Padova as an example of a primary element that defines the pattern of the city. It has had multiple functions (medieval town hall, Renaissance court, market place) since its construction in the thirteenth-century and remains in full use. For this reason it contains the collective memory of Padova. At present the hall is used as exhibition space and there are numerous restaurants, cafes and grocery shops contained within the groundfloor bays. To either side are two open spaces. One is three times in breadth to height of the structure, the other is two. Thus, two different spatial conditions are set up and make for variety in close proximity.

 

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After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Porticoes of Bologna, Rossi at Modena and Canaletto in Parma

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 24, 2011
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Lining almost every street, from the stateliness of Via dell’Independenza to the claustrophobic alleys around the University, porticoes defined my experience of the radially planned city of Bologna. At its centre the two interconnected open spaces of Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore are defined on one side by the Palazzo Communale, inside of which, the Museo Morandi contains a huge collection of that painter’s work. Characterised by a consistency that borders on the incessantly monotonous, a museum dedicated to Morandi might only appeal to true Morandi-ites… However, the collection offered variety by presenting a range of media (oils, watercolour, etchings and pencil drawings) at the same time as exhibiting work by Wayne Thiebaud alongside Morandi. The line drawings in particular are so spartan and ambiguous that they can be read as both streetscape and still life.

 

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If the porticoes of Bologna were vividly ornate, the opposite can be said of Rossi’s porticoes at the San Cataldo cemetery at Modena. Cold and controlled, the cemetery is a monument of silence and image of death. The typological form is characterised by porticoed paths that lead from wall and gate; through pitched roof columbaria, the “long house;” to cubed shrine to war victims, the “abandoned house.” In April 1971, Rossi was involved in a car accident and writes often about this incident, seeing the skeletal structure of the body as a series of fractures to be reassembled. At San Cataldo he identifies death and the morphology of the broken skeleton with the modification of the plan. Construction started in 1977 and halted in 1979. It remains unfinished.

 

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Vedutisti, or “view-painting” is an eighteenth-century painting genre in which the artist paints scenes from life. Inherent to this tradition is the opposition vedute estate and vedute ideate. This is the relationship between an exact view of a recognisable site; and a view of a site with the intention to create something imaginary, “ideal.” In the subdued lighting of the National Gallery in Parma, Canaletto’s La Basilica di Vicenza e il Ponte dia Rialto (photograph on the right) measures 68×92 cm and hangs beside the slightly larger (70×96 cm) Riconstruzione di Castel Sant’Angelo (left). Both paintings depict real works but in an entirely imagined composition. Canaletto has re-drawn Palladio’s monuments (the Vicenza Basilica, the Palazzo Chierecati, also in Vicenza, and Palladio’s unbuilt project for the Rialto Bridge in Venice) and montaged them into the Rialto Bridge site, offering two alternatives. To my surprise (and excitement), Canaletto’s paintings were often conceived as pairs or sets. So, Canaletto the dualist? Perhaps even a serialist…

 

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5th Annual Dresden International Doctoral Colloquium

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 29, 2011
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