Architecture of Analogy

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]

 

A Model School: Aldo Rossi’s School at Fagnano Olona

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 3, 2012

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.

Rossi A (1972-76) Fagnano Olona Elementary School [Photograph: McEwan C 2011]

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.

Rossi A (1972-76) Fagnano Olona Elementary School [Re-drawn by McEwan C 2012]

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.

Theory of Types/Dream-work: Rossi speaks to Palladio via Canaletto

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on March 19, 2012
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Dundee School of Architecture and Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art run a Seminar series in which one (or two) PhD Candidates present their work in progress. It runs fortnightly at lunchtime, and last week was my turn.

The timing was good. I delivered a lecture to Year 3, two weeks before, which allowed me, first to consolidate my thinking on how to introduce Rossi (in broad terms); and then, Year 3 were subjected to a minor speculative foray… They may or may not have known this.

The second half of that lecture was on Rossi’s Analogical City Panel from 1976. An enigmatic montage of Rossi projects, superimposed with projects of his references, condensed, into a single image. The PhD Seminar started from here and I visually de-condensed the image, speaking about Rossi’s conversation with Palladio, via Canaletto and locating some of the primary urban types. The panel was published in Lotus International number 13, where Rossi writes of the relationship between reality and imagination, or in his words, the “dialectics of the concrete.” Imagination as a concrete thing.

 

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It’s a funny type of memory, that.

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on March 14, 2012
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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.

 

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 Serpentine Pavilion: Zumthor’s Box from Bengal

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on August 6, 2011

Vertical articulation of hessian fabric and detail”]An austere Swiss agricultural shed has been transposed to the centre of Hyde Park, London. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the Project Context team in this most modest of objects. This year’s 11th Serpentine Pavilion is by architect Peter Zumthor, a timber framed structure wrapped in a hessian fabric and coated in idendenpaint. The fabric is rolled over a plywood surface with thin overlaps that create a vertical articulation. It is rough to touch and my sudden association with this jute thread is now to Bengal and even Dundee…

The linear courtyard plan is skewed from the Serpentine Gallery and reads as a sequence of rectangles, one inside another. With openings shifted horizontally one sidesteps from exposed park-to-path-to-dark corridor-to-enclosed garden, the hortus conclusus by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. A stained blue ledge surrounds the garden and as one looks up, the extreme pitch of the roof frames both the sky and the immediate foliage.

”]With a clear set of oppositions: solid to void, enclosure and exposure, dark to light, solid and unsolid, Zumthor’s black box is an elegant alternative to the busy compositions of previous Serpentine Pavilion’s.

The role of the Serpentine Pavilion has been to offer architects who have not built in the UK a commission to design the temporary structure in Hyde Park and sited on the Gallery’s lawn for the summer months. Zaha Hadid built one in 2000, Oscar Niemeyer in 2003 and Rem Koolhaas in 2006. However with Frank Gehry having built a Maggies Centre in Dundee before the Serpentine, and Zumthor’s house in Devon for Living Architecture underway, perhaps the Serpentine brief requires a further subtle modification.

Route to enclosed garden and view of enclosed garden”]

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: La Biennale di Venezia

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 28, 2011

”]A press running off a strip of newborns, digital clocks counting the number of births and deaths, a monitor that constructs a composite face from sixty newborns and fifty-two deceased. Chance is the contraption that Christian Boltanski constructs within the French pavilion at the Giardini. The 54th La Biennale di Venezia takes place at the Giardini, the Arsenale and other locations around Venice. Countries host their own exhibition in permanent and temporary pavilions, presenting a view of contemporary art today. The 2011 (meta) theme is “illuminations,” a theme that “emphasizes the intuitive insight and the illumination of thought that is fostered by an encounter with art and its ability to sharpen the tools of perception,” explains curator Bice Curiger. Unfolding from this was the formal activity of constructing buildings within buildings, or “parapavilions” that are to hold work by other artists, maybe a painting or two… Here, I offer a few of my highlights.

One walks through the labyrinth of metal scaffold of Boltanski’s Chance with the “clock” rooms to either side. The labyrinth is a baby-factory, at the centre is its opposite. The moment of extinction, visualised as a montage of fragments from faces. It is both light and dense, elegant and disconcerting.

Britain is represented by artist Mike Nelson whose pavilion-within-a-pavilion is titled I, Impostor. It is a (another) labyrinthine sequence of low ceilinged, dark and dusty rooms that feel parasitically attached to the pavilion. It succeeds in offering a menacing and unexpected encounter with issues of memory and repetition by transposing a work by Nelson from Istanbul to Venice, and invites further interpretation.

Never a disappointing visit, the Italian pavilion comes complete with dead pigeons, sculptures by Maurizio Cattelan. The birds peer down at three Tintorettos.

”]Rooms-within-rooms continued at the Arsenale. After stepping through the component parts of Son Dong’s parapavilion (a reconstruction of his family home in China) one wanders through the enormous shed of art, pausing to step into side-rooms or other parapavilions. One of which is a James Turrell light and mist show in a slightly curved enclosure, another contains a beautiful film by Elad Lassry titled Ghost.

Gerard Byrne offered some “analogies surveyed and organised into concrete poetry and film forms.” Anyone interested in “analogy” is of course a welcome addition to any exhibition… His work included some back-in-fashion photograms, while Dayanita Singh offered File Room, a taxonomy of storage space which might recall Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Memory Theatre in which one could access the sum of Western thought. More about that in a future post…

At the corner showed a film by Christian Marclay. Titled The Clock it is a 24 hour (predictably) montage of scenes cut from films using time, memory or history as part of their narrative. Although links to notions of time were rather explicit, it was a joy to sit down and work out which film fragment we were watching, before it rapidly moved to the next.

Constructions, film and photographs, where is the paint? Vittorio Sgarbi curated the final instalment of the Arsenale, where he “coordinated” a visual cacophony of a further 200 artists. Titled “L’Arte non è Cosa Nostra” (Art is Not a Mafia), of note were nudes by Isabella Gherardi, cityscapes by Giorgio Ortona, photographs by Guido Guidi and prints by Gianluigi Colin. With work featuring sex, religion, violence and nudity, I completely forgot about my need for a splattering of paint.

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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