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.
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”]
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 Spider’s Web of Milan and Rossi’s Duality of Extremes at Segrate and Gallaratese
Embellished with patches of public parks, the remains of the city gate and a couple of canals, Milan is a dense tangle of streets in the pattern of a web. Rossi’s monument in Segrate is located at the southeast end of the red metro thread. At the other, is his unité d’habitation of Gallaratese located in a northwest suburb. At Milan’s centre is the vertically articulated Duomo, from which one can access the roof and survey those tangled streets. The vast rectangular open space defined by the Duomo leeks into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a thirty metre high vaulted street designed by Giuseppe Mengoni c1870, and connects to a smaller open space just north. The sequence of spaces is quite lovely.
Rossi conjures a romantic vision for the Gallaratese housing writing that the open corridor “signifies a life-style bathed in everyday occurrences, domestic intimacy, and varied personal relationships.” One component of architectural meaning is “association” and as such Rossi’s corridor not only suggests the potential for a romantic chat with ones neighbour, but also signifies the repetitive element of open-sided tunnels, and perhaps a reference to the prison. Rossi, the once agent provocateurof Italian architecture was always aware of such dualities. In the June 24 postI wrote of the cold and controlled San Cataldo cemetery, the route suggestive of some “final solution.” Indeed, Rossi writes of the relationship between construction and destruction as complimentary aspects of his design process.
Composed of a series of simple forms balancing upon one another, the 1965 Monument to the Partisans of World War II, at Segrate is an early demonstration of Rossi’s duality of extremes: it is a monument to the dead; the fountain is a symbol that celebrates life. On my visit, a hot summer day, the tray where the water collects, was eerily dry. Formally, the monument is a coffin, on top of which is an extruded triangle balanced upon a single cylindrical column. The triangle signifies the pitch of a primitive hut, a life-giving archetype of building.
Destruct the monument and transpose the individual elements to Gallaratese and one can read Rossi’s reflective process of construct; destruct; transpose. Like Le Corbusier’s unité, Gallaratese is a slab that contains houses perched above a colonnade. The first floor links to the housing designed by Carlo Aymonino by a bridge on one side and a large open space on the other. Between this are a series of shop units, on my visit all of which were empty. Around one third of the way along the slab, an incision breaks the housing in two and is defined by four large cylindrical columns.
The After Architect Aldo Rossi foray to Italy has been an informative incursion into the built projects of Aldo Rossi and a thoroughly enlightening experience to tour some of his most cited references: retreating into the Sant’Andrea vaulted space, interrogating Canaletto’s Venice and climbing into the head of Rossi’s Saint have all been pleasurable. Viewing the modification of form and scale from project to project, it is fascinating to note the formal and theoretical relationships that exist between Rossi’s built works and their written/drawn counterparts. However, I am still trying to work out which is the analogue: the built work, the drawn study, or the written narrative.
Cameron McEwan July 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.
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.
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.
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…