Architecture of Analogy

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.

The City is like a large House

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on October 4, 2011
and Study of Tenement Housing Type Perth [CAD plan section elevation]”]
McEwan C (2011) Tenement Housing Type Perth [Photomontage

Ordinary housing largely forms what we call the built environment, the city. Italian architect Aldo Rossi said that the city is built around fixed points, “monuments.” These are large collective elements surrounded by ordinary housing. In the 1966 The Architecture of the City Rossi developed a theoretical framework for the typology of buildings and their relationship to the city writing, “the study of the individual dwelling offers one of the best means of studying the city and vice versa.” The dwelling is thus both individual and collective. It refers to both itself; and analogically to the wider city, like Alberti’s analogy.

 

This article was first published in the Brick issue of Mat.zine edited by Ryan McLoughlin.

 

After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Spider’s Web of Milan and Rossi’s Duality of Extremes at Segrate and Gallaratese

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on July 7, 2011

1801 Plan of Milan from- Aldo Rossi (1966) The Architecture of the City

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

5th Annual Dresden International Doctoral Colloquium

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 29, 2011

5th Annual Dresden International Doctoral Colloquium

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 29, 2011

”]McEwan, C (2011) North Lindsay Street and The Howff [photographs of scale model]A recent presentation in Dresden, Germany for the 5th Annual Dresden International Doctoral Colloquium offered the opportunity to consolidate current work in progress.

In attendance were Cameron McEwan, Alex Pearson, Jorg Schroeder, Karla Spennrath, Naira Chilingaryan, and others. The panel of critics included Prof. Ralf Weber, Architect and Environmental Psychologist at Dresden University of Technology and Prof. Dr. Alexander Schmidt, Architect and Urban Designer from University of Duisburg, Essen.

Attendees presented work on such topics as: phenomenological concepts of architectural design; digital configurations of urban space; case studies; public art in the city and city edge housing.

This author divided the presentation in two: first an overview of the PhD, then a focus on the conference theme “Aesthetics,” in particular “Urban Aesthetics,” demonstrated through a design project.

Included here is a selection of extracts from the presentation.

North Lindsay Street and The Howff: Work in Progress Part VI An Interim Proposition

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on April 6, 2011
Left looking East; right looking West”]

North Lindsay Street and The Howff: Work in Progress Part III The Studies

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on April 6, 2011
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Royal Glasgow Institute Architectural Drawing Competition

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

McEwan, C. (2010-11) RGI Expo view of drawings

The Dissolution of Scale (2010) study drawings were entered into this drawing competition which runs until February 4th at the RGI Gallery on Douglas Street, Glasgow. On sale for £870 the pair… bargain!

George Square and Argyle Arcade, Glasgow Fragments

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on January 28, 2011
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Reform Street, Dundee; West Elevation

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on January 28, 2011
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