Seven Days in the City that Never Sleeps.
Five days in the city of spectacle, controlled indoor environments, all-you-can-eat buffets, and simulacra street.
Seven days in København, to visit Ole Schrøder and the Tredje Natur team.
This past week has been the usual whirlwind of final review activity that accompanies mid-April. I particularly enjoyed this year’s reviews for the creative drawings I saw in a few architecture thesis reviews and a few particularly strong landscape thesis projects. I attended around half of the Masters of Landscape Architecture thesis presentations, and a handful of the Architecture ones. The Landscape Architecture reviews were at times impressive and others underwhelming. While thesis is never an easy time to get through, I am sure all of the students experienced an immense amount of growth and discovery in their paths this semester, and I would like to congratulate everyone who is graduating, and also those who just finished their second or third review! Attending reviews is always tough, as everybody has their own ongoing deadlines. But it is always SO worth it. I think I have been subconsciously preparing for my design thesis since I saw my first presentation two years ago. I am very excited to do it next year, after watching all the great presentations and the motion of the well-oiled machine that is a cohort of classmates helping their peers pin up. I would like to add some notes to the Landscape Architecture reviews. Of course there were the usual offering of projects that tended to urban design, urban planning, or extremely small scale study of path widths. Namely, of the presentations I attended, I felt I noticed some interesting recurring themes: Topically:
- Unique coupling of advantageous productive program with human experience (for example, farming/mining/geothermal)
- A series of sensitive small scale interventions (walkways, borders, levels) in a strategically chosen and immensely large, beautiful, and almost incomprehensible landscape
- An interest in systems design, specifically relating to waterfronts (water is of course a common theme, but one project related to an escape plan for 200 islands; another, garbage management for one of the world’s largest cities)
- A not so shocking lack of models
- Similar typefaces.. you’ll see..
- Desaturated and highly detailed vegetative textures
- The section perspective made a successful appearance. Let’s hope it stays and maintains quality without forgetting it is not a perfect substitute for an eye level rendering.
- Delicate line drawings in plan that are arguably difficult to read but print nicely
- Giant context plans………. I hope that when your project starts with a world map that it was worth making that drawing compared to the amount of time you spent on it!
Trend or result of pedagogy? You decide… I wonder what will be in vogue next year! Here are some photos of this week’s thesis reviews.
When concluding any major life event it is customary to sit back and reflect on the experience as a whole. To zoom out and give perspective. What have I learned? What will I remember most? What can I take away from this experience? I began this project with a discussion of expectations, met and unmet. Now we end with a discussion of experience, lived, perceived, and conceived.
Henri Lefebvre was a contemporary and part time fan of the Situationists. Also Marxist, also Parisian. He is famous for his writings on spatial architectonics which are where I draw most of today’s material from. Fancy words aside, his theories are extremely relatable and relevant to every architectural practice. I will try my best to apply them to our dozen days in the eternal city.
Perceived space is defined as the socio/political sphere of thought surrounding a space/object/place. An official representation. The Taj Mahal without any people in front of it. The intent behind the Roman planning principles or the architects who created St. Peter’s Cathedral. “Public opinion.” It is not a real space, because space requires a body in it to be created. It is the space of myth, of story, of representation, of spectacle.
A personal perception made up of the spoken and written word of other members of society and your personal dissemination of them.
Experience. A mental image informed by your own experience, constantly in flux. My conception of the Coliseum made up of a series of perceptions of Rome were brought to light in the lived experience and active creation of monumental space. My empty conception of every other monument shaped a new perception based on lived experience to create my own, non-monumental space. Enough wordplay.
“A monumental work, like a musical one, does not have a “signified” (or ‘signifieds’); rather, it has a horizon of meaning: which now one, now another meaning comes momentarily to the fore” — Henri Lefebvre, Spatial Architectonics, XIV
To conclude, of memory and monument, there exists now, in my memories, a personal horizon of meaning made up of a layered multiplicity of lived, perceived, and conceived spaces and experiences. A condensation of meanings, a background conversation between the deeply personal and the highly perceptual. Disappointment when a friend shows me a picture of herself in front of what appears to be Trevi Fountain, only to remember she just returned from Las Vegas. Something raw and romanticized about the real thing that we spend our travelling lives chasing. About origins and learning that everything leads back to Rome… Perhaps even my future. Fleeting moments of happiness that you try to capture, but like butterflies in a jar, won’t last the way you want them to. The most we can ask is that we look back and feel them flying out towards us.
“The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content.”
Cities & Desire
“Memory is redundant: it repeats signs to that the city can begin to exist.”
Cities & Signs
“…the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.”
Cities & Memory
— Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Today we took the most expanseful walk through the neighbourhoods of Rome and visited one of Daniel’s friends Allan Ceen to see a large collection of original Piranesi prints and to learn about the history of mapping in Rome. The successive urban plans of the city can be summarized as three eras that shape the current plan of Rome:
- The main axis we travelled on the first day from Piazza del Popolo (1st Rome, Imperial, Constantine),
- Roads winding down the seven hills and connecting also seven main churches: St. Peters, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Croce, San Sebastiano, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Paolo, and San Lorenzo (2nd Rome, Papal, Sixtus V),
- The axis created by Mussolini leading up to St. Peter’s Square (3rd Rome, Imperial, Mussolini).
It was interesting to look back on these from an urban planning perspective when so far my whole experience of the city had been in serendipitous drifts. Now comes the realization that they cannot happen isolated from somebody else’s intent. I began to wonder what it would look like if each of these Popes and Emperors left a trace paper map of what they saw the city at and to lay them on top of each other. The result would likely be something experiential, because cartography technique and conception of space improved over time, and also look something really close to what Rome actually looks like today, a strata of streets laid one on top of another, gradually turning and twisting into present form.
It would so happen that we were about to visit a professor whose lifetime of work involves looking at one of the most accurate maps of the City of Rome to date. If Sir John Soane had a map room, if would probably look like Professor Ceen’s first floor gallery to his home. Littered with prints and maps, most of which were unobstructed by plastic sheets or glass cases as in museums. According to Ceen, a 1748 map called La Pianta Grande di Roma (the Grand Plan of Rome) created by Nolli rivals Google Maps for accuracy in city plan. You can take a look at it put together interactively in high res here on the UOregon website, where you can turn on and off features like fountains, city walls, and the river. No easy task, as the map originally was etched into six copper plates that put together, span 6×8 feet. We got to see the fully scanned and printed version of this map in extreme detail, along with other mapping projects by Piranesi.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a Venetian architect who was extremely skilled at etching the real and imagined histories of Rome during the same lifetime as Nolli. The most interesting part of his work, to me and my memory project, were his imagined maps of the city based off of Nolli’s La Pianta Grande, but also on another map called Forma Urbis.
Forma Urbis is a lost wall that used to stand in the Vespusian Forum that held a huge etching of Rome. As with most things in the city, it fell into ruin, it’s 157 slabs of marble crumbling into 1186 fragments. Once reunited in a small percentage in the 16th century, they are now likely sitting in boxes in an unknown collection, known only to a few of their real worth. Ceen had a great idea that was rejected by the City to compile and project the Forma Urbis onto a wall in the original Forum in digital form, which reminded me of an art competition we entered at work for at my intern position with Operative Agency.
Piranesi even had the imagination to use these fragments to imagine buildings where no archaeological evidence exists to tell us what they looked like. He would take foundation poches and turn them into full fledged building, city neighbourhood and villa plans. What if we were to take these projections and throw them into modern day Rome as well? What if they were to be constructed digitally and contextually?
Ceen’s proposal for an overlap in modern and ancient technologies in the practice of topography to create a meaningful diagloue is not unheard of. New GPS and satellite imagery are giving us the vision of a world we have never before seen, but also of one that is constantly outdated. With all this new open source technology, we have the ability to contribute to maps as community members; to use them to greater advantage not just on apps, but also to solve problems and in case of emergencies.
Without modern GPS, my memory and live experience of any kind of travel would seem much more fuzzy, out of reach. I have been using http://www.mapmyrun.com to map all our walks through Rome, and through the process, learned that not all the places we visit exist on every version of every map, even Google. And even then, Google Maps cannot create accidents. Some of these places remain locked in our memories, like fragments of a wall once shattered and lost, something to hold onto.
“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” — Albert Camus
A fitting quote for a place where so much art is roped to the raft of religion. We visited two important art galleries today: the Capitoline Museum atop the Capitoline Hill, and Modern master Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Two drastically different kinds of gallery spaces. Two drastically different kinds of art. Two different spatial contexts.They are excellent summaries of the principles of old and new Rome that I have been investigating the past ten days.
Capitoline – Papal antiquity
Museo Capitolini is situated at the top of one of Rome’s seven hills, backing onto the ancient forums and fronted by Piazza del Campidoglio. The site is famous for it’s straightening of facades and fitting of the piazza into geometrical star-shaped symmetry by Michelangelo. In the centre of the square (circle?) stands a statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback in a pose mimicked in all of western Europe by every political figure on a horse. The collections are also Papal, so similar to what we saw in the Vatican Museums. A stunning array of marble sculptures of people with more mythical scenes and evidence of Rome’s pagan past, including a reconstruction of what the Temple to Isis in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva would have looked like using actual artifacts. It offers breathtaking views of the ruins in the Forum, as well as of Rome herself from atop the rooftop cafe terrace. The approach is extremely traditional: a sloped, strampy type of structure called a Cordonata.
Interestingly, we were not allowed to sketch in this museum, but were allowed to take as many photos as we liked. The plan had no logical flow, at least that I could tell, and we wandered through halls back and forth back and forth, the sculptures all blending into one amorphous white, eyeless head. Another testament to it’s plan: our group split up after the main courtyard and remained scattered for the entire visit. Such is the case with other older buildings restored to have second, third, and tenth purposes.
MAXXI – Contemporary speed
If I had to use one word to describe Zaha Hadid’s contribution to Roman art, it would be speed. The entire building felt like a grey futurist painting with a streak of red smeared across. MAXXI is sited in the nearest northern suburb of Rome near where the rail tram turns around, so it looks almost like a train station. The approach is through colourful flags, afternoon glow, children running in the plaza shared with a daycare. All approaches are diagonal and unsloped: there is no clear way to say, this is the entrance to the building and you should walk here. The most direct route, which at this point, we were extremely accustomed to looking for and having laid out for us, was across plantings of trees, gaps in concrete slabs, and dangerously trip-hazard low fencing. Oh, and the wooly mammoth leg. It gained more architectural relevance to us when we found out it was actually supposed to be reminiscent of Brazilian huts, and I actually enjoyed the sound it made in the breeze. Still a wooly mammoth leg though. And still ugly. The building itself felt cold and inhuman, but not in an imposing way like the Vatican or the EUR. In a curious, futuristic way that encouraged you to reach out to touch it. There was so much negative space, especially compared to the wall to wall bust adornments of the Capitoline Museums. We carried out 15 minute sketching exercises in each room but were not allowed to take photos. MAXXI reminded me most of the VAG out of ever gallery I visited in Europe, because it was filled with unknown international artists, temporary installations curated on six different coalescing themes, was extremely air conditioned, and had a ridiculously capital A Art bookstore.