Friday, 30 March 2007

Seeing Sabbioneta in two forms

Above and below the Can Grande

Recent refurbishments at the Castelvecchio in Verona have allowed unexpected views of the museum's most famous exhibit, the equestrian statue of Can Grande della Scala.

A chapter on Scarpa's work at the Castelvecchio is included in MODERN ARCHITECTURE THROUGH CASE STUDIES 1945-1990

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Porta Maggiore, Rome

A chronological sequence of drawings reconstructing the history of the Porta Maggiore, Rome. Produced as a contribution to Robert Coates-Stephens's book "MONUMENT AND LANDSCAPE".

Lions of Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Three Civic Arcades

The three sketches demonstrate the increasing elaboration of public arcades from the early renaissance to the baroque periods. The mercantile loggia in Piazza della Loggia, Brescia (top) contains a simple commercial and residential arrangement behind the new classical architecture. The arcades of Piazza della Madonna, Loreto (centre) provide an incomplete frame for the major pilgrimage centre, with two stories of arcades. In Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Turin (bottom) an alternating rhythm and an exaggerated proportion maintain the hybrid combination on a site which dates back to the Roman city.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Trastevere Crossing: Piazza Sidney Sonnino, Rome

Piazza Sidney Sonnino in Trastevere in central Rome is situated on a crossroads between the traditional and the modern city in a quarter which witnessed much political intervention. The piazza contains in its visible forms, and some less visible ones, a large chronological span. Its present form is perhaps too open, lacking sufficient definition to be regarded as the classic urban room. Yet the intensity with which the different elements of its history are incorporated would appear to reinforce the sense of place if one peels back the historical layers.

The most immediate and intrusively apparent feature is the presence of Viale di Trastevere with its heavy traffic, tram lines and platforms, part of the late nineteenth century improvements to the functioning of the new national capital. The commercial developments from the 1930s on the eastern side of the boulevard are generic buildings of their period, set back slightly to create a wide pavement in front of them with lines of plane trees breaking up the space. The insertion of the road, though, was required to acknowledge the presence of historical remains in the objectification of the 'Casa di Dante' as a relic of the medieval city. To the informed observer, this juxtaposition of new development, building conservation and modern traffic planning epitomises aspects of the modern city, but one should also be aware that this only represents the present stratum. Slightly further from Viale di Trastevere, within the depth of the block, but on the southern end in a subterranean zone are a set of rooms, the remains of Roman civic infrastructure in the barracks of the VII cohort of ‘vigili’ or fire watchers discovered by accident in the mid nineteenth century and important evidence of the daily life of lesser functionaries in the ancient city. Presently roofed by a concrete slab, it is difficult to discern the historic situation, except to realise how the process of urban sedimentation has raised the street level of the ancient Via Aurelia several metres to the present Via Lungaretta, the medieval pilgrimage route to the Vatican.

On the other side of Viale di Trastevere and adjacent to that road is the church of San Crisogono, the oldest site of public Christian worship in the city, which dates from the fourth century. The present facade records the seventeenth century restoration of the church under the patronage of the papal nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese, but the columns, both on the porch and in the interior, are themselves spolia from other earlier pagan buildings. Again a subterranean zone on a slightly different alignment embodies the earliest historical layer of the basilica, while the campanile, the central vertical point of the entire dates from the medieval rebuilding of the basilica.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Two piazze in Brescia

The lumpen character of Marcello Piacentini’s architecture forms subtle connections with the existing urban fabric and the spaces beyond, the new piazza attempting in its geometry and iconography to bring to summation Brescian urban development. Visual connections to medieval and renaissance spaces were allied to an orientation and formal typology having their explicit source in the remains of the Roman town of Brixia. In both cases a rectangular space running north-south was delineated, with the principal public structure aligned axially at the northern end.

Piazza della Vittoria, completed between 1929-32, was itself the final result of a large planning exercise to improve the functioning of the city, a rationalisation which was abandoned due to expense in favour of the rhetorical monumentalization of an area of the historic centre, medieval in date and deemed an obstacle to progress. However, functional planning was abandoned in favour of a more overtly representational scheme, though the immediate reason for the site of the new piazza was the demolition of an existing unhygienic quarter. The new public space thus created glorified Mussolini directly, being completed to celebrate his tenth anniversary in power, but the variety of its profile and materiality attempted to obscure the fact that it was entirely constructed within a few years. Paradoxically, despite the attempt to portray an organic but deceptive history, each element is treated as an individual monument, with peripheral connections through ground floor arcades to form the enclosed civic realm that had been favoured by Sitte. The purpose of a public forum was signalled by the honorific position provided for the modern mean’s of communication, the post, telegraph and telephone office, but also by the placing of an orator’s podium or aregno decorated with scenes of Brescian progress up to Fascism, and standing at the foot of a small tower (“of the revolution”) which was originally adorned with a portrait relief of Mussolini on horseback. Diagonally opposite the aregno, a 12-storey office tower, the torrione, provided the largest single element in the piazza while a figurative connection to this symbol of urban progress was established through the siting of a colossal naked male statue at its base, Arturo Dazzi’s The Fascist Age. The statue’s presence was intended to evoke the same form of heroism associated with Michelangelo’s David in Piazza della Signoria in Florence from four centuries earlier, although its sculptural quality was far below the level of that model.

All the major piazze in Brescia follow the pattern established by the Roman forum, but far from imitating that origin, the elements of Piazza dell Vittoria subvert their antique precedents. The portico of the capitolium can be seen to have its parallel in the facade of the post office. The Corinthian order, however, was too feminine for this robust example of state patronage, and instead Piacentini reduced the members to a blunt banded pier whose profile vaguely resembled a fasces. The bronze statue of the personification of Victory discovered in the early nineteenth century after whom the new square was named was herself too delicate in scale and form for the new environment. She was replaced as the presiding figure by the hulking form of Dazzi’s The Fascist Age with its clenched right fist echoing the architectural raised fist of the torrione.

Piacentini’s work enabled authoritarian power to be validated through the appeal to specific urban memories, resting on foundations which were archaeologically speculative, reconstructed for propagandistic purposes. Such memories were themselves simultaneously invalidated by the representation of this cultural excavation as itself progressive and advanced, when it systematically subsumed the future to a highly selective interpretation of the past. Genuine Roman archaeological remains, uncovered during the clearing of the densely built-up medieval quarter, and therefore an authentic urban memory, were not allowed to disturb Piacentini’s chill reinterpretation of an atrium for the tower of the revolution. Similarly the organic process of historical decay in Piazza del Foro could not be allowed to give witness to the true fate of empires. Instead history had to be reversed and a false memory constructed as a more theatrical ruin.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Piazza, Palazzo, Padua

From the northern Italian city of Padua, the complex of the Palazzo della Ragione, standing between the Piazza dell’ Erbe and the Piazza della Frutta, presents an early example of the genre of the communal palace in a process of transformation towards a recognisable type. Morphologically it has an unusual trapezoidal form straddling across a roughly rectangular space divided into the two tapering piazze. The pragmatic nature of this form is entirely appropriate since the structure originated in the booths of the markets which still operate on the site. Constructed as a series of stone cells, they formed the base of a great hall, il Salone, where justice was dispensed. The multi - level arcaded nature of the hall, facing on its two long sides towards the market squares was surmounted by a great barrel vaulted roof which defines the uninterrupted central space, behind the layers of arcades and market stalls. There is therefore an incremental intensification of the functional relationship from the space of the market to the space of the hall, and a direct continuity between the daily life of the city, the higher functions of civil society and the sense of the city’s own history through the reuse of earlier structures. The Salone was begun in 1218-19 which places it in the very early phase of this process of urban self- representation, when other communes were building less substantial civic palaces. The Paduans modified the extent of their ambition by tying the new structure to the mundane world of the market. However, by the time the great hall was cleared of internal divisions and the roof raised in 1306-09 there could be no concealing the status the civic authorities sought for themselves, despite the additional layers of arcades added in 1318 over the external staircases.
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