Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

As the principal space of the second city of the papal states, Piazza Maggiore in Bologna was the subject of the political expressions of various popes. It reached its approximate current state in the 1560s after a series of extensive urban renovations. These included the clearing of the area to the north of the piazza to produce Piazza Nettuno, with its elaborate new fountain by Giambologna, and the refacing of the Portico dei Banchi by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73) which housed the moneylenders, on the eastern boundary of the square to create an enhanced urban edge to the city, opposite the centre of papal government in the Palazzo Comunale.
Vignola’s facade consists of fifteen bays of a monumental composite order, with an attic storey above. The continuity of the regular bay structure is interrupted in the sixth and twelfth bays by higher arched portals marking the issuing of existing streets, Via Pescherie Vecchie and Via Clavature, into the Piazza, dividing the facade into a series of respectively five, five and three bays each. As has been observed by Richard Tuttle, Vignola’s ‘triumphal iconography’ for the Facciata dei Banchi translated ‘the temporary triumphal arches all’antica that were regularly erected in wood, canvas and stucco to honor visits by important state and church dignitaries’ into ‘a permanent piece of celebratory display’. ‘Virtually all triumphal entries into Bologna culminated in the Piazza Maggiore, where the most elaborate of such ephemeral decorations were deployed, many at the mouth of the Via Clavature’. Vignola’s facade subtly unites the adjacent monumental structures, its scale and rhythm reinterpreting the earlier medieval portico, but it is the delicacy and relaxed quality of the alignments in plan and section which integrate its exquisitely proportioned surface into the urban ensemble.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Carlo Scarpa: Unbuilt in Brescia

On 28 May 1974 eight people participating in a trade union demonstration were killed by a bomb in Piazza della Loggia in Brescia, with over 100 people wounded. A neo-fascist group claimed responsibility. In the aftermath of the terrorist outrage the city council, the Comune di Brescia, commissioned the architect Carlo Scarpa (1906-78) to produce a memorial.

An early sketch by Scarpa shows his most dramatic intention. While a vehicular route is retained on north, west and south sides, the rest of the piazza is to be repaved, with a central channel of water emphasising the axial disposition of the Palazzo della Loggia and the clock-face in the mercantile loggia. This channel was to meet an upright memorial, roughly aligned with the existing Risorgimento monument in the square, and poised at the outer limit of a newly defined precinct stretching to the site of the bomb itself against one of the piers of the loggia. The square was to be completed by a new podium to be created in front of the Palazzo della Loggia, a gesture to reinforce the use of the piazza for future public gatherings, and conversely to present a democratic platform as an alternative to the aregno in Piazza della Vittoria, decorated as it still is with scenes depicting the historical inevitability of fascism. However, this extensive project, resolving the geometrical misalignment of the bomb site by emphasising the general symmetry of the square through a line of water, was subseqently reduced in scope. Instead Scarpa concentrated on the form of the new precinct on the eastern side of the square sketching an asymmetrical labyrinth which connected the positions where the victims fell. Marble walls, roughly 1.40 metres high, were to bound the visitor's route with the channel of water retained from the earlier project. Scarpa's sensitivity to the location however was uncomfortable with the self-conscious asymmetry of this proposal, and he refined it further into a symmetrical precinct, placed eccentrically in relation to the axis of the space.

Scarpa’s technique was to reveal the process of construction of his own objects and spaces so that by extension the story of other constructions was revealed. This narrative intent, the conscious telling of the history of a place as well as the specifics of an individual project, helped Scarpa situate his project within the historical matrix of Piazza della Loggia. A provocative attitude to public space which Scarpa shared with the demonstrators and bombers, saw the piazza as an arena where the personal becomes political and the collective affects the individual. The labyrinth, at once both recognisable to the group and highly personal would therefore seem an appropriate choice for the public function which Scarpa had proposed but was not executed, and as the symbol with which his son Tobia chose to mark his father’s tomb.
Related Posts with Thumbnails