Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review: Nicholas Temple - renovatio urbi: Architecture, Urbanism and Ceremony in the Rome of Julius II

published by Routledge London and New York 2011

Nicholas Temple’s book renovatio urbis is a remarkable contribution to the literature on the urbanism of Rome. The author explores in considerable detail the series of projects (urban, architectural and painterly) which were initiated in the city by Pope Julius II during the decade of his papacy from 1503 to 1513. The warrior pope’s purpose was to recast the image of the city as the centre of Christendom and thereby reinforce the status of his office. The method used by Professor Temple in his analysis of this body of work is to synthesise the archival and literary sources with the visual tools of the architect to present a convincing set of interlinked analyses of the city’s topography, its representations and the relationships between major urban monuments both ancient and contemporary.
The work is structured, following the introduction, to deal successively with the Via Giulia, the Palazzo dei Tribunali, the Cortile del Belvedere, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Raphael frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura. The figure of Bramante features in many of these projects, with Michelangelo considered in relation to his project for Julius’s tomb. The dynastic and nepotistic nature of the papal court figures in the influence of Julius’s uncle Sixtus IV and Julius’s adopted heirs in the Chigi family, who financed his grand projects. The general tone of the work is to read these highly significant individual works as fragments of a greater project to transform the city as an icon of papal authority.
An especially successful element of the book is the invoking of lost or minor ancient monuments as the possible sources of new renaissance urban elements. In this regard the recurring use of the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons as a surviving symbol of mythical Etruscan origins is particularly interesting to contrast with the more familiar narrative of the spatial idealism associated with the Greek cross plan. The diagrams, many of them drawn by Peter Baldwin, are particularly helpful in testing some of these hypotheses either across the city’s topography or in the fictional space of perspective construction in a fresco. This visual analysis, however, is always supported by literary, epigraphic or numismatic evidence, indicative of scholarship of the highest level.
The book stands as the equal of other significant studies of papal urbanists such as Carroll William Westfall’s work on Nicholas V In this most perfect paradise (1975) and Richard Krautheimer’s The Rome of Alexander VII (1985). However, the innovative nature of Temple’s analysis is probably best compared to Diane Favro’s The Urban Image of Augustan Rome (1998). Here too Temple takes care to demonstrate with plans and diagrams how the city was composed as a theological manifesto of the historic claims of the church as the successor of imperial Rome. The enduring continuity of the city, though, is evidence of the remarkable fact that nearly five hundred years after the death of the supreme patron of pre-Reformation Europe we still need to know more about his powerful commissions and creations, and this book provides some very original answers.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Review: Michael Herzfeld - Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome

published by The University of Chicago Press 2009

Michael Herzfeld's 'Evicted from Eternity' is an intimate study of the Roman district of Monti and the pressures it was under as the city experienced the processes of gentrification around the change of the millennium in the year 2000. The Jubilee, or Holy Year, would require large scale infrastructural changes in preparation for the anticipated massive influx of pilgrims. New accommodation and traffic planning would have long term impacts on the established residents of the historic rioni, aging and slowly dwindling in number as younger people continued to move to Rome's suburbs. Herzfeld describes a certain fatalism amongst the population of Monti, a worldweariness brought on by generations of endurance of the demands of the various authorities under which they live.

Herzfeld's narrative finds him embedded in the community of Monti, documenting the daily lives of local residents and small businesses clinging to a district surrounded by national and international interests. The interpretation of how these powerful neighbours impact on the residents, however, grows increasingly vague the more distant the motives of the organisations become. So in discussing the machinations of the Roman civic administration of Francesco Rutelli much telling detail is relayed. With the Italian national authorities the generally held view of the negative effects of bureaucratic inertia is taken as read. Lastly, the activities of the Roman curia are treated as generally malign and all pervasive, as if the events of 20 September 1870 had not taken place. In contrast the enthusiasm shown by the local priest for the physical fabric of his parish and its history is treated with particular sympathy.

Broadly, Herzfeld is skeptical of the Italian civic values identified by Robert D. Putnam, and contrasts them with a sense of civility, often the expression of a social obligation which can be far from benign, and which he ascribes ultimately to the pervasive presence of loan sharks. He is rather romantic about Roman working class life, and appears somewhat naive about the continued economic viability of artisanal life. The largely impoverished Eastern European visitors to the district, drawn especially to the Ukrainian church in the main piazza, do not fit into the ideal of a homogeneous community, and are observed guardedly.

The long suffering residents of a building on Via degli Ibernesi become the focus of the book's finale, as they struggle to avoid eviction by banks and property companies intent on realising the market value of a building adjacent to the ancient Forum. Herzfeld observes this conflict, unapologetically from a viewpoint sympathetic to the occupants, but keen to map the contemporary paradox where an ostensibly left-wing cause could embarrass a left-leaning city administration. Opportunistic right-wingers were able to step into the void in defence of these 'authentic' Romans and gain a short term political advantage.

The transplanting of local populations, a common feature of Roman life since the restructuring for Roma Capitale following 1870, is a factor which has changed the social mix in many European cities, and is likely to continue in the wake of the current economic crisis. The unique situation of Rome is not conditioned by the persistent influence of theological concepts like original sin to which the author devotes much space in the book. The city's fragmentation in urban form is a demonstration of its particular brand of eternity which has always accommodated change, its citizens embracing transformation as enthusiastically as they maintain its traditions.

Eamonn Canniffe

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Forgotten Spaces of Sheffield: Pigs, Bees and Bells

This project reconfigured the forgotten interstices between five layers of
urban connection, a road, a river, a tramline, a canal and an underpass.
It works within the existing conditions of contour and material to create
useful space from a fragmentary and abandoned territory. A sublime
warren of hidden rivers, looking-glass like industrial waterways, light rail
viaducts, crawling road traffic and gloomy subterranean passages requires
it's own inhabitants, the individualist and inquisitive snouts of
orchard-dwelling Gloucester Old Spots, contrasting with the 'big
society' of the floating bee hives. The industrial productivity of the space is
manifested by the casting of a carillon of bells suspended underneath the
viaduct adjacent to Granelli's sweet shop, where honey based confectionery
might be purchased. This strategy does not just reclaim the streets, it
reclaims the spaces left over after planning!

A competition entry prepared with David Britch and Stephen Martlew
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