random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

happy holidays + a great 2010!

happy holidays + a great 2010!


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from cosmos to earth

Alexander von Humboldt starts as a mine inspector. befriends the Romantics circle in Jena, wants to join Napoleon in Egypt, to circumnavegate the globe with Captain Baudin. He travels to Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia. He sees a meteor shower and an eclipse in Cumaná and the passage of Mercury over the Sun at Callao. Learns to live with earthquakes and volcanoes. Thinks about distances, regions, temperatures, longitudes, heights, hemispheres. Looks at plantains, valerians, arenarias, ranunculuses, medlars, oaks, pines. Compares rhododendrons. Eats some chocolate. Explores the course of the Orinoco River and finds the Casiquiare Canal, climbs 19,286 feet up the Chimborazo, sets a world record, runs out of breath. Stops. Sees the Pacific from atop the Andes. Turns around, goes down to the Amazon and looks at some guano. Thinks about fertilizers. Sees yellow eels biting horses in rivers, snakes chasing rats into houses, iguanas drying in the sun. He is not bitten by hairy bees, not attacked by a jaguar. Mosquitoes, zancudos, chigoes and aradores do feed on him. His partner Aimé Bonpland collects plants and insects, sends them over to Europe. Pirates steal them.

Alexander von Humboldt

Jean Jacques Elisée Reclus tries to be a farmer in Colombia (1854-57). The land is so fertile, the landowners are so few, the slaves make him so sad. He wants to learn how to farm, but no one will teach him. He tries to teach languages, but no one shows up. He wants to live with the Arawak Indians, “far from civilized society and have no other company than nature, my books and my projects.”[1] His mule dies. He gets malaria. His partner Jaime Chassaigne clears the field, plants bananas, coffee, sugar, vegetables, builds a town house, makes a fence. He gets tired and leaves. Reclus realizes he does not want to be alone. He goes back to France. He never goes back. [to be continued…]

[1] (Dunbar 1978, 35)

Filed under: ., humboldt, maps, reclus,

a tale of two cemeteries

carlo scarpa’s tomba brion (san vito d’altivole, 1970-72) and aldo rossi’s san cataldo cemetery (modena, 1971, 1978-84) were both designed for sites the veneto area in the early 1970s.  the similarities and differences between both works highlight some of the tensions between neighborhood and metropolis [a polarity borrowed from alexander d’hoogue]. the fact that brion is in a small rural town and modena is in the periphery of a busy urban environment is almost incidental. brion itself is a neighborhood, and modena is a city.

brion public entrymodena corridor

both projects are adjacent to an older cemetery, and react to this relationship by both contrast and analogy.  scarpa designed two ways thresholds to brion: one allows for the private experience of the individual, and the other is accessed through the public cemetery, presenting the tomb entry as one of the cemetery’s various mausoleums. within the ‘public’ realm of the cemetary, brion blends in with the context, but establishes a point of entry and separation for the private realm.  in this way it establishes a ‘neighborhood’ type of separation between public and private: friendly but clear.  in contrast, rossi’s cemetary is contextualized through a metropolitan strategy. the new cemetery addresses the old (cesare costa’s project of 1858-1876) through its proximity and the use of similar scale and proportions.

the strongest difference between both projects is that of ownership. brion is a private tomb, a luxurious extravagance for a small family that happened to like scarpa and was able to afford him. modena is a public cemetery, so public that actually the older cemetery requires a fee to access it while rossi’s project is open to the public [or at least that is what i decided upon finding the door open and no sign]. wandering through brion, the intense materiality of grass, concrete, water, keeps life around you. in modena, we are always in the home of the dead: in fact, when i visited on a hot italian sunday afternoon, the dead seemed to be following me, counting my footsteps and patiently waiting for me to leave. perhaps it was the loud plastic flowers, or the silent black and white photographs on every tomb, but the dead are always present in modena. in brion, they are part of the archeological fiction that scarpa has woven for us.

Filed under: ., death, rossi, scarpa,

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