random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

chronicle of deaths foretold

1831, victor hugo announces that print will kill architecture. labrouste responds by designing a killer library.

1936, walter benjamin announces mechanical reproducibility will kill aura—or the notion of the original, in any case. at the same time, he makes a lot of his readers nostalgic for a lost aura they have just become aware of.

1964, marshall mcluhan announces that medium doesn’t kill but does take over the message. the message, overshadowed, despairs.

1979, the buggles announce that video has killed the radio star. on mtv. in my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.

1980s. peter eisenman announces the end of the classical, the end of the beginning and the end of the end (1984). thousands of architects skip simulacra for perspecta. rem (not that one) thinks it’s the end of the world and we know it (and they feel fine). francis fukuyama announces the end of history (1989). marx and hegel turn over in their graves.

2010, architectural education is killed by the internet video. also, big kills rem but plots with oma and colin rowe comes back from the dead to tell us peter eisenman is still alive.

ps. image: one pencil’s paltry revenge

pps. also 2010, nicolas negroponte announces the book is dead, long live the narrative.


Filed under: ., benjamin, big, death, eisenman, evil, lists,

a list of cemeteries

while i’ve implied before that architects are particularly bad at designing their own graves, the design project of housing the dead has long been an opportunity for introspection and reflection, from highlighting the significance of an individual, to meditating on the urban qualities of the city of the death. perhaps because the dead are less vocal users, and their visitors tend to filter out, ultimately the architecture of cemeteries has allowed freedom and personal introspection to a few architects. so why is this typology largely absent form school projects? rather than designing yet another digital library/multimedia museum, why not design a cemetery? i have seen studios on designing your own tomb, but the cemetery is perhaps too un-pc: it is, rationally speaking, a waste of space, in an era where landscape is a precious commodity (at least in most places). however, as the architects below prove, cemeteries can take on many different roles, from providing much needed green space to reflecting on the nature of architecture itself. and as boullee, woods, and hejduk prove, you don’t even need to build them (of course now we have virtual cemeteries, but let’s try to stay on topic). ultimately cemeteries show more about the designer than about the dead they house, and that is perhaps part of their allure—they can be (and often are) narcissistic exercises. but they are also an opportunity for design emptied out, for design as poetry. after all, what is more poetic than death?

so in no particular order, and including everything from the single unit/tomb to the density of urban housing (i have omitted monuments to the dead, which constitute a different category):

newton cenotaph, etienne-louis boullee

cemetery for chaux, claude-nicolas ledoux

cimitero san cataldo, aldo rossi

tomba brion, carlo scarpa

cementerio de la igualada, enric miralles

einstein tomb, lebbeus woods

cemetery for the ashes of thought, john hejduk

necropolis / cemetery for the deaths of architecture, john hejduk

ps. i’m sure i’m missing some, let me know! i’m aware i’ve stayed with big names and omitted famous cemeteries such as pere lachaise.

pps. krematorium treptow, alex schultes and charlotte frank

Filed under: ., death, lists,

a light post about architects and death

ildefonso cerdá liked the grid, perhaps a bit too much.

louis sullivan was keen on ornament up to the end

carlo scarpa will forever peek into tomba brion [i mean really dude. let go.]

frank lloyd wright not only has a wrightean grave, it’s empty and has a crazy story behind it. wright was one for drama even after death.

and mies’s grave… close your eyes… you know what it looks like, right? i mean, do i even have to link to it?

ps. if you are curious about someone else, you can go here.

pps. fyi, this light post actually includes a stealth commentary on the dangers of caricaturizing your own work. i’m just too lazy to write it.

ppps. john soane’s grave inspired gg scott’s design of the iconic london phone booth. more here.

pppps. video of corb’s funeral [via sam jacob]

ppppps. i just visited miralles’s grave at igualada, where the archifaithful have left messages for enric. 20120622.

Filed under: ., cerda, death, mies, scarpa, sullivan, wright,

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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