aml

random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

opinions on architecture: a dialogue part ii

LC: One must go and see Pompeii, which is moving in its rectitude. They had conquered Greece and, like good barbarians, they found the Corinthian more beautiful than the Doric, because more florid.  Bring on the acanthus capitals, the entablatures decorated without much moderation or taste!  But underneath was something Roman that we’re going to take a look at.  In sum, they built superb chassis but designed dreadful coachwork…[1]

P: …until they conquered Greece, they never built in imitation of the manners or the magnificence of the Greeks.  (That) in the earliest times they were as magnificent as the Egyptians and the Greeks, and, as time passed, more magnificent than any other nation.  (That) in construction they followed their own customs, not the customs of the Greeks. [2]

LC: Let us retain from the Romans the bricks and Roman cement and travertine stone, and let’s sell Roman marble to the millionaires.  The Romans knew nothing about marble.[3]

P: (Piranesi has said that) the Romans adopted the architecture of the Greeks not on its merits but for the splendor of the marbles.  (That) this architecture brought the Romans no benefit or advantage, public or private, since Tuscan architecture had already provided for everything.[4]

LC: Like man, like drama, like architecture.  Not to assert with too much confidence that the masses give rise to their man.  A man is an exceptional phenomenon that repeats at lenghty intervals, perhaps by chance, perhaps according to a cosmographic rhythm yet to be determined. Michelangelo is the man of our last thousand years as Pheidias was the man of the preceding millennium.[5]

P: …very many Romans (that is, of the citizens) were from time to time able architects.  (That) they corrected many of the innumerable defects that they found in the architecture of the Greeks.  (That) they achieved a magnificence equal to that of the Egyptians and Greeks, and thereafter greater than that of any other nations.  What more could the Romans have done to honor the fine arts?[6]

LC: The Renaissance did not make Michelangelo, it made a fine bunch of fellows who had talent. The work of Michelangelo is a creation, not a revival, a creation that towers over stylistic categories.

P: Then you say that the Romans fell into this barbaric and ridiculous manner because they refused to follow the rules that ordained a beautiful and noble simplicity, because they were ashamed to follow in the footsteps of others?  (…) I will not insist on trying to convince you that Correggio, Raphael and Michelangelo were the imitators of a great number of dead artists (and living ones too).[7]

LC: The lesson of Rome is for the wise, for those who know and can appreciate, for those who can resist, who can verify.  Rome is the perdition of those who don’t know much.  To put architecture students in Rome is to wound them for life.  The Prix de Rome and the Villa Medici are the cancer of French architecture.[8]

P: “Poetry is well known to rely on exaggeration and hyperbole.”[9]


[1] Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, trans. John Goodman (Los Angeles: Dover, 1986). 198

[2] Piranesi, excerpt from Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette, with Opinions on Architecture, and a Preface to a New Treatise on the Introduction and Progress of the Fine Arts in Europe in Ancient Times, trans. Caroline Beamish and David Britt (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2002). 91

[3] Le Corbusier 200

[4] Piranesi 92

[5] Le Corbusier 205

[6] Piranesi 95

[7] Piranesi 101

[8] Le Corbusier 212

[9] Piranesi 97, quoting the Gazette littéraire d l’Europe, vol. 1

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