TELL IS MORE

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DESIGN INTERVIEWS: ANDREA BRANZI

“An architect today can only do narratives. Architecture is no more the art of building, that aspect of modern architecture is over. (…) The architecture is a narrative, like a novel or a dream. “

Andrea Branzi, Tutto è metropoli, 1995 (in Lotus International 84)

“possible solutions to the riddle of appearance”

De Chirico pictured  the world as a archaeological repertoire, reassembling the fragments of reality as the pieces that can be cataloged in a museum. The materials put in place, recall silent symbols, organize the “topoi” of the dead city, where the subject disappears. Transform the city into a museum here is the program simulated by painting. To implement this transformation, a set of laws must be observed:

  • A parody of the myth and memory, to be celebrated in the timeless monuments
  •  Dissipation and cataloging form into fragments that express the loneliness of the object in front of the whole
  • The replacement of the signs with the implementation of an architecture of ideas, acting on contrasting categories, by condensation of meaning, for assembly in order to recreate the world in a voluntary archeology.

That is, you do not create a museum from the true and real, as after Cezanne, but the town from the museum, as after De Chirico. The mock-up-city becomes a parody of the form, the archaeological park, cemetery meanings, ruined …

Nature, understood as an ordered Cosmos or Chaos, is in itselfincomprehensible, and asks the painter, a possible solution to the riddle of his appearance.
De Chirico

WHO IS THE ARTIST ?

Charlies Saatchi and Jeff Koons

Today, we find people of the cultural world featuring in the top 100 of the same lists that ten years ago featured only business people. It is increasingly hard to tell the difference. Jeff Koons wears the tie, Charles Saatchi the bow tie. Who is the artist and who is the businessman?

SIGHT OF THE INVISIBLE CITY

In the late fifties takes shape in architecture, with different manifestations, a study of utopian and visionary character that reveals the need for new theoretical formulations after the rigidities of Rationalism and the shortcomings that most of the utterances of the Modern Movement were highlighted. It’s a period of conceptual re-founding with new languages through which expresses the desire to search for autonomous ways (Manfredo Tafuri, Francesco Dal Co, “International utopia”, Contemporary Architecture, Electa, Milan, 1976).

The methodology of this research does not ignore requests and appeals of society; rather derive from them inspiration and nourishment. The novelty lies in the different approach in researching the balance between form and function that had really characterized the previous generation (Dominique Rouillard, “Radical architecture”, in Tschumi, une architecture en projet: Le Fresnoy, ed. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris , 1993. See also “Stops / No-Stop-City,” in Cahiers Espaces et Paysages urbains No. 5, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1996; “Territoire magique”, in Infrastructure, Villes et Territoires, L’Harmattan, Paris , 2000; Superstudio, Continuous Monument, 1969, conference held at the Centre Georges Pompidou, 14 May 2000, the version published in Le Moniteur architecture AMC, No. 115, April 2001). This necessity to reconcile poetry and practice, formal insights and functional needs, finally stifled creativity and spontaneity of language, forcing architecture in an anachronistic cultural situation compared with other arts.

The result is an experimental attitude completely independent from the previous legacy but rather registers, evolving them in harmony, both climate of linguistic and experimental renewal of other creative disciplines and mutation of culture and habit in the urban scene. The British group Archigram (Peter Cook, Archigram, Studio Vista, London 1972) for example, whose utopian design actually applies to big scale and new models of cities or
urban megastructure, is emblematic of this different attitude, which almost simultaneously will be manifest also in Austria, with Hollein (Gianni Pettena, Hans Hollein: Works 1960-1988, Idea Books, Milano 1988) and Pichler, and in Italy with Archizoom and Superstudio (Richard Dalisi – Necklace paths directed by Michael Costanzo, radically. Back to the hubs generative architecture, Kappa Editore, Roma 2004).

In the London of the early sixties the new figurative and expressive languages, especially  introduced by pop culture and adopted and disseminated by means of mass communication, had triggered an explosion of innovation and creativity in front of which the condition of architectural culture came to be marginalized because inadequate for the new urban reality, and therefore unable to affect an environment conditioned and determined by phenomena and models linked to mass culture (Dennis Crompton, Concerning Archigram Archigram Archives, London 1998). Archigram, with the courage of irony, conducts towards architectural discipline both conceptual resettlement and linguistic renewal: a kind of design able to accept and claim the ephemeral, the dynamic, the continuous and necessary flexibility and evolution of the functions of an urban environment, expressing in visually appealing languages of new media culture, sci-fi cartoons, colorful collages, mags in which texts are intertwined with pop representations (Reyner Banham, The vision of Ron Herron, Academy Editions, London 1994 ). What appeared particularly innovative in Archigram was the conscious transformation of architecture in pictures, as the voluntary demystification of the project as an  instrument of operation in architecture; in this radical approach they proposed themselves ,for the first time in an organic way, as initiators, surpassing even the Cedric Price’s position (Cedric Price, Re: CP, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist with contributions by Arata Isozaki, Patrick Keiller and Rem Koolhaas, Birkhauser, Basel 2003) which basing his design on the criteria of indeterminacy, perishability and multi-functionality of space, still maintained a corporeal form of the project.

Corporeality that instead, in years to contemporary London trials of Archigram, it dissolves more and more in search of which you are a spokesman Hans Hollein and Walter Pichler Vienna with the express “absolute architecture” of ’63, in which the rejection of orthodoxy is radicalized to the exploration of those spiritual values, archaic and symbolic architecture that affect the very essence of living and communicating. So not only refused any functionalist and rationalist approach, but went much further, beyond any debate within the field and giving a central architecture that theoretically led to overcoming all barriers of space or time. With the statement that “everything is architecture” (“Absolute Architecture,” Radicals in architecture and design 1960-1975, edited by Gianni Pettena – VI International Exhibition of Architecture. Biennale di Venezia -,-fan, 1996, p. 242), both positive and negative, they cancel each border and interdisciplinary experimentation could also use languages that are seemingly distant from the project but who were intended to convey thoughts about the human condition, life, environment and city. In Austria, the search will take different capacities, from the visionary of the mega-structures of Raimund Abraham (Raimund Abraham: (a) built, Princeton University Press, 1995 – with an introductory essay by Norbert Miller, with contributions by John Hejduk et al -,) that progressively buy rarefied architectural form, the conceptual rigor and existential work of Pichler, translation of concepts in the form of architecture Hollein: will be manifested ‘in the form of drawings, performances, body art, installations spatial design environments and objects of architecture ‘possible’.

The conceptual approach of the early ‘radical’ Austrians will have great influence on the trial which will start in Italy with the exhibition ‘Superarchitecture’ (1966) Florence groups Superstudio and Archizoom (“The Superarchitecture architecture is the overproduction of superconsumption, superinduction of the consumer, the supermarket, the superman and super petrol. The Superarchitecture accepts the logic of production and consumption and is in action demisitificante. “From the Manifesto of the Second exhibition Superarchitecture, Modena 1967), and especially transpose the idea of the possibilities of interdisciplinary incursions of languages and methodologies as a tool for challenging the discipline. Perhaps it was also inspiring in involuntary Ettore Sottsass jr. (Stories and projects for an Italian designer: Ettore Sottsass jr four lessons., Edited by Anna Maria Mortarana, Alinea, 1983) that in the early sixties, was a firm foundation as an example, both operational and behavioral, the chance to ‘break’, to overcome the crystallization, the static nature of a discipline imprisoned the heritage of the Modern Movement.

The decade between ’65 and ’75 will be in Italy, a period of intense debate, of continuous critical reflection, engagement, by means of initiatives such as the disruptive XV Triennale di Milano where Sottsass, commissioner of the international section of design, Andrea Branzi together with the coordinator decided “not to present products but ideas,” thus legitimizing and even favoring the participation of ‘area in which radical, especially in the early seventies, with the heading “Radical notes” Branzi Casabella (No. 399 , March 1975), with the writings of Mendini and Rays, and the sequence of publications Sottsass, Superstudio, Archizoom, Petten, UFO, Dalisi (see covers and in magazines like Domus, Marcatré, Controspazio, Interior, Fashion, Designing more, residential, Planet Fresh, Flash Art, NAC), theory and experimentation should be incorporated within a common research platform in what is particularly Germano Celant proposed as a comparison of the visual arts, arte povera, conceptual and land art (Art and Architecture: sculpture, painting, photography, design, film and architecture: a century of creative projects, vol. 2 1968/2004, Skira, 2004).

Example of a courageous and radical, these experiments leave the merit of having attempted or suggested evasion horizons to other disciplines, to new frontiers.

TALKING ARCHITECTURE

Sometimes the authors consign to their buildings the task of transmitting an universal message to the world. These are talking architectures not just because they express with strong symbols each function which they are intended for, but as they are architecture-manifestoes: works designed to represent an entire vision of architecture, buildings created to generate other buildings.
Perhaps we are in one of those moments where we must entrust our own thinking about architecture to this kind of radical approach.
Those who rely only on writing, today, seems to be lost.

BE DENSE (or go away!)

The world is urbanizing at a breathtaking pace. Ten percent of mankind lived in cities a century ago; this year we pass the 50 percent mark; by 2050, the United Nations projects, it will be 70 percent. The Endless City (by Ricky Burdett, Deyan Sudjic, Phaidon Press, 2008) give us the brilliant idea that density is key in categorizing and typifying global cites. All cities analyzed can be characterized by increases in density of buildings, roads, inhabitants, and economic activities. However, the way density functions vary sharply across the cities. Path dependency – a consequence of choices made in the past – has led to variations in the way built environments shape the face of global cities.

“a+t” (Spanish magazine) dedicated a series of three numbers called Density/Densidad the collective housing and the possible development of more intelligent and sustainable ways of living (19 and 20, 2002, No. 21, 2003). Even “Lotus” (No. 117, 2003, Population density, infill, assemblage) identifies in this word a more central question: it is one of the rare terms where a quantitative measurable parameter spread to qualitative consequences and implications in various aspects (economic, functional, environmental, social, spatial …) of the complex organization of cities and territories. As such, the topic has been widely and long debated, but still remain controversial.

Facing the insane overcrowded conditions in the cities of the industrial revolution, the most advanced approaches were initially oriented to scattering models , as variously as demonstrated by the garden city movement, by russian deurbanists, by the policy of standards resulting from “rational” approach  of CIAM etc.. (For effective reconstruction of these events, cf. Rebecca Solnit, suburban syndrome, in “Navigator”, No. 8, 2003).

The limits of this model of settlement, generally referred to sprawl, are clearly described by Le Corbusier in few lines of the introduction to Maniere penser de l’Urbanisme, Editions de l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, 1946, where is mainly emphasized the misuse of… land, money, time… Half of the working day goes to pay our suburban life. But despite the clarity of the analysis, the responses of Le Corbusier and architects in general, seem to suffer from a narcissistic fascination with the side of the block and the other for the object of distrust towards the whole positivist layered complexity of urban systems that door, so to concentrate in large buildings housing collective, but diluted in a large amount of vacuum for green infrastructure, where the spatial density is comparable to that of the suburbs.

In those same sixties Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House, 1961) to clarify that the density itself (inhabitants per hectare) is not a decisive parameter in describing a state of social decay. The American sociologist stresses the close, complex and delicate relationship between density and the urban condition, showing even higher concentrations of housing to the thousands of inhabitants per hectare are not only possible but necessary for the activation of highly organized social systems: networks of solidarity and control of East Village in New York.

From the Hasted Hunt Gallery in New York during the exhibition “Architecture of Density”, german photographer Michael Wolf show us the specific visual elements he has depicted high density living in one of the world’s most crowded cities like nobody has before (Hong Kong Inside Outside, Co-published by Asia One Books and Peperoni Books, Hong Kong and Berlin, 2009). He removes any sky or horizon line from the frame and flattens the space until it becomes a relentless abstraction of urban expansion, with no escape for the viewer’s eye. Wolf photographs crumbling buildings in need of repair, brand new buildings under construction covered in bamboo scaffolding, as well as fully occupied residential complexes. Wolf’s disorienting vantage point gives the viewer the feeling that the buildings extend indefinitely, which perhaps is the spatial experience of Hong Kong’s inhabitants.

High density is normally viewed as an extreme form of urban pathology, congestion and crowding. But in Hong Kong it is shown to be vibrant, exciting and a dynamic aspect of city life. Thus, the context of a Western understanding of density and overcrowding in Hong Kong exposes the problematic of language. Conventional Western categories of description inadequate when it comes to representing Hong Kong density. The experience of Hong Kong density exposes its paradoxes and full range of interpretation: it can be positive and negative; exhilarating and overwhelming; an exciting or everyday experience. at the extremes of Hong Kong (Nuala Rooney, At Home With Density, Hong Kong University Press, 2002).

To contribute to a definitive reversal of value, from negative to positive, the term density and the issues connected to it, comes out in 1978, Delirious New York. The onset of Rem Koolhaas on the international scene offers a lucid and thorough reading of Manhattan as a true icon of modernity. The key word here becomes “congestion”, a sort of residential buildings hyperdensity achieved through “mutants” due to new technologies, lifts, steel and air conditioning can make an incredible new levels of features, inhabitants, users and users . On reaching a certain “critical mass” overlapping schedules unexpected active synaptic systems, upward mobility is likely to replace the horizontal, the private vehicle loses its need for and the turn into congestive paradoxical efficiencies.

Still dedicated to a city and its relation to modernity is Learning from Venice (Officina, 1994), in which Francesco Tentori retraces around the building to the research conducted by Giuseppe Samona thick and a large group of employees and students to ‘beginning of the sixties. Here, Venice is understood both as a physical example of the prevalence of dense tissue in its fully built, and as a school in which to experience new ways of design.

A similar experimental direction has been followed also by the Dutch MVRDV (FARMAX. Excursions on density, 010 Publishers, 1998). The acronym of the title indicates the maximization of the ratio of surface area and that the lot on which he insists, a condition investigated through some real examples and several projects, including the so-called emerging datascapes: building masses from time to time pursuant to measurable parameters such as light, visibility, noise etc.. The focus of Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Richard Koek to the quantitative approach is explained by pointing to the economic and environmental sustainability of the interventions, for example as evidenced by Metacity Datatown (010 Publishers, 1999) where statistical simulation is a town isolated and self-sufficient than 400 km on each side which focuses a population equal to that of the US.

If the rationality of theory and experiment leads to much housing models with a sufficient density, the facts and desires is directed back in the opposite direction: the U.S. census of 1990 established the passing of the population residing in the suburban city and the European situation is not very far away. As noted by Andreas Ruby (Transgressing urbanism in Transurbanism, edited by Arjen Mulder, V2_Publishing/NAi, 2002) is now difficult to think of these settlements as something totally dependent on urban centers. Their initial attractiveness (due to space, green, accessibility, availability, convenience, transformability …) is now supplemented by service systems such as organizing an alternative way of living and independent. On the one hand, this transformation of the suburbs into something more like the city, at least in terms of operation, leading to phenomena of densification processes that seem to go back in time training followed by urban structures established: The Dense-City. After the Sprawl (edited by Mary-Ann Ray, Roger Sherman, Mirko Zardini, Electa, 1999) notes the spread of cases of growth, agglomeration, alteration, substitution, etc.. which, naturally, are investing in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles, and that is the city symbol of the dispersion.

On the other hand, the growing number of studies aimed to devise intervention strategies that can win the so-called urban sprawl of urban quality. Among the many contributions in this sense (almost all Americans: Amazon.com indicates about 43 titles published under sprawl over the last ten years) should be reported to the research conducted by Xaveer de Geyter, After-sprawl (NAi Publishers / De Singel, 2002) Direct study of the central European, the so-called “blue banana” between London and northern Italy, and the elaboration of tools, especially related to the enhancement of the voids, which can improve image and efficiency. At least until these voids are not completely filled by the vertical congestion of suburban growth…

UNITY,FRAGMENT and other crash

In the chapter “The city in the collision and the politics of bricolage“, Colin Rowe (Collage City, The MIT Press, 1981, with Fred Koetter) deals with the utopia of totalitarian design control that almost all the protagonists of the modern architecture saw shattered against the complexity of the phenomena of formation, transformation and use of urban structures. Complexity grows exponentially in the city of democracy, where the construction of the space is subjected to the combined action of numerous and often conflicting power groups. If this conflict has produced some key places of the modern (such as Central Park, which began as an Arcadian dream and then became a metropolitan icon), in most cases results in conflicting situations, fragmentary and often unresolved.

Shifting from analysis to architectural design the descriptive power of the conflict, of the “collision”, hardly cross the metaphorical level of evocation to be operational tool of transformation (The Virtual Dimension. Architecture, Representation, and Crash Culture, edited by John Beckmann, Princeton Architectural Press, 1998). Moreover, if there are collisions between forms, ideologies, time, speed, it’s unlikely that the substantial stability of the buildings and the slow process of creation can lead to violent dynamic interactions associated to the incident of a crash and to its often catastrophic effects. Just like other artistic fields, there are those who face all threatening and destabilizing consequences of contemporaneity, often turning to allegory or morphological analogy.