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XIII – A Way of Seeing Things

I thought I knew what the definition of architecture was. To me, it was an experience, created by an environmental world within a built form. One could construct an experiential world, with a realization buried within it for those who could discover it.

Then the world was remade. I walked on thin bridges, precariously above a spider web of shimmering channels overflowing with clouds. But my companion walked through the gnarled roots of a dense, inverted forest, while another peered into the pages of a story, and another found their map in the voids of the deep sky above. Each returned with our own story to tell, for there was not an intrinsic meaning.

I realized at each moment, each city or forest or reflection or keyhole, I found something different. I did not find a destination, grand sight or monument. Instead I had found a perception, a new way of seeing things.

One might say there are many ways to view the world. Architecture, with the fellow spirits of cinema, literature, and all the other lovers of the seeking of the invisible and visible worlds, is not an empirical, problem-solving process or representation of reality, technology, or humanity. It is a lens though which to view the world. The world constantly changes; fleeting moments can be found in cobalt reflections, fog fills the voids of a labyrinth, and rain creates an echoing symphony in a tomb. All one must do is be aware of this peripheral world and widen their view to it. So that they might see what their imagination can transcend.

XII – All the World’s a Stage

The air is cold and outside it’s still dark, but I have to get out of bed.

The stone is cold on my feet as a pace to the kitchen. I light a burner and, after spilling some grinds on the table, place a percolator on the small flame to make my espresso. It’s 5 am and there’s no place to go this early. I get dressed in the dark, shivering slightly; the radiators don’t quite warm the apartment. Pulling my frayed gloves on to fight the stinging cold, I walk, hunched over with breath of vapor, to the metro. You can tell the city is waking up; it’s just a whisper this early. A single car passes by and there’s a dog barking in the far, diffused distance.

I reach the station and climb into my vehicle, my partner for the day. It’s the 118; I’ll drive past the Circo Massimo towards Appia Antica, and further to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome. We go back and forth all day while we watch the sun rise to warm the earth and cross the sky, before it falls and the oppressive, cold dark returns. All this happens while I watch from my worn-in, hard seat along the road I know so well. It’s all so green now, after all the rain.

Finally making my last route for the day, I go back to the station to walk home. It’s cold again. I open the door, and my young, smiling son greets me. He shows me a drawing of a horse he did in class and smiles sheepishly. I’m home once more.

In the performance of Rome, my role is a bus driver, my prop is a bus, and my stage the streets of Rome.

XI – I’ll Tell You a Tale, Detail

Architecture has many faces: explorative, didactic, ambiguous, rational, autonomous, participatory, narrative. But what happens when one strays from an architecture’s planned moments, and something is revealed that wasn’t intended?

Is this the fertile detail? A detail that allows one to manipulate its meaning and function, to transcend its purpose, to become something more. A detail which grows with interaction and time. This seems like it would be more accidental than intentional, but wouldn’t it be possible to intend for someone else to expand on your own meaning? To give ownership to the one interacting with the architecture? How can one open up details, instead of constraining their purposes and stories?

So, maybe it isn’t only about what a detail can tell us, but what we can tell a detail. If architecture can be transcended, it becomes something more, more than a building. It becomes a metaphor, filled with meaning. Boundaries become openings to a world filled with wonder. Or a way to trip someone.


X – A City, Translated

Venice is a city that should never have been born. A city that should never have prospered. A city that should already be dead. But it isn’t. Because Venice is not a city, but something else. Something that will be saved until it finally is lost beneath the sea.

Venice is a state of mind. The willingness to get lost in both the city, and life. People pause in Venice, some for moments, some for years. But they are always moving, just as the water that pauses and flows through the city. Theirs’ is a resistance against the sea and time, and a cooperation with it.

Venice is a evolving entity. One finds their way not by maps or directions, but through their senses and growing memories. Scents change around a corner as paths compress and expand. Foot traffic disperses through the night as streets and buildings become impassible with the rising and falling tide. The very nature of the city is altered by a few inches of water.

Venice is a thousand cities, places, and thoughts. Some visible, some less so. Venice lives in the back alleys, the conversations of the gondoliers, the reflections of the sea, the viewfinders of a thousand cameras and the quiet windows of palaces long deserted.

IX – Seen in Friendship, Seen in Anger

The Romans, the Florentines, the Sienans. Which have you seen? Have you ever seen one? Identity in our time has become something of a mystery, an attribute questioned and unclear. A city is something more tangible, yet still, is defined by entities other than itself. One might say architecture is given its identity by the people which inhabit it, and in that sense, so is a city.

Siena is vivid through something unmistakably singular: the unique pride and passion of its people. The Piazza del Campo and the town hall with its fresco of the good and bad governments show the camaraderie and commitment of the people to each other and to Siena. The Palio in the Campo shows their inner rivalries, unfiltered emotions and vivid regional pride as well. The interwoven city fabric and neighborhoods bind together, with boundaries only distinguishable by small, unique tiles.

These people and places begin to explain the attempted expansion of the Duomo, rivalry with Rome’s founding, and pursuit of a place unique to any other. A city named Siena.

VIII – Transcendence

Life is transcended and approaches heaven through form, light and shadow.

Form in architecture has alternative meaning(s) in contemporary thought, but to Borromini, it was the essence of architecture. The translation of a plan to a cupola and the sky was a significant act in his time and hundreds of years prior, seen through the creation of the pendentive and other means through which the act is made possible. San Carlo becomes a unique creation in the sense its translation to the dome is not limited to simply a pendentive or other transitionary element.

Borromini’s efforts to draw in heaven transcend a simple geometric arrangement. His drawings and the building itself show a struggle to meld heaven and earth. To draw them into one another through the movement of the form, people, eyes and light. His translation from the earth to the sky create a almost undecipherable geometry which one loses their self in. His creation is not simply a building, but something more sublime.


VII – Racing into the Past

History is made active through remembrance. But not only remembrance, history that is simply remembered becomes little more than the past. History becomes active when it reemerges into the future. In one city in Tuscany, this happens every year on July 2nd and August 16th in a place called Piazza del Campo. The medieval Piazza fills with thousands of people from the present, coming to watch the past continue into the future. Traditions are upheld, thousand-year-old pride becomes re-enflamed, and Italian passions ignite as ten contrade vie for the prestige and glory of winning the Palio di Siena. The past is remembered and creates hope for the future, in both those inhabitants of the city and the thousands who come to experience cheer on those persons’ past. For a moment, the Piazza is drawn back to that time and the people with it, into an active history.