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question 13: a new boy and a new city

Suspend belief for a moment and come for a walk with me.  Walk with me and certain boy who walks a certain way to school.  Day after day after day he walks this way.  He learns the path, but only in a particular way.  One day, as the boy walks, he trips on a root of a neighboring tree.  Why I don’t recall that root, the boy thinks to himself as he falls.  Upon brushing dirt from his knee, the boy notices a small hole made by a particular mammal, just under the root.  Curiosity begs investigation and the boy peaks his head into the hole.  No mammal appears, but neither does darkness.  Instead, through a circle of light the boy sees a world.  This world is not that of his own however.  In this world water becomes sky.  Maps are seen as constellations and trees form clouds.  Shadows give voice, and building foundations become towers for one to leap from one to the other.  The horizon between below and above, this and that, past and present, begins to blend, to come together, lit as one, to form another.  The boy sits up, removing his head from the hole, shaking the dirt from his hair, and  looks at the world now in front of him, seeing things somehow, a little bit differently.  As he walks to school the next day and the day after, and the days following, things aren’t quite the same.  For now the boy might find shapes in the canopies above.  He may toss a pebble into the sky, watching where ripples lead to roads.  And with an extra leap in his step, he may look down and say, “Well hello there, dear shadow, pleasure to see you today.”

question 12: behind the work, a city performs, but must be played

It’s the people, mate.  The inner workings, the behind the stage workers; those are them.  The everyday workers that go from day to day making a city what it is.  Whomever they may be, coming from faraway lands, or born and raised, it’s the people you meet that lasts as an impression on the city.  A sweet-hearted women offering a warm meal, children playing with hay in a park, an impatient women serving you pizza day after day, or the cozy smile of a jolly stranger saying welcome, come along.  The roads are there, but need the sounds of walking feet, belligerent horns, and loud voices, to come alive.  The water lines are there, but need the hands of locals to wash, the mouths of the thirsty to quench, and skin of children to cool on a warm summer day, to come alive.  For a city can only be heard singing when there are those to listen, and those to sing back.

question 11: tell me, tale. yes, tell?

tink…  tink.

tat… tink

tink…. tat… tink.

tat… tink. tat

tink. tink. tat. tinktat…  tinktat. tinktinktattink. tattink…

…and so rain drops begin to fall and the musical chimes upon a copper roof begin.  And what once was silence kept between them for a season too long, becomes the sound of giggling laughter.  The cool water glides along their downspouts, tickling them all along the way.  One can not contain it, the other gives in as well, and matching the orchestra above, the sound of laughter between two old friends begins to grow and so too does a relationship.  And a conversation renewed, takes form once again.

question 10: show me anywhere, venice, venice, show me everywhere

How do you read?  How do you read a book?  How do you read a building?  How about a city?  A good book allows for something new to be uncovered upon every meeting.  The same book read in a high school English class will mean something different five years later, and still something different in ten.  It will continue to unfold and retell, and you will continue to rediscover.  A good building should do the same.  Upon each visit something different is noticed, something new found that had always been, but with changed eyes, only now able to be seen.  As a city, Venice does the same.  It is read by many.  Travelers from far and near come with their own stories, and listen to the different tales Venice chooses to tell.  Read Venice as a map; it’s a short story (trust me).  Read it as a tourist; you may not get lost, but you may not be found.  Read it as a local; you’ll have to tell me how that story reads, but give me time and I may tell you.  You can read the city in the buildings, from it’s history, from it’s geography.  Understand the stage that was once set and the new stage that is unfolding.  You can look at the streets and read the sky.  Where there should be roads there may be water, where there are roads there still may be water.  You can read things upside down, right side up, rocking back and forth, and ducking umbrellas.  And each time you step into the city from outside of whatever dwelling you were just in, you read something new.  Venice never tells itself at once.  It hides, and it shows.  Different always to one than another, but know this: Venice keeps telling; hopefully you continue to listen.

question 09: how are you, siena, siena, who are you?

A puzzle, read from every direction, gives a meaning.  It tells of a time, a time of when it was made.  It tells of a time, a time of the present.  It can be translated, it can be interpreted, misinterpreted, or read in it’s original tongue.  Read one way, it may tell of a quality.  a cool bite in the autumn air.  Read another way, it may tell of a different quality.  the subtle sound of more footsteps and fewer engines.  Read yet anther way, it tells of again something different.  the sight of your breath against the cool air of San Francesco.  And more still, another way it tells of the quality of sharp light, breaking through dark, warming your cheek for a moment’s time as you pass.  This puzzle can be read in many ways.  As each stands on its own, it is only when read together does its meaning come through, only when read together does this puzzle tell of who it is.

question 08: make translation, lost in interpretation

What is it that a photograph tells of a moment?  A photograph captures a moment, tells of what it is, tells it to another.  But oh how shallow that story is.  How short it may be.  What is lost if that is all that is told?  What of the smell of the wet stone warming in the sun after a night’s rain?  What of the feel of a breeze as it touches the back of your neck while you look up?  The sound of those around you, or perhaps the silence in their absence?  A photograph tells of only a part.  But to translate that moment, to tell it’s story to another, there must be more.  Architecturally, a translation must go beyond the form, beyond the reference, beyond simple photographic identification of similarity.  A successful translation must capture the sense, the essence, might say Ricoeur.  Perhaps it translates the sense of monumentality, of grandeur, of it’s enormity.  A display of dominance, of cultural pride.  These are not construction techniques, these are not building materials, paint colors, nor formal mimicries.  What is translated are ideas.  They could be intentions, or perhaps receptions.  They are perceived essences, they are interpretations.  And with all interpretations come misinterpretations.

question 07: thank you for being active, history

Frustrated from a rushed morning and his abrupt awaking from a disturbing dream, an old man marches to work past Fontana dell’Acqua Felice.  Suddenly he slows his pace, pausing momentarily in thought and redirects his path towards, instead of past, the fountain.  As tourists and travelers temporarily pause and move again past it, taking a picture here and there, the old man walks up with no trepidation nor hesitation.  The sculpture of Moses towers above him, placed at the center of the fountain, marking the termination of Acqua Felice, named after Pope Sixtus V (Felice Peretti), the pope who reinvigorated the waterways, established pilgrimage roadways, and rebuilt Rome, intending to make the city a holly capital for the western world.  This fountain marked the pope’s triumphs and expressed the importance of water to the city, bringing a fundamental necessity  to all the citizens of Rome.  The old man stands before this monumental history, reaches his hand out, gently cups the water poring from one of the lions’ mouth, wets his hair and in the same fluid motion smooths it back, correcting it from it’s previously neglected state.  Upon finishing, the old man walks away back to his intended route as tourists continue to snap shots and the fountain continues to fulfill it’s civic duty of providing for the citizens of Rome.

question 06: tell me this, map of Rome

It’s funny how things change when you learn something new.  How your perception of a place shifts to something other when you learn about the place you’re in.  How history can constantly affect the present.  When you find out, for instance, that the private Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi, which you curiously poke your head in whenever possible at an attempt to understand what is happening behind that grand wall, was actually built on the ruins of the Baths of Constantine.  A structure inhabiting more than a city block.  A meeting point for citizens of the largest city in the world.  And suddenly, you walk a little slower, with bit more timidity, with a bit more awe at what once stood… and your imagination runs wild.  You begin to understand what may have happened here, what importance this hilltop may have had; and despite it’s consistency of importance, how even that has changed depending on time.  And with all this information, this knowledge, you leave it at your feet.  You don’t live in it, but instead live from it.  Use it as a jumping point, a runway for your mind and imagination to fly.

question 05: see between mountain and sea

A resting place. Between mountain and sea lies a place to pause, a place to reflect.  Upon the weary road traveled by many yet only known to some, there lies a place for reflection, a place for silence.  Along Via Quatro Novembre, whether it be by bus, car, or scooter, you drive by a water front town with dock and harbor on the way to the Amalfi Coast and with only a whimsical thought of it’s picturesque view you pass by it in a matter of seconds.  You have a place to be, another destination to see, you’re late.  Your mind is set and this nameless town is no place to waver.  On to the beach, or up to the mountains you must go.  Or… perhaps you slow.  You begin to pause and take another look.  You stop.  You begin to be less concerned about set plans, about the one or the other, but instead what lies between.  You look at what lies between these green hills and blue seas and find yourself.  Find yourself in a meeting point, in a small sea-side town, in a reflection.

question 04: biggest, small difference of city and building

Cities are never finished.  There is never a completion date, nor a grand opening.  There is never a single author to a city.  They aren’t built for the now, but for the yet and the not yet, and instead lived in the now.  Cites age, they change, and they adapt.  They grow, they shrink.  New people come in, old people move out.  Some people visit and others never leave.  People live in cities, people change cities.  Cities are performed.  They can be planned, but are never planned.  They give life to the unplanned, to the accidental.    These are what cities are, and by contrast you could take what buildings are, but instead why not see them as similar?  See buildings as you would a city.  Buildings could learn a thing or two.

“… The real prospect for an architecture of our time is still to be found within the horizon of the city, that spatial material trace of reciprocal interests.  The reverse, however, is not true.”

-David Leatherbarrow
(“Sitting in the City,” Architecture Oriented Otherwise)