The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Pier Vittorio Aureli: THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ABSOLUTE ARCHITECTURE (2011)

Reviewed by Anna Krysa

  Architect and educator – Pier Vittorio Aureli – in 2011 published this book, in which we learn the relationship between the political and the architectural, the form and the formula and finally the ideology and the landscape of urban economy, all compacted in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture. In the book, Aureli focuses on the political aspect in the world of Architecture, where the political is exploited in various contrasting as well as contradicting pieces. These pieces range from the 16th century where the reader gets introduced to Palladio's concept of the Villa, followed by Piranesi's ideological awareness and Boullee's work of symmetry, all the way up to the 20th century, where O.M Ungers undertakes the concept of the “city as archipelago” where the archipelago represents an island within the city, a cluster of buildings.     Aureli explores this ideological thinking in five chapters, exploring an absolute architecture by using the concept of political variations, the author begins with an introduction to what some might class a methodology, and to what I have classed is an easy way into the author's mind of visualising architecture becoming an archipelago, but also what some might think (I certainly did) an introduction to a heavy read.   Towards an Archipelago defines the political and the formal in architecture; in order to explain so, Aureli begins with Ludwig Hilberseimer's Hochausstadt. Unlike the famous city for Three Million Inhabitants by Le Corbusier, where the formality of the building is represented by the architecture type, Hochausstadt's architecture is replaced by the endless repetition of an urban agglomeration. This is the uniform way of forming the city, where the gridded system can be repeated, and moreover where the economic space is devoted to a totalizing concept. This is also a situation where the political is taking control over what is urbanised and systematised within the grid and, therefore, within the archipelago. Aureli continues his explanation of the political and the formal in Architecture, by the most informal, Non-Stop City by Archizoom. This, inspired by the non-figurative design of Hilberseimer, focuses on the consumer, expansionist and industrial forces in the form of a supermarket, parking lot and factory. Non-Stop City is a project, which only conceptually represents a formality of an architecture with no difference between public and private, or inside and outside – it is an existing economy, exposing itself to the core of urban culture, in an exaggerated form. Non–Stop City and Hochausstadt are defined as aspirations and in a way, they are the reality of the contemporary urban condition, representing the enclave and the landmark. This takes Aureli to City of the Captive Globe by Rem Koolhaas. However different the concepts might be in comparison to the first two examples, they are all classed as landmarks, even if the idea is only conceptual. City of the Captive Globe – just like the other examples - represents the urban, but also innovative technology. Ideology in this agglomeration is connected by the grid, where the stone bases recreate the artificial conditions and are represented by the architecture type above the stone block. Aureli finishes the chapter by giving an example of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, citing the segregation – which in his mind is a way of opposition - of the building, space and the function, introducing the idea of a plinth within the architecture of the 20th century.     ​Aureli than turns into more specific areas, which explain his arguments more clearly - Palladio's Villas, where much of the concept here takes the geographical point of planning and the political impact it may have. With the example of Villa Emo, which like other of Palladio's villas, almost frames the landscape. However scenic this may be, Palladio's architecture faces the landscape with its back to the city, the polis. Another key example, which might take the reader closer to Palladio's way of thinking is the Rialto Bridge design. In the more popularized version the Bridge appears in Venice, where in order to show the integrity of the architecture, Antonio Canaletto paints the scene where the Rialto Bridge is a “connecting language” between the Basilica and the Palazzo Chiericati. It is important to say that the scene painted by Canaletto is only a fiction, however realistic, it is proving the emphasis on the urban role in Palladio's architecture. This is where we get the understanding of the anti-ideal city through Palladio's methodology, in fact his work is not based on the overall plans of the city but a coherent architectural program. We can also understand that Palladio's architecture can be read as an geographical and political existence in its structure and territory, no longer bounded by the walls of the city. His idea of understanding architecture however, as a set of principles and mobile elements in the contemporary world may be seen as lacking spatial understanding and social disconnection. On the other hand in 16th century his planning explained the politics of security and a militarized understanding of landscape, as well as the force of the “ideal form”.  

Aureli than takes the readers on a trip to Rome, to 1762, and to the Campo Marzio. This period in Rome was heavily introduced by Piranesi, who was very keen on preserving and restoring the old monuments, so much that he created the “Scenographia”, which was an ideological way of looking at the city. In this example Piranesi is stripping the modern fragments of the city to its original monumental pieces, with the remaining monuments - or some may say ruins - he would design a “new” city. In support Aureli shows us the great precedent – Pirro Ligorio's Antiquae Urbis Imago, explaining the lack of streets and pavements within the city is crucial, as the geographical planning of the architecture is almost narrating the city, with no need for streets. This is Rome designed through Architecture, where Piranesi is looking at the city almost as a blank canvas, which is punctuated by the monuments. Helping him with this was Nolli, who presented professional topological maps, giving Piranesi most up to date knowledge in topographic measurement. In this part of the book it is important to know that Piranesi's view of the ancient Rome is very much focusing on the area of ruins, which he popularised at the time. However this is very unlike the view of Rome according to Nolli, who is separating the city and the landscape significantly in his contemporary plan. The political perspective of the ruin is not to look at them as something of the past, but as something that has survived the past into the present, and is distinctive from the urban agglomeration.     The introduction to Boullee in the book takes, firstly, the form of the Opera House (1781). An architectural statement, was a way that Boullee approached the definition that, not only an object but also a public building may be classed as a monument. His architecture, with the great example of the Opera House, consists of regularity between the columns and a great cylinder placed above, visualising the statement of the building, but at the same time showing concern for the public welfare. Boullee's work shows the representation in the monumental forms that characterize the urban development of Paris in the 17th and 18th century. In order to get to know these forms better and also to be able to relate to the period of the 17th and 18th century in Paris, Boullee is systematizing and simplifying these forms in three most powerful statements of architecture and urbanity in French classicism. Aureli allows the readers to see that the urbanisation of Paris and totalizing space, was not to be seen as a uniformity, but by introducing Hotel, Place and Boulevard it could be a monumental place, broke down by the axis and geometry within the city. These subjective forms are almost showing a rational approach to space in the emerging metropolitan Paris.   City as an Archipelago, shows itself in the real form of Aureli in the last chapter of the book, where we move towards the 20th century Berlin. Here, the first crucial example by Ungers is presented, based on the city within the city or city as an archipelago, where the clusters of buildings are forming the “island”. The great example of this is the Markisches Viertel Housing Complex, where the “island” achieves the state of monumentality through the use of raw materials and the complex forms. This is how - according to Ungers - buildings should look, establishing themselves as monumental statements by the use of contrasting materials and complex forms. According to Ungers, the form of the buildings should be horizontal, taken from the New York hotels, where the base of the bulling is a collective of facilities and towers are containing hotel rooms and more private shared facilities. For Ungers this form of architecture was to symbolize a miniature of New York, as was imitated by the image which adorns the cover of his book, Hotel Sphinx in Times Square by Elia Zenghelis. Project of the Green Archipelago in Berlin, as described in this chapter, was to depopulate West of Berlin after the crises of the Sixties and Seventies. This would have made a dramatic change in the political aspect of the city and its function. The main drive to this project, was to establish the areas of the city that were in decline, so that Ungers could focus on the selected parts of the city. In order to densify these clusters, Ungers decided to break them down with some urban villas. Selection of these areas focused not on the economical prospects of the clusters but rather on the development and a possibility of complementarity between the already selected parts of Berlin. A lot of Ungers work was to create a connection between the city parts and the typology, but according to OMA the “sea” between the islands or clusters is the green space, which explains the theory of green archipelago in full.   “Architecture is what survives the idea of the city”      

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