Encyclopedia Ichnographica

language of the plans

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language of the plans


Vincenzo Fasolo, "The Campo Marzio of G. B. Piranesi".
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1956




new insights - key to the language of plans
1996.07.15

This note concerns my new insight into Piranesi's Campo Marzio. Eessentially I think I hit upon a substantial key concerning the language of the plans within the Campo Marzio. In retrospect, I think it was an understanding of Piranesi's plan language that I was interested in finding out from the very beginning--at least since I learned CAD.

The key to the language of plan forms starts with the long 'spiritual' axis of Mars and the tiny temple/shrine to the union of Mars and Rhea Silvia. I will not here go into the whole story of the long axis except to say that the Mars/Rhea Silvia shrine at the very end of the axis is the very basis of all the Piranesi plan forms. The plan of the shrine itself depicts, in simple planimetric form, the union of the male sex organ with the female sex organ. The plan is plain and simple, and where it not for its small size, would also be perceived as vulgar and blunt. Yet there is an essential beauty in its fertile simplicity--the notion of elementary plan forms is enhanced a thousand fold by the symbolism of outside vs. inside--gives it the power to spawn every other plan formation delineated.

The power and significance of the small shrine plan comes to the fore after an analysis of the second significant axis of the Campo Marzio--the Equiria. This axis represents the war/military aspect of Mars, and when compared with the long axis running through the altar to Mars, the Equiria, the race course, can be clearly considered the mundane axis (as opposed to the spiritual or sacred axis). The military character of the axis is quickly reinforced by the military offices and the military parade grounds that lie to the northern end of the Equiria. The fact that the Equiria is a horse race course also reinforces the mundane/military character of the axis, and this mundane aspect is most clearly manifest with the dirt road reality of the axis itself. (There may be the opportunity to call out a sacred vs. profane contrast between the two axes.)

Seeing how the first axis ends in sex, I was curious to see if the Equiria axis also ends in sex. While there is no building plan that explicitly depicts the co-joining of sexual organs, the north end of the axis has a pair of simple buildings--Vivaria Fulvii and Cochlearum Hirpini--made up of very few contiguous elements. I think this type of plan is the next step in the hierarchy after the sex temple. It is almost as if the sex temple starts something that quickly multiplies and mutates in the process. These two plans next to each other demonstrate the high order of symbolism in the first.

From the second order of plan, the next step up in the hierarchy is best exemplified by the sw Gymnasium on the Tiber and the Villa Publicus where the contiguous elements are still few yet numerously repeated, however there is a substantial addition of articulation in the individual contiguous pieces, especially in the carving out of space in the form of niches and thus heightening the issues of outside/inside, solid/void, figure/ground. This third type of plan formation is much more strongly related to the sex temple, yet the lesson of the second type of plan, the gemmation of a few parts, is a vital step in the evolutionary development of the plans. I wonder if I could here call it an embryonic development of the plan configuration. I also wonder if the second order of plan formation is to be considered profane vs. the sacred union of sex?




hierarchy of plans
1996.07.16

There is the degree of hierarchy of the two three-sided series of sepulchers--Sepulchra adjacent the Porticus Neronianae and Sepulchra Libertorum et Servorum--where one is a more advanced/developed form of the other. These are closely related to the repetition of the Gymnasium but they also introduce a linear motif that has not yet been addressed. The linear repetition motif is also very evident in various porticus plans.

The west bank of the Tiber is largely a cemetery with some very ritualistic stadiums and formal gardens. It is not what you would call the inhabited part of town. It is interesting to speculate here whether Piranesi is making some kind of planning/urban design commentary to the effect that there are some parts of the city that are more or less only for show.

...a series of plans that isolate the buildings according to type. I have already done this out of context, but I have not done this in context. ...the area around the Area Martis is like a giant, ornamental, showpiece cemetery.




axes of life and death
1997.12.28

...the Roman cardo and decumanus... ... wonder whether the life and death axes of the Campo Marzio are also a reenactment of the ancient town planning axes. Upon inspection of the Ichnographia, the life and death axes are just a few degrees shy of corresponding with the cardinal points. Moreover, the cardo, the north-south axis corresponds to the axis of death in the Ichnographia, and traditionally "refers to the axis around which the universe rotates." The Campo Marzio axis of life, the east-west axis, the decumanus, refers to the rising and setting of the sun.

...the Arch of Theodosius et al is placed at the tip of the axis of death. In its smallness (and apparent insignificance) it reminds of the tiny unnamed intercourse building at the tip of the axis of life. What is of utmost significance, however, is that this particular Triumphal Arch is indeed one of the very latest building additions rendered within the Ichnographia, and dates from anywhere between AD 367-395.

The placement of this arch at the tip of the axis of death is symbolic in that it represents the very end--Theodosius was the last Emperor to rule over both the East and West Empire, and it was he who instituted Christianity as the state religion--the end of the pagan empire and the end of any semblance of a totally unified empire. Thus, the intercourse building at the tip of the axis of life represents the very beginning (of life and quite possibly of the Ichnographia's plan formations, as well) and the Arch of Theodosius et al at the tip of the axis of death represents not only Rome's end as the sole capital of the civilized world, but also its end as capital of the pagan world.

It is through his plan of the city of Rome that Piranesi writes (and/or rights) the history of Rome itself. Through the Ichnographia Piranesi reenacts the history of the city.

...the Ichnographia represents Rome at its pagan zenith...

"The Key Plan"
1998.02.19

"The Key Plan"... ...about the tiny unnamed intercourse building at the end of the axis of life.

...unlocking secrets, gaining access to knowledge.

...the plan as depicting conception, and therefore the intentional starting point for meaning (and hence interpretation as well).

...the symbolism regarding the conception of Romulus and Remus--Mars and the royal Vestal Virgin as the parents.

...the tiny plan as the generator of all the subsequent plans; the beginning of the "embryonic development" of all the other 2758.htm">plan formations.

...the signifying effect of inside vs. outside and of solid vs. void.

...the irony that Bloomer's key plan is just across the river and the unfortunate non-starter nature of her interpretation and underworld scenario.

...the connection to the The City of God regarding the fratricide of Romulus towards Remus and its parallel to Cain and Abel.




phone conversation with Sue Dixon
1998.06.28

I spoke with Sue last Tuesday night, and it was the first time in several months--the first time since I did all the Latin translating. I told her practically everything new that I found and/or figured out, and a few ideas came out of the conversation as well.

1. the notion that the moat around the Bustum Hadriani could represent the limits that Hadrian himself put upon the Empire.

2. where the Bustum Hadriani is within square precinct limits, the Bustum Caesaris Augusti is outside circular precinct limits. This is another example of the two Busti being inversions of each other.

4. Sue had a clear notion of what Tafuri means with regard to Piranesi's loss of language, in that [Tafuri thought] Piranesi was engrossed in mere words (the individual plans of the Ichnographia) and thereby lost or disregarded the notion of composing cohesive sentences, i.e., a workable and properly planned urban design. We agree that Tafuri's interpretation is indeed wrong because Piranesi's plan is a dense and complex narrative.




Tafuri, Manfredo
1998.11.16

After an extended independent analysis of the Ichnographia Campus Martius, it becomes evident that Tafuri misreads Piranesi's large plan in most cases. Tafuri's text indicates no research of the plan beyond simply looking at it and subsequently offering a description of what Tafuri thinks he sees. (In fact, a careful reading of both Tafuri's texts and the text of Fasolo from 1956, clearly shows that Fasolo's text greatly influenced Tafuri's observations.) For example, in calling out the various axes of the Campo Marzio, Tafuri notes the axis running through Hadrian's Tomb, but he fails to recognize it's symbolic function as the Axis of Death; nor does he identify the Axis of Life that runs perpendicular to the Axis of Death. Moreover, Tafuri marginally notes the semblance of an axis within the northeast sector of the plan, yet he never mentions that Piranesi labeled this axis the Equiria, place of the annual horse races instituted by Romulus in honor of Mars.

These are just two examples which plainly demonstrate that Piranesi's plan holds significant and coherent symbolic content, however, recognition of Piranesi's "carved in stone" symbolism necessarily negates Tafuri's primary thesis that the Ichnographiam Campi Martii is utterly fragmented and devoid of "language." Ironically, had Tafuri not discounted the presence of language and instead actually translated the hundreds of Latin labels Piranesi applies throughout the plan, he would have concluded with a more accurate, if not also a more honest reading.

It is truly unfortunate that the subsequent 20th century Campo Marzio analyses of Allen, Bloomer, and Eisenman, build upon Tafuri's mistakes rather than correct them.




Nero buildings; inbred
1999.01.10

...to both mental illness and to the genealogy of Piranesi's Ichnographia plans. ...all the plans of Nero and after are "inbred."




mistakes
1999.05.17




Encyclopedia Ichnographica
1999.11.07 20:43

As it stands now, my ongoing investigation and redrawing of the Ichnographia has led to the 'discovery' of a whole new aspect of Piranesi's work that so far no one else has found, namely that the large plan of the Campo Marzio is a readable narrative of Ancient Rome's political and architectural history--but in order to grasp this delineated 'text' one must 'read' in unison the individual plans, the plans in relationship to each other, the plans in relation to where the actual buildings really were, and (this is perhaps the most important) the Latin labels Piranesi gives to each plan.

more on language
2000.12.13

...when you say/ask: "I was (and remain) concerned in the present context simply to ask whether there are any arguments for (a language of architecture--that is, something construed in terms of the primary components of language (syntax, semantics, pragmatics) and attendant accounts of the phenomenology, originary foundations, physical characteristics, and so forth.) that go beyond appeals to a metaphorical sense of 'language'. I haven't come across any, and so I appeal to the list to see if anyone else has," I admit to not being entirely sure what it is that you're after, but that may be because I have yet to re-read prior posts. In any case, your question made me think of Tafuri's criticism of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius where he states (in The Sphere and the Labyrinth, p. 38):

The ambiquity of the Campo Marzio now becomes evident; it is at once a "project" and a denunciation. As a disenchanted documentation of the impossibility of an unambiguous definition of language, it--projecting this situation into the past--sounds like a merciless satire of the infinite capacity of late-baroque typology to reproduce itself metamorphically. (The fact that in the Campo Marzio the allusion to baroque typologies is filtered through a classicist geometrism fools no one; it is simply a means of rendering metahistorical and universal the polemic already begun.) Inasmuch as it is--despite everything--an affirmation of a world of forms, the Campo Marzio, precisely because of the absurdity of its horror vacui, becomes a demand for language, a paradoxical revelation of its absence.

Negation and affirmation cannot split apart. The "na´ve dialectic" of the Enlightenment is already superseded.

The "great absentee" from the Campo Marzio, then, is language.

The absolute disintegration of formal order, of what remained of the humanist Stimmung, of its sacred and symbolic values--and, above all, of perspective as a symbolic instrument for the quantitative control of space--logically also affects the subject of Piranesi's work: the relationship between history and the present.

I interpret the above to mean that Tafuri believes the Campo Marzio cannot be coherently read or understood because, as Tafuri sees it, Piranesi presents something like xenoglossy (i.e., a trance state of a language unknown to the individual under normal conditions). Over the past several years I've been doing a lot of research and writing whereby I essentially prove Tafuri wrong in that Piranesi's large plan of the Campo Marzio can indeed be read, and, moreover, the plan is a very sophisticated double narrative telling the story of both Pagan and Christian Rome. Piranesi in fact utilizes two languages: Latin (for labeling buildings) and an architectural language of planimetrics.

As far as I know, Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius is the only example of a historical narrative that is delivered not by spoken or written language and/or pictorial illustration, but by a composition of architectural plans and their labels. If that is the case, then Piranesi's large plan is indeed a rare document where architecture is the language used to communicate a (very long) story.




errors in "speaking architecture"
2000.12.21

...a "display [that generally] deals with the 'language' and meaning of architectural planimetric forms, while specifically [displaying] the 'master key' that unlocks the long held mysteriousness of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius. ...you see a 'building' [Aedicula Intercorse] that is both literally and figuratively conception. This tiny building is indeed one of the few plans within the Ichnographia that Piranesi does not provide with a Latin label, and that is because the building, through its plan, already speaks for itself, and, moreover, it speaks of all the 'concepts' there involved, namely, Piranesi's conception of architectural language, and the very conception of Rome [Romulus] itself. Piranesi's architectural intensification here is so tight to the point that indeed the medium is the message.

Essentially, Piranesi designed a building deliniating conception, which also represents Piranesi's conception of the large Campo Marzio plan, which also represents the beginning/conception of Rome itself.




Piranesi's Continual Double Theaters
2001.11.26




Fantasy Architecture?....
2004.12.16 11:36

Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius is not really about fantasy, rather it is a reenactment of ancient Rome's history delineated via ancient Rome's architecture. The plans with their Latin labels within the large plan are all texts that together deliver the history of the city of Rome. Piranesi did a fantastic job of making a history lesson appear as fantasy.



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