1953 May

Robert Venturi

"The Campidoglio: A Case Study"

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This essay formed part of Robert Venturi's MFA thesis at Princeton University. It was first published in The Architectural Review, May 1953, pp. 333-334.

Robert Venturi's first publication

The architect has a responsibility toward the landscape, which he can subtly enhance or impair, for we see in perceptual wholes and the introduction of any new building will change the character of all the elements in a scene. The Campidoglio in Rome has been injured through ignorance of this principle. A study of maps and drawings of its changing settings shows a group of buildings in themselves not significantly altered, but nevertheless revealing variations in expression and quality.

Michelangelo's design of the Campidoglio itself can be considered as an enhanced setting for the senatorial palace which was in existence in the mid-sixteenth century. This he modified almost negligibly by the application of the pilasters, entablature, and window architraves. It was by means of the flanking buildings, their form and position, that the senatorial palace acquired new value. The contrasting elements of their colour and texture, and the neutral, even rhythm of their columned facades gave emphasis to the palace. Their unique positional arrangement created direction and an illusion of increased size; moreover, it gave a controlled approach to the palace which contributed to its monumentality. The piazza which they form created an enriched space for the palace.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, on has had to approach the Campidoglio group with eyes straight ahead, preferably equipped with blinders. At the left and always influencing one's image looms the Victor Emanuel Monument, ludicrous in itself, but catastrophic in its effect on the neighboring Campidoglio. In fact, adverse criticism of the shiny monster should concern itself not so much with its form (which can appeal to one's sense of the grotesque), but with its effect on its architectural neighbors. By its size, scale and colour, it makes the Campidoglio a weak anti-climax. Furthermore, the monument's direction creates for the Campidoglio a backstage position and causes it to lose any meaningful relation to the city plan.

Similarly drastic in effect was the substitution during Mussolini's era, of big boulevards and unenclosed spaces of monumental parks for the intricate, small-scale neighborhoods composing the original setting. The complex formerly afforded views tantalizingly interrupted with rich, unaffected architectural foregrounds. The experience of small spaces achieved by contrast an effect of power for the Campidoglio piazza when it was reached. The removal of the congested areas was of doubtful social advantage, and the substitution of the fragmentary highway, of no real value to the overall circulation system of the city. The vast Parisian spaces and other trimmings have robbed the buildings and their immediate exterior spaces of force. The modern planner's scrupulous respect for a Michelangelo design has caused them to leave the Campidoglio untouched physically, but they have, nevertheless obscured its meaning and significance. A wrecking crew could hardly have damaged it more.

2000.12.17
speaking architecture
In 1979, as an undergrad student halfway through my "formal" architectural education, I wrote an article entitled "Geometry: its internal workings, its external expression, and its meaning in architecture." This article was published within Stanza, Temple University's Architecture Students Association Magazine. Stanza was edited by Ronald Evitts and Michele T. Greene and designed by Stephen Lauf, and the magazine's name is derived from a quotation of Gio Ponti:
"The architect (the artist) must imagine for each window, a person at the sill; for each door, a person passing through; for each stair, a person going up or down; for each portico, a person loitering; for each terrace, somebody resting; for each room, somebody living within. (The Italian word for room is Stanza, a beautiful word; it means 'to stay', somebody there; a life.)"
"Geometry" was my first published work, and it was re-published at Quondam in early 1997, and is now again available at Quondam. Here's the opening paragraph:
"Geometry is the branch of mathematics that deals with space and its relations. The word geometry is derived from two Greek words meaning earth and measure. Man was once believed to be the measure of all things and perhaps in some ways still is. In architecture, geometry and man are used together; geometry as its form and man as its measure. Through this merger, a meaning evolves. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to demonstrate both the mechanical and theoretical aspects of geometry in the realm of architecture. "
For me personally, this was written literally a half lifetime ago. And I'm glad it is now that long ago, because virtually everything I've written since (now) has a firmly established "context". Incidentally, one of RE's prescient editorial decisions at Stanza was to reprint Robert Venturi's first publication, "Campidoglio: A Case Study", which originally appeared in The Architectural Review, 1954. I had since often wondered whether the reappearance of "Campidogilio" in Stanza, 1979 'inspired' Venturi and Scott Brown to then publish A View from the Campidoglio in 1984.

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