A Critical Analysis: Giovan Battista Piranesi
One of the most powerful ideas that Jacques Derrida addresses in Of Grammatology is the possibility of another form of memory, a memory that no longer deals with fragments or figuration or abstraction but with something he calls the "trace". The trace is the presence of an absence, a presence no longer in its metaphysical fullness nor an absence as a dialectical opposite to presence, but rather something that exceeds the dialectic. It is more like a non-absent absence. But a memory trace is not new to architecture.
One of the best examples of the memory trace exists in architecture in one of G.B. Piranesi's didactic maps of the Campo Marzio, drawn in 1762. To understand the idea of trace, Piranesi's drawing must be compared to the Nolli plan of Rome. Drawn in 1748, the Nolli plan has today become the icon of an architectural fundamentalism which calls itself New Urbanism. It represents an idea of original truth, of a moment in time that uses this moment in the eighteenth century as a badge of authenticity to authorize work in the present. The Nolli map was a literal projection of Rome as it was in the eighteenth century. On the other hand, the Campo Marzio has little to do with representing a literal place or an actual time. The Campo Marzio is a fabric of traces, a weaving of fact and fiction.
The traces of the Campo Marzio have nothing to do with a literal representation of space and time as an aesthetic image; rather, they project time and space as well as act as an index of both. Piranesi uses the Rome that was extent in the eighteenth century as a starting point, but that possesses no original value; it is merely a being in the present. From this existential moment of being, he takes buildings that existed in the first and second centuries, in Imperial Rome, and places them in the same framework of time and space as the eighteenth-century city. Next, Piranesi moves monuments of the first century from their actual location to other locations, as if these were their actual sites again in the eighteenth century. Piranesi also draws in buildings that never existed. They seem at first glance to be memories of buildings that could have existed; they look like buildings until one examines them as functioning buildings. This idea of a building as a trace of function is similar to Piranesi's project for the Collegio Romano, which has a seemingly centralized plan. However, when it is analyzed, it does not actually function; it only symbolizes its function.
Equally, the Campo Marzio would not function as an urban entity. There are no streets as such; rather, the ground is filled with what can be called interstitial figures. In this fabric of fact and fiction, there are no clear figure/ground relationships, one of the underpinnings of the dialectics of contemporary architecture. There is no primacy given to the ground or to the figure. The result is not a figure/ground projection, as in the Nolli map, but what could be called a figure/figure urbanism. This idea of urbanism does not give primacy to the ground as a original instance or datum. Rather, the ground becomes an interstitial trace between objects, which are also traces in both in time and space. This presents a theoretical basis for urbanism as a tissue of memory rather than as a nostalgia for static icons. Such a notion is close to what Charles Sanders Pierce calls an index. In this context, an index can be considered as a record of events; it is a notational matrix. It undercuts all metaphysical ideas of truth and ideality. It is a multiple palimpsest, a series of overlays that mix fact with fiction. [In one sense...]
Peter Eisenman, "A critial Analysis: Giovan Battista Piranesi" in Luca Molinari, editor, Peter Eisenman: Feints (Milano: Skira Editore, 2006), p. 40.
It rocked Eisenman on his chair...
He says there are no streets there, so he doesn't know how the porticus operated throughout the Campus Martius.
Theory Part II - Doing What I Said I Would Do...
If anyone here thinks that I am opposed to or think lowly of "getting ideas from misreading a text," then you have jumped to a wrong conclusion.
What I do find fault in is Tafuri's interpretation of Piranesi's Campo Marzio. And since this faulty interpretation is a crucial element of Tafuri's "historical-critical project"/research, I then see the need to re-evaluate Tafuri's overall theory. Moreover, that what Piranesi actually did with the Campo Marzio is indeed the opposite of Tafuri's interpretation of what Piranesi did with the Campo Marzio can well suggest that Piranesi's Campo Marzio shouldn't even be within Tafuri's overall theory.
And then there is Peter Eisenman utilizing and teaching Piranesi's Campo Marzio based on (really just repeating) Tafuri's misinterpretation of Piranesi's Campo Marzio. Furthermore, Eisenman has not contributed any new insight regarding Piranesi's Campo Marzio, and, if anything, more just tailors Tafuri's misinterpretation to suit his own design methodology. What I see fault in here is Eisenman's suggestion that his method is based on what Piranesi did within the Campo Marzio, where, in fact, Eisenman's method is based on Tafuri's misinterpretation of what Piranesi did. Again, it is more the case that what Piranesi did within the Campo Marzio has very little to do with Eisenman's method.
Theory Part II - Doing What I Said I Would Do...
Eisenman doesn't misread Tafuri at all. And judging by Tafuri's interpretation, he didn't even bother to read Piranesi's Latin labels within the Ichnographia Campi Martii. Misreading [Piranesi] isn't even the issue here. It's more the lack of reading [Piranesi] altogether.
It rocked Eisenman on his chair...
Giovanni Battista Piranesi died today in 1778, on the feast of the dedication of the Basilica Constantiniani (known today as the Basilica of St. John Lateran), the first Christian basilica in Rome.
"Piranesi uses the Rome that was extent in the eighteenth century as a starting point, but that possesses no original value; it is merely a being in the present. From this existential moment of being, he takes buildings that existed in the first and second centuries, in Imperial Rome, and places them in the same framework of time and space as the eighteenth-century city."
--Peter Eisenman, "Notations of Affect. An Architecture of Memory" in Pathos, Affect, Gefühl (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2004), pp.504-11.
If you actually study the Campo Marzio you'll find the starting point, framework and the millennium's worth of buildings that Piranesi utilized. First there are the altar and race course dedicated to Mars by Romulus in the mid-eighth century BC. Incidentally, this is how the Campo Marzio received its name--the fields of Mars. And to manifest the framework there is the last Imperial artifact of the Campo Marzio, the sepulcher of Empress Maria, wife of Honorius, from the early 5th century AD. Indeed the sarcophagus of Empress Maria holds a key position within the Il Campo Marzio publication. And to complete the framework, the last page of Il Campo Marzio depicts a double theater.
It rocked Eisenman on his chair...
"Equally, the Campo Marzio would not function as an urban entity. There are no streets as such; rather, the ground is filled with what can be called interstitial figures."
Peter Eisenman, "Notations of Affect. An Architecture of Memory" in Pathos, Affect, Gefühl (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2004), pp.504-11.
"The level plain of the campus Martius was particularly well adapted to this characteristic form of Roman architecture—the porticus—which conformed to a general model, while varying in proportions and details. The porticus consisted of a covered colonnade, formed by two or more rows of columns, or a wall on one side and columns on the other. lts chief purpose was to provide a place for walking and lounging which should be sheltered from storm and sun, and for this reason the intercolumnar spaces were sometimes filled with glass or hedges of box. Within the porticoes or in apartments connected closely with them, were collections of statuary, paintings, and works of art of all kinds, as well as shops and bazaars. In some cases the porticus took its name from some famous statue or painting, as the porticus Argonautarum.
While the erection of the first porticus in the campus Martius dates from the early part of the second century B.C., the period of rapid development in their numbers and use did not begin until the Augustan era. The earliest of these structures seem to have been devoted exclusively to business purposes. By the time of the Antonines, there were upwards of a dozen in region IX, some of them of great size, and it was possible to walk from the forum of Trajan to the pons Aelius under a continuous shelter. They were usually magnificently decorated and embellished, and provided with beautiful gardens.
Samuel Ball Platner, The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (1904).
Although written over 140 years after the Ichnographia Campus Martius, Platner's text nonetheless describes perfectly Piranesi's delineation, particulary between the forum of Trajan and the pons Aelius. Indeed, the porticus is the most abundant building type throughout the Ichnographia Campus Martius.
The arrogance of 'Architects'
In the Ichnographia Campo Martius "certain landmarks remained: the Tiber River, the Piazza Navona, and a Colosseum-like structure, which was in the wrong location and, in a sense, at the wrong scale."
--Peter Eisenman, "Piranesi and the City" (2007).
In fact, the 'Colosseum-like structure' is clearly labeled Amphitheatum Statilii Tauri, positioned by Piranesi in its most likely location, and delineated at about 2/3rds the size of 'the Colosseum' which is probably what the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus was.
Eisenman's misrepresentation of the facts here is somewhat compounded in that Wilton-Ely had already years earlier noted the presence of the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus within Piranesi's Campo Marzio.
Eisenman inerpretes Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius in several self-serving ways, but he never comes to realize that on one level the Ichnographia Campus Martius is a gigantic test of Ancient Roman topography.
"Hey Doctor. I don't know what you want me to see, but this thing I'm looking through looks like some plan from Piranesi's Campo Marzio.
Why is architectural theory so hard to read?
Lotus International 19 happens to be the first Lotus magazine I ever bought, so its contents are (still) fairly well ingrained within my memory. Looking over "Cities within the city" (again) last night reminded me of another subsequent Ungers essay--"Architecture of the Collective Memory"--also published within Lotus, this time Lotus International 24 (1979). I personally remember this essay as something I really connected with, something that I really liked the idea of, but I don't think I've (re)read the essay in many years. Of course, I reread "Architecture of the Collective Memory--The infinite catalogue of urban forms" last night, and wow, it like blew me away because what Ungers relates is exactly how I've come to see Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius, that is, as a whole city of architecture of collective memory, indeed an infinite catalogue of urban forms (e.g. 3123h, 3123i, 3123j, 3123k). Interestingly, such a view of the Ichnographia Campus Martius is what Aureli (and Eisenman) do not (want [you] to) see the Ichnographia Campus Martius as.
Being restless, I continued to read more of The Possibility of Absolute Architecture. I read the Boullèe chapter and started the Ungers/OMA chapter (five). Ten pages into chapter five you encounter material on the Havellandshaft, which is how Ungers ends "Architecture of the Collective Memory," yet Aureli no where mentions the "collective memory" aspect of the Havellandshaft (nor does Aureli footnote reference "Architecture of the Collective Memory--The infinite catalogue of urban forms" in Lotus International 24).
I now feel inspired to write a book entitled The Reality of Convenient Memory Architecture, theory even.
"Architecture of the Collective Memory" begins with these passages:
In his book Invisible Cities Italo Calvino invented an imaginary conversation between the Venetian traveler Marco Polo and the great emperor of a distant country. "At this point Kublai Khan interrupted him or imagined interrupting him, or Marco Polo imagined himself interrupted, with a question such as: 'You advance always with your head turned back?' or 'Is what you see always behind you?' or rather 'Does your journey take place only in the past?'"
All this so that Marco Polo could explain or imagine explaining or succeed finally in explaining to himself that what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreigness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign unpossessed places.