Encyclopedia Ichnographica




Vincenzo Fasolo, "The Campo Marzio of G. B. Piranesi".
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from The City of Collective Memory

Piranesi also borrowed the devices of Baroque scenographers, heightening the impact of his fantastical compositions of Rome by twisting and turning their viewpoints, creating a confused montage of fragments and spaces, of exaggerated proportions and depth. If Greek architecture was the epitome of purity and restraint, then Roman architecture, so Piranesi surmised, had been erected by plunderers and despoilers, and its compositional forms were not only eroded by time but compromised by choice. Roman ruins were exceptions to the ideals of purity, existing beyond any order that classicists might impose. Their mysterious allure resided instead within irrational and archaic realms. So Piranesi, a bricoleur in search of new orders and new inventions, turned away from those who poked around for the origins of architecture among its ornaments and stones and reached beyond the contemporary zeal for restoration. He moved instead into an arbitrary, utopian, and entirely imaginary sphere of subjective experience. Fantasy holds an essential role in any "analogous city" view, for fantasy is the mediator between an archeologist's mind bent on exploring roots and remnants of antiquity and a creative imagination that quotes and remembers only arbitrary and unrelated fragments and traces. Through incongruous recombinations and imaginary superimpositions, Piranesi diverted architectural symbols from their original meaning. He played an enigmatic game of architectural writing in which reality and the imaginary are confused.
M. Christian Boyer, The City of Collective Memory : its historical imagry and architectural entertainments (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994).

Piranesi's imagination

On the second night of my conversation with Sue Dixon we talked mainly about Piranesi, and especially his role as a proto-metabolic thinker/designer/etc. In the previous nights conversation we discussed the plurality and the assimilation/metabolism mix of our present time. While thinking during the day between our two conversations, it dawned on me more clearly that some physical manifestation of metabolism has been around since the appearance of the kidneys (from 1700 to 1800). It also dawned on me that Piranesi spans exactly the same period as the beginning of metabolism.

I asked Sue if she would agree that what Piranesi did (especially) in the Ichnographia of the Campo Marzio was to metabolize Roman architecture. After Sue asked me to again define metabolism, she then wholeheartedly agreed that metabolizing was exactly what Piranesi was doing, but not only in the Campo Marzio. Sue immediately talked about Piranesi's chimney pieces and candelabra as designs composed through a breaking down and re-combination of many disparate historical elements.

To further the discussion, and as an aside, I mentioned that I believe that the early modern movement in architecture falls much more in the camp of assimilation (absorption and purging), and that only in some (perhaps rare) cases did modern architecture reach the metabolic camp, e.g. I believe Le Corbusier's late architecture is a prime example of how an architect can make the transition from assimilation to metabolism.

Sue then brought up some of Piranesi's other works, namely the Prisons, and I said I thought they were Piranesi's good-bye to assimilation. Sue talked about how there is no clear source of patronage for the Prisons, and how that may suggest a more personal involvement on Piranesi's part, and then by extension the Prisons may carry a personal/specific message. Sue also made the point that there are two Prison series (something like 20 years apart), and that they are different in execution, and she was therefore led to question again if there is a very personal message to be gotten for the two series.

metabolic imagination

...consider the idea of Piranesi utilizing a metabolic imagination. This concept may be useful and illuminating in terms of making a case for Piranesi's possible graphic commentary/criticism of the evolution of Roman urban design. The idea of a metabolic imagination may also be useful in explaining degrees of representation.

contiguous elements

...contiguous element drawings. The question remains, however, to what end? Are these drawings to form the better part of some sort of essay? What is the lesson to be learned? I will have to go back in my mind and see if I can remember why I thought of isolating contiguous elements in the first place. It had to do with the notion that perhaps there is a key to Piranesi's design methodology (and imagination) in looking at the contiguous elements and how they are usually repeated items constituting, through mirroring and copying, a greater whole. I felt that looking at - studying - the contiguous elements might shed some light into the workings of Piranesi's designing mind (methodology).

Redrawing the Campo Marzio

After rereading some of Tafuri's text on the Campo Marzio, for some reason it occurred to me that my redrawing of the Campo Marzio is an attempt to "walk in Piranesi's footsteps," meaning, I am trying to learn how Piranesi's imagination operated by doing the same thing he did--literally (re)drawing the plan. I am trying to get as close to Piranesi's own drawing/designing procedure as possible.

I then thought of what Collingwood said about not being able to truly learn from history because we are not able to actually experience history. In this sense, I am trying to re-experience a specific historic occurrence, albeit over 200 years later and with a different drawing technology. Besides the use of CAD, which is actually related to engraving in that it is a type of "drawing" that is readily reproducible, the major difference between what Piranesi did and what I am doing is that Piranesi was designing the plan(s) as he was drawing them, he was producing with his imagination and with his graphic dexterity. Whereas I am only measuring his work and then digitally inputting the data. I am learning through osmosis, however.

"Redrawing History: G.B.Piranesi's Campo Marzio in the Present"
...the opportunity to delve into the virtual realm and how reality and the virtual very much cross paths in the Campo Marzio.

Redrawing History - Piranesi's reenactment

...distinguishing reenactment from archeology.

Was Piranesi trying to recapture the ancient Roman imagination?

The Longest Axis / The Axis of Life

Life and Death (Eros & Thanatos) in the Ichnographia

...(re)found Freud's quotations from Civilization and Its Discontents which names eros and thanatos (the life and death instincts) as the basic operations of life. This whole notion relates directly to the metabolic imagination and the Life and Death axes of the Campo Marzio. Oddly enough, it came as a revelation for me to see these cross axes as a manifestation of the metabolic process. Nonetheless, this connection is exactly what ties the two axes story together--this connection provides the ultimate outline and full meaning of Piranesi's design which is now unquestionably metabolic.

...a connection to the history of Berlin (and here Speer's plan is incredibly poignant!).

Re: irrational architecture
1999.02.23 12:44

...with regard to contemporary architecture's relationship with the rational and the irrational. The vital, albeit still largely missing, ingredient of this analysis/phenomenon, however, is the creative-destructive nature of the metabolic (imagination). To reinforce my "theories" here, I offer the following quotation, along with some further analysis/explanation.

from: Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia - Design and Capitalist Development (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1976), pp. 15-16.
"Rationalism would seem thus to reveal its own irrationality. In the attempt to absorb all its own contradictions, architectural "reasoning" applies the technique of shock to its very foundations. Individual architectural fragments push one against the other, each indifferent to jolts, while as an accumulation they demonstrate the uselessness of the inventive effort expended on their formal definition.

The archeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one: this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an unknown. Nor is the act of designing capable of defining new constants of order. This colossal piece of bricolage conveys nothing but a self-evident truth: irrational and rational are no longer to be mutually exclusive. Piranesi did not possess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships of this contradiction into form. He had, therefore, to limit himself to enunciating emphatically that the great new problem was that of the equilibrium of opposites, which in the city find its appointed place: failure to resolve this problem would mean the destruction of the very concept of architecture."

Tafuri must here be taken to task because he comes extremely close to the truth about Piranesi and his large plan of the Campo Marzio, but he then falls fatally short of seeing the truth. Tafuri is absolutely wrong when he states, "Piranesi did not possess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships of this contradiction into form." In truth, Piranesi worked very hard to "translate" the opposite yet necessarily linked notions of life and death (rational and irrational) within his great plan, and I have substantially documented Piranesi's (metabolic operations) in "Eros et Thanatos Ichnographia Campi Martii". Stated briefly, Eros names the life instinct and Thanatos names the death instinct, and Piranesi carefully delineates (between 1758-1762) both these "instincts" within the ancient city of Rome.

It is becoming more and more clear to me that any discussion of the rational and the irrational (in design and capitalism) tends to lead toward confusions unless they acceptingly incorporate the over riding creative-destructive nature of the metabolic (imagination).

as dense as architecture can get?
2000.01.10 00:26

As to wondering about the 'easy' play with scale's relative to Piranesi's Campo Marzio, in part you guess correctly. I say in part because when Piranesi delineates the Campus Martius proper, he more often than not uses the correct scale for the buildings that once existed there. Piranesi grossly exaggerates building scale in the Campo Marzio's outer regions, however. Nonetheless, Piranesi is deliberately 'playing' a learning game here, in that the outer regions is where Piranesi's plans and programs lack practially all veracity, hence, the hyperbole of Piranesi's architectural imagination is coded by a hyperbole of architectural scale. In simple terms, the over-sized plans of the Campo Marzio indicate buildings that Piranesi completely 'made-up', where as a high percentage of the smaller building plans indicate buildings that actually once existed and are drawn at their proper scale. (Mind you, the drawn plans of the once existing buildings, even though at a correct scale, are still often individual plans of Piranesi's invention.)



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