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Inside the Density of G. B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius

virtual   1 obs : of, relating to, or possessing a power of acting without the agency of matter 2 : notably effective 3 : being functionally or effectively but not formally of its kind

The Ichnographia Campus Martius was originally an etched metallic plate, but has since come down to us as a printed plan carved in virtual stone. Piranesi's plan of the Campo Marzio evokes the Forma urbis as if it too were a genuine piece of archaeological evidence. As a veritable document, however, the Ichnographia Campus Martius lacks authenticity--the stones are not real, the carving is not real, and the plans within the plan are by and large inaccurate if not altogether fantastic. Moreover, this overall self-evident fraudulence is unquestionably why most historians and theorists of architecture unanimously concur (with Tafuri) that the Ichnographia Campus Martius is a "formless heap of fragments colliding one against the other . . . represented according to a method of arbitrary associations."

The error of this interpretation lies in its failure to recognize that through the Ichnographia Piranesi lifts a dense chunk of historical data out of history and then scrupulously deposits the lot within a virtual realm where all data then delineates an inversion of itself. Bear in mind that this virtual realm, where in simple terms the negative becomes the positive and the positive becomes the negative, precisely defines the working realm of an engraver.

1999.11.29 18:50
thanks 4 thanks
Hello Eleni and Elia,
Thank you so much for the wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner on Saturday night.

Eleni, you asked me on Friday morning if I knew St. Helena's name day was 21 May. Since I am a Roman Catholic, I am more familiar with the 18 August feast of St. Helena. In any case, I herewith enclose two email I sent on 21 May 1999 to a design email list I belong to here in the US:

May 21st - the Agonalia
Agonalia - a festival in honor of Janus celebrated in Rome on the 9th of January and the 21st of May.
Janus is my favorite Roman god.
Janus--an old Italian deity. He was represented with a face on the front and another on the back of his head. The month of January was sacred to him, as were all other beginnings. The myth makes him a king of Latium or Etruria, where he hospitably received Saturn when expelled by Jupiter from Crete. He had a small temple in the Forum, with two doors opposite to each other, which in time of war stood open and in time of peace were shut; the temple was trice closed on this account. With reference to his temple, the deity was called Janus geminus or Janus Quirinus.
In its over 1000 year history, Rome was at peace only three times?
I like Janus because he can see in front of him and he can see behind him--into the future and into the past? Also, I like to wonder whether Janus was "two faced" or was he schizophrenic?
Within his large plan of the Campo Marzio, Piranesi applies the label "Circus Agonalis sive Alexandri" to the original Circus of Domitian which is today Rome's Piazza Navona. Albeit obscure information, Piranesi was indeed correct in his designation because the emperor Alexander Severus rebuilt the Circus of Domitian and renamed it in honor of Janus. It is fun to imagine all the big goings-on over 1700 years ago today within what is now the Piazza Navona.
Another monument in honor of Janus that still stands in Rome today is the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons, which is in the Forum Boarium. It is one of those unique four-way arches, and, according to Banister Fletcher, is "of poor design." What is most interesting about this arch, however, is that it was constructed under Constantine the Great after he converted to Christianity. I believe this signifies two important facts. First, the aristocratic and pagan population of Rome still had tremendous influence and power. Second, whoever designed this arch was extremely clever in that Janus, precisely because of his "two faced" nature, was the perfect god to reflect Constantine's own political position--exactly because of his conversion from paganism to Christianity, Constantine himself is Rome's ultimate Janus-like emperor. [Personally, I can't help but believe that it was Constantine's mother Helena (an architect in all but name) that thought all this poignant symbolism through.] And, in an almost too good to be true sense, the Arch of Janus may well have predicted (looked towards) European architecture's next 1200 years: Banister Fletcher notes "it has a simple cross-vault with embedded brick box-ribs at the groins, affording a further instance of the progressive character of Roman construction techniques: such ribs are possibly the prototypes of Gothic rib vaults. [Fletcher is being a little two faced himself here--first the Arch of Janus is not good design, and then the arch is progressive construction!] Could it really be that the first ribbed cross-vaults ever were built in late antiquity? Do these vaults, built by ancient Rome's first Christian emperor, unwittingly and uncannily prophesies a whole new future era of Western architecture? [And is it possible that Helena, besides being the first master architect of Christianity, is also the world's proto-Gothic architect?]
Constantine converted to Christianity the night before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge (28 October 312) which lead into the City of Rome. He saw a vision of the (Christ) Cross in the sky, and hence ordered his troops to paint the (Christ) Cross on their shields. Constantine was victorious over the usurpative emperor Maxentius, and on 29 October entered Rome in triumph. Constantine's mother, St. Helena, is most known for having discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem (most recently dated c. 324-25). If you asked me, I'd say the "signs" surrounding this incredible mother-son team are still appearing.

Agonalia postscript
As odd as it sounds, only after sending the initial Agonalia post did two things occur to me:
1. the space created by the plan of the four-way Arch of Janus essentially forms a cross.
2. Only Helena is honored as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, and her feast is celebrated the 18th of August. The Greek Orthodox Church, on the other hand (or is it other face), honors both Helena and Constantine as saints, and they share a combined feast day, which happens to be today, 21 May.

So, as I already told you, the fact that I came to Brussels and immediately met two Elenis is no doubt another sign.

1999.09.12 11:34
architecture in cyberspace?
Here's a set of brief responses to the last posts from Randolph, John and Brian, in roughly that order:

Thanks Randolph for the "facts" which I assume are accurate. This information may be a good gauge/scale overall against which to measure "light speed architectures," that is, if such a thing can indeed exist.

John, as always, the flow/current/wave pattern of your emitted thoughts carry good highs and lows, provoking aboves and belows, and, this time at least, a co[s]mic ending[?]. Here's one of my favorite anecdotes relative to humor--Roland Barthes in his book entitled S/Z labels laughter as the highest, most effective form of [virtual] castration. Perhaps while you guys and some "others" work on electromagnetic architectures, I'll start working on a new thesis, castration architectures, beginning with a chapter called "concise history of the ballroom" and ending with a chapter called "she who laughs last at the sperm bank".

Now Brian, I have to say I'm not at all satisfied with your answers regarding the connecting of the real and the virtual, primarily because you continually apply the standards of the real world to the virtual world with what appears to be a non-investigation of those [other] qualities or standards the virtual [so far] evokes wholly on its own. My leaning toward virtual extremism is at the same time a search for some "purism" within the virtual. I don't want the virtual to merely become a reflection of the real, and that is precisely because it seems that we are actually lucky enough to be living at a time when the whole notion of a virtual realm is becoming a viable other realm--a wonderful time when it is truly possible to begin delivering something that is above all not more of the same [o. s.].
I can just as "rationally" argue that (and btw, I wouldn't keep on saying that you are taking a rational approach because it wrongly implies that my 'other' opinion is irrational, which is not the case at all--the "rational" clause and the "both/and, either/or" clause of your argument are just a little too close to being platitudes--a more careful look at my stance shows I am very much for the real and the virtual, I like having both, whereas, a careful look at your argument discloses a delimiting of the virtual to what is real) the electric infrastructure which you are wonderfully introducing into the realm of architectures, are indeed the more or less unwitting harbingers of an "other" realm, which almost magically enables a virtual other, while the power sources are not wholly other themselves.
Overall, your thesis as presented so far possesses many positive, intelligent, and thought provoking aspects--a real credit to your thinking and a real proof of your insightfulness. Nonetheless, there is some deficiency in the thesis, in that your design sensibilities do not yet match the intricate pattern of your "textual" investigations. This deficiency first became clear to me in your last few comparisons to Roman architecture, and now again in your "design" approach to merging the real and the virtual--both show a discernible lack of the sophistication exhibited in the initial presented texts.

For what it's worth, what John just said, "Which is why some argue that reason is too slow to be useful any more. Intuition and insight are speedier, but not as fast as illogic and madness." describes perfectly my position regarding design, and even more so art. Moreover, I began to think this way back in 1983, within the first month of my working as a computer-aided architect eight hours a day, five days a week. I never expected it, but I rather quickly saw that cad (and here I have to mention that I was using Intergraph, which was phenomenally superb even by most of today's standards) would be incredibly fast if the user/designer too was incredibly fast, however, the speed of the designer coming close to the speed of the computer meant a shift into spontaneous mode, a design mode rarely taught, and indeed most often severely denounced. Of course, I was not in a position to change the design mode of the firm I worked for, where they, like Brian now, continued to apply the existing drafting and design standards to this gigantic and very much revolutionary tool of dexterity. It was then that I became an artist as well as an architect, because the realm of art provided a place for spontaneity which architecture [then] did not. [As an aside, I find it extremely ironic that those architects presently investigating and now building topological architectures with the aid of computers still do not use cad in full spontaneous design mode, whereas, Frank Gehry, who was already in spontaneous design mode well before his office began employing cad, is, for me at least, a better example of design matching cad's, computer aided design's, potential.



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