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

enact   3 : to act out : REPRESENT, PLAY ~ vi : to act on or as if on the stage : PERFORM

reenact   2 : to act or perform again

reconstruct   : to construct again: as a (1) : to build again : REBUILD (2) : to make over : REPAIR b : to subject (an organ or part of the body) to surgery so as to correct a defect in or to reform c (1) : RECONSTITUTE (2) : REORGANIZE, REESTABLISH (3) : REHABILITATE d (1) : to put together again, REASSEMBLE

The act of reassembling archaeological artifacts into their original form or appearance is commonly called reconstructing, and the resultant new artifact is hence called a reconstruction. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius is most often referred to as a reconstruction, albeit a reconstruction of a most fanciful nature. Tafuri takes this assertion to an extreme when he states "the archaeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one: this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an unknown." It is correct that the Campo Marzio sports a mask, but it is a mask of reenactment and not one of reconstruction. Likewise, the Campo Marzio is indeed an experimental urban design, but it is not a design destined to remain unknown.

Piranesi published Il Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma in 1762, a time when the science of archaeology was yet in its infancy--in fact, Piranesi easily fulfills the role of ur-archaeologist. In 1744, just eighteen years prior to the Campo Marzio, Giambattista Vico published Scienza nouva (The New Science), wherein he "laid emphasis upon the need for the historian to recreate imaginatively the spirit of the past ages and the outlook and attitudes of mind possessed by the men who lived in them, instead of trying to impose upon them inappropriate interpretive models suggested by ways of thinking and feeling current in his own time."1 The second illustrative plate of Il Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma entitled "Scenographia Campi Martii" (literally the stage set of the Campus Martius) depicts the Field of Mars denuded of everything except for its ancient topography, and this elimination of all things non-Roman strongly suggests that Piranesi followed Vico's "new scientific" method.

It is upon the near empty stage of the Scenographia that Piranesi proceeds to reenact Roma antica.

1. Patrick L. Gardiner, "Philosophy of history" in Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969), vol. 11, p. 543.

2000.01.15 10:15
pretty [scarry] hybrid?
The following is an anecdote relative to the (new) notion of beauty (and aesthetics), etc.:

While still an architecture student, I spent the summer of 1978 working for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) stationed in Perry, Missouri, a very small town (pop. 931) 30 miles west of Hannibal (of Mark Twain fame). It was then that the city of St. Louis (120 miles south) became the 'big city' destination on several weekends. What struck me the most in St. Louis was Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch--not only is it an incredible sight from a distance, but even more amazing when perceived while walking around its base, (and I won't elaborate here about the "otherness" of its elevator ride up to the top observation room inside, which I believe I heard is something you can't do anymore).

On what was my third visit to St. Louis, I was with several of the other student architects I lived and worked with--it was their first trip. We were all around the same age and education level, i.e., early twenties and full of youthful over-confidence. I distinctly remember being asked by Mike, "So, what do you think of the arch?" (Mike and I were room mates, and we often 'discussed' architecture). I said, "I think the arch is very pretty." Well, Mike quickly told me that one just does not use the word 'pretty' when referring to architecture!--(apparently) pretty has such lowly connotations. I briefly argued that I thought 'pretty' was the best word to describe how I saw the arch, largely because I see its 'prettiness' as pretty much undeniable. I was confident I used the right word to describe how I felt about the arch.

Today, just two weeks into the 21st century, I looked up pretty in Webster's Third International Dictionary:

pretty 1 a : marked by or calling for skillful dexterity or artful care and ingenuity, esp. in coping with some difficult or complicated matter.

I am thus (finally) completely convinced I saw the arch for what it is, and then also described how I saw the arch in a most fitting manner.

Now being somewhat older (and hopefully somewhat wiser), if I were today asked what I thought of the arch, I'd say, "The St. Louis Arch is very likely the prettiest architecture-sculpture hybrid I will have ever seen[ographia]."

def: a-typological architecture
David L. Cuthbert wrote:
Eisenman's work approaches [a-typological design] - but to copy it is to make the same mistake twice.

Steve Lauf offers:
One of the people I immediately 'clicked' with at the Inside Density colloquium in Brussels, Belgium last week is Bernard Kormoss, who (even though living in Belgium) works for Peter Eisenman and who is currently working on a book entitled Eisenmanual (Monacelli Press and going to press in about 4 months). I believe Bernard is co-authoring the book, and he showed me the current mock-up. The book outlines all of Eisenman's work and thinking, and attempts to emulate hypertext in its layout and conceptual organization.

I would let Bernard know about the 'a-typological' definition, but I hesitate to do so because the definition so far and the term's use in the above example sentence do not coincide. The definition [a-typological architecture: based on Hegel's "back to themselves"--architecture not generated from examples but on the very psychological and physical conditions that are present] implies a positive newness of design based on given conditions alone, whereas the example sentence implies that 'a-typological' design is a mistake to begin with. (Yes David, I know what you are trying to say, but the sentence is exactly the opposite of the definition's intention.)

The main reason Bernard and I instantly 'clicked' (we were part of the same session and my paper was delivered first and his was third) is because he straight away understood how my concept of reenactment fit exactly with the point of his paper, which was that there is now indeed too much copying of Koolhaas and Eisenman by a 'second generation' that does not fully understand the process behind the 'original' designs (and here I'm over-simplifying Bernard's argument, and which I believe is what David's definition and sentence may be trying to convey). Bernard subsequently embraced the notion of 'critical' reenactment as a key to continuance of methodology that does not merely become an insufficient copy.



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