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

sprawl   3 : to spread or develop irregularly or ungracfully

1. Piranesi clearly demonstrates, with a dashed line running through the Ichnographia, that he knew the extent and location of ancient Rome's Aurelian Wall relative to the Campus Martius, but he then blatantly ignores this regulating feature in his own design. What is the meaning of this paradox? Is it merely another example of inversion? Or was Piranesi being prophetic in that the line between urban center and suburb is no longer a clear, distinct (built) demarcation?

2. Regardless of whatever reason Piranesi chose to negate the Aurelian Wall, it is nonetheless clear that he supplanted the wall and the regions beyond the wall with reenactments of ancient Rome itself. This leads to several questions concerning the urban sprawl of our time:
a. Are the suburbs of today reenactments of the cities they surround?
b. Could the suburbs of today be reenactments of the cities they surround?
c. Should the suburbs of today be reenactments of the cities they surround?

The black line indicates Piranesi's dashed demarcation of the Aurelian Wall. The area below the line was enclosed by the wall, while the area above line corresponds to ancient Rome's northern and western suburbs.

1999.12.28 17:50
the two Elenis
Two of the architects I met almost immediately in Brussels at the INSIDE DENSITY colloquium were both named Eleni--Eleni Gigantes and Eleni Kostika. We were members of the same "Thinking Density" session, and they presented their paper--Greece: Seasonal Densities, Built Density, Landscape Saturation--the ongoing transformation of a country through tourism--after I presented my paper. Upon hearing their talk, it wasn't difficult to see that our two papers had some strong similarities in that what happened in Greece vis--vis 'constructed' tourism comes very close to what Piranesi did within the Campo Marzio vis--vis reenactment. I quickly mentioned this similarity to the two Elenis in-between two of the subsequent papers, and then, during the session break, the three of us had a lengthy discussion regarding "what is reenactment?". I used Princess Diana's funeral as an easy example of ancient Rome's triumphal way being reenacted, and also said that modern Greece may in some circumstances be trying to reenact its ancient glory as an ingredient for tourism. Eleni Kostika still questioned the notion of reenactment, however, and offered that perhaps anything (or everything?) is indeed a reenactment of something. In the midst of all this, we found ourselves talking about Thanksgiving Day in the USA (actually it was Thanksgiving Day, but we were in Brussels), and it quickly dawned on Eleni Gigantes that Thanksgiving Day is a huge reenactment (if not the biggest reenactment within the United States).

I then turned the conversation into something the two Elenis did not expect, namely my work this year involving St. Helena, and my thesis that she was the first master architect of Christianity. Eleni is the original rendition of the name Helena, and I told Eleni and Eleni that they had no idea how thrilled I was to be sitting in Brussels having just met two architects named Eleni, and to be discussing architecture and reenactment with them. Of course, I gave them a quick synopsis of my thesis, and Eleni Gigantes absorbed it all most agreeably, while Eleni Kostika seemed to remain somewhat circumspect.

Just before going to Brussels, I had come to the conclusion that for me to effectively write about St. Helena's role as first master architect of Christianity, I had to concede that I, like many before me, would be writing yet another legend of St. Helena. Today, legends are usually thought of as popular myths (with myth being the operative word), but, by its first definition, a legend is indeed the story of the life of a saint. In either case, meeting Eleni and Eleni, two woman architects, in Brussels is a big part of my legend of St. Helena.

That night, as I lay sleepless in my hotel room, I thought about the strange coincidence of meeting two Elenis, and first I thought of the 'odd' and rare double early Christian basilicas that were built towards the end of Helena's life (the last of which still stands as (the many times rebuilt) double churches in Trier, Germany). And then I wondered whether Eleni Gigantes and Eleni Kostika, since both are architects, offer any insight into St. Helena's personality. And then I wondered whether a combination of Eleni Gigantes and Eleni Kostika provides a real glimpse of St. Helena [as architect].

1999.12.29 16:26
Brian wonders: lauf-s, I am wondering if you've encountered Baudrillard's ideas of simulcra and simulation in relation to reenactment. I am wondering how they are similiar/different/parallel ideas.

Steve replies: As it happens, I purchased and started reading Baudrillard's Simulation and Simulacra just over a week before I went to Brussels (i.e., mid-November). I was prompted to do this when (in early November) I started reading Neil Leach's The Anaesthetics of Architecture, where, in the introduction Leach writes a good bit about Baudrillard's sim-sim ideas. I right away saw the SIMilarities to what I'm formulating re: reenactment, and thus sought out Baudrillard's book.

I've only read like the first three essays of Simulation and Simulacra, and that's now over a month ago. Of the three essays, only the first relates reasonably to reenactment; the other two essays reminded me of Barthes' Mythologies. I have to finish the book, as well as give it a more careful analysis. So, your wondering about "similar/different/parallel ideas" is right on target, and that is precisely what I intend to investigate.

The excerpt you supplied from the online source is very useful, particularly the passage:
So it is with simulation, insofar as it is opposed to representation. The latter starts from the principle that the sign and the real are equivalent (even if this equivalence is utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Conversely, simulation starts from the utopia of this principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the edifice of representation a itself a simulacrum. This would be the successive phases of the image:
* it is the reflection of a basic reality.
* it masks and perverts a basic reality.
* it masks the absence of a basic reality.
* it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

If I may be so bold, I'd say that the notion of reenactment is indeed missing form the above set of 'simulation', 'representation', 'sign', and 'simulacra', that is, even though what Baudrillard says here is succinct and 'correct', it might just be nonetheless incomplete because reenactment is a continuation, an ongoing affirmation of specific past 'realities'. There is more than a mere thin distinction between 'reflection' and 'ongoing affirmation' or 'continuation'. The core issue for reenactment may be the distinction between ENACTMENT and a subsequent(ly necessary by definition) REENACTMENT. Is it correct to say that, for example, Beethoven's actual composing of a symphony is the enactment of the symphony, and hence every performance of the symphony (even the first performance and regardless of the interpretive differences of the rest) is a reenactment? As I said here about a month ago, reenactment involves a play with degrees of separation, specifically degrees of separation from the original enactment (and what Baudrillard does above is essentially map out degrees of separation in the mostly negative extreme).

So far, for me at least, the notion of reenactment (especially with regard to architecture and design and the built environment in general), helps raise significant questions, the answers to which may define what reenactment is or what reenactment is not.

Is Disney's Magic Kingdom really a reenactment of the Garden of Eden (including the unavoidable temptation of capitalism) with some very carefully designed degrees of separation? Is Las Vegas really a reenactment of all that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil had/has to offer? And yes, is New Urbanism really a reenactment of the White (Aryan/American) Dream?



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