Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Eisenman, Peter


Eisenman, Peter

continual mistakes and reversals

After seeing how the figure captions are inverted with regard to the Ichnographia and the Nolli Plan in the Peter Eisenman section of Autonomy and Ideology, it reminded me of the other mistaken inversions that I have found in other texts on the Ichnographia. For example, the east/west and other mistakes (Equirria and Antoninus Pius) of Fasolo, the mis-characterization in the Ichnographia-Jerusalem essay, the mention of inversion in the Allen essay, and my own mistake about the direction of the Triumphal Way. I find these mistakes to be uncanny, as if the Ichnographia had the power to confuse anyone who studied it (and here I can quote Kreiger).

"Rome's Campus Martius suggests an impossible tension among competing parts, perhaps even anarchy. The engraving itself seems to pulsate and change patterns as one studies it."

The strange thing is that Piranesi seems to make the same kind of (archeological) mistakes.

Tafuri, Manfredo

After an extended independent analysis of the Ichnographia Campus Martius, it becomes evident that Tafuri misreads Piranesi's large plan in most cases. Tafuri's text indicates no research of the plan beyond simply looking at it and subsequently offering a description of what Tafuri thinks he sees. (In fact, a careful reading of both Tafuri's texts and the text of Fasolo from 1956, clearly shows that Fasolo's text greatly influenced Tafuri's observations.) For example, in calling out the various axes of the Campo Marzio, Tafuri notes the axis running through Hadrian's Tomb, but he fails to recognize it's symbolic function as the Axis of Death; nor does he identify the Axis of Life that runs perpendicular to the Axis of Death. Moreover, Tafuri marginally notes the semblance of an axis within the northeast sector of the plan, yet he never mentions that Piranesi labeled this axis the Equiria, place of the annual horse races instituted by Romulus in honor of Mars.

These are just two examples which plainly demonstrate that Piranesi's plan holds significant and coherent symbolic content, however, recognition of Piranesi's "carved in stone" symbolism necessarily negates Tafuri's primary thesis that the Ichnographiam Campi Martii is utterly fragmented and devoid of "language." Ironically, had Tafuri not discounted the presence of language and instead actually translated the hundreds of Latin labels Piranesi applies throughout the plan, he would have concluded with a more accurate, if not also a more honest reading.

It is truly unfortunate that the subsequent 20th century Campo Marzio analyses of Allen, Bloomer, and Eisenman, build upon Tafuri's mistakes rather than correct them.

Eisenman should read this

Eisenman's reference/connection/interpretation of the interstitial within the Campo Marzio is a case of mis-identification. There is an interstitial within the Campo Marzio, but it is not the smaller (vernacular) non-descript buildings that Eisenman points to. The interstitial of the Campo Marzio are precisely the Latin labels that Piranesi intersperses throughout the large plan that holds the entire design of the large plan together.

It is ironic that Tafuri states that it is exactly language that is missing from the Campo Marzio, when, in fact, it is precisely language that congeals the large plan into a cohesive whole.

There is far more order than disorder within the Ichnographia.

on the Campo Marzio:

For me, [the Campo Marzio] possesses a notion of criticality and autonomy in its notion of autonomous time, in its movement of buildings, in its invention of buildings, in its denial of the hierarchy of the baroque city. In all of these it transgresses the established norms of the time to establish an autonomous discourse of architectural time.
Peter Eisenman in Autonomy and Ideology: positioning the avant-garde in America (New York: Monacelli Press, 1997), p.79.

As early as the mid-18th century, Piranesi questioned the legitimacy of the figure/ground relationship, particularly in his drawing of the Campo Marzio. Piranesi operated on two conditions in this drawing. First, he obliterated the relationship of figure to ground by producing a plan of only figures, a figure/figure urbanism in which the ground is only an emptiness outlining the filigree of the figures. Second, and more importantly in this context, he inserted, even in the smallest voids between the figures additional figures, which can be called interstitial figures.

Traditionally, the interstitial in architecture is seen as a solid figuration generally known as poché, which is an articulated solid -- usually a wall or facade -- between two spaces. While the interstitial is a containing presence that is figured or articulated, it is also primarily inert or static. This interstitial is figurative in the Deleuzian sense because it already embodies its content as a container that encloses, shelters, and has an aesthetic.
Peter Eisenman, "Zones of Undecidability: The Interstitial Figure" in Anybody (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), p.243.

eros et thanatos

from Digital Eisenman
1999 (2000.03.29)

. . . Another figurative and conceptual analogy is used by Piranesi in Campo Marzio: here we see the triumph of the method of arbitrary associations and the exclusion of any definite structure through the principles of aggregation.

"The recognition of some alignments only serve to highlight with greater clarity the 'triumph of the fragment' that dominates the shapeless piling up of sham bodies" (Tafuri). Moreover, Tafuri affirms that Piranesi's intention is to detect the birth of a meaningless architecture, cut off from all symbolism and every value outside architecture itself.

Eisenman also searches for a loss of meaning that will restore to architecture a real value, lost in contemporary society. Eisenman sees the Campo Marzio as an example of a new type of urban form that is defined through the relationship between figures. This type of urbanism may be regarded as the first modern plan because of its complex internal logic. It was the first town plan to emphasize an anti-hierarchical ideology. A conception that breaks the linear continuity with tradition from an extensive point of view, the space-time continuum where ever step is directly linked to the one before. The translation of this system into urban forms represents the idea of a relationship between figure and ground, where the solid and the void exist in a sort of dialectic tension.

The development of thought has meant that the ideal of an intensive spatial relation now replaces the extensive idea of the evolutionary continuum. (Eisenman -- Maurizio Bradaschia, interview in Il Progretto, no. 1, 1997)

Turning to today's situation, we can affirm that we now look at history in a similar light to Piranesi. The technical obsession with assembly represents an extreme attempt to undermine language and restore inventive freedom. Piranesi's transgression, his anticlassical interpretation of Roman monuments, is the same ongoing criticism adopted by Eisenman.

Piranesi shows something different, His views of ancient Rome often distort the real dimensions of the buildings: a typical example is the view of the Pantheon square in which the Imperial rotunda is reduced, whereas a giant obelisk standing in the centre of the fountain towers over it. Piranesi's engraving illustrates a truth (sic) that goes further than reality. The Pantheon blends into the urban continuum, it mixes with the city (Tafuri).

Eisenman proposes an urban system based on the Piranesian concept of relations between figures in his project for the Klinghofer Triangle in Berlin (Eisenman, L'Architettura - cronache e storia, no. 484.), but contrary to Piranesi's invention for Campo Marzio, his system is not based on the reinterpretation of classic Roman forms; it is inspired by the development of contemporary thought, and in particular the profound transformation of forms that took place between the mechanical era and the information era. As a symbol of this transformation, he chooses two analogous figures, each of which represents a different era: a clock mechanism and the digital microchip of a computer. Both represent a transition and are images of their time.

Piranesi uses Roman architecture, whereas Eisenman adopts a technique called morphing used in contemporary cinema: a transformation technique, a system capable of changing the chosen figures so that none is dominant; there is no relationship between the figure and the ground, but only between the overlapping figures, transformed into a new system of urban living. Architecture is reborn outside any recognized dogmas. At this point, the project embarks on the development process using the digital system; the diagram is generated and influences the setting according to two scales of intervention. The first is at the city level, where morphing restores the site's position by creating a new relationship with the power centers. This leads to a new relationship with the government buildings at Spreebogen, the President's new residence, and the general HQ of Potsdamer Platz.

On the second scale, the building block, the process suggests a new way of living. The perimeter of the block was a valid urban concept when everyone living in the block shared the semi-public ground. But now this kind of space cannot be divided any longer owing to today's high urban densities, and the available space is constantly shrinking. Eisenman's project creates a new system of relations that are no longer tied to the relations between the residential block and public ground. It restores open spaces to everyone by making different use of the ground, optimizing its enjoyment.

This figure/figure system leads to the creation of a wide variety of building types, easily adapted to changing living requirements. An urban conception that is no longer deterministic, but adaptive, using the landscape as an active element capable of organizing its own layout; buildings are no longer seen as functional containers, but integrated systems capable of changing the very nature of the city itself. Total flexibility and a method that acts directly on the height, transparency, density and program, rather than on form. As in Piranesi's theoretical work and projects, Eisenman asks himself about the architect's role and his capacity to shape space. The logic of decomposition, much discussed and reinterpreted in the context of different works, reveals the discovery of the contradiction principle. The art of dialectic development, an architecture that evolves around itself and manages to renew itself by destroying each goal once it has been achieved. Eisemnan's works give movement to Piranesi's views, forcing the language where necessary and searching in formal excess for a critical but not necessarily linear system of evolution.
Luca Galofara, Digital Eisenman : an office of the electronic era (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1999). pp. 18-23.

Re: Colin Rowe
1999.11.07 13:08

Just over a year ago I learned that Colin Rowe had a copy of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius hanging over his desk. I believe it was given to him at some recognition ceremony vis-à-vis Collage City.

Eisenman (in Autonomy and Ideology) chides Rowe for looking too closely at Nolli's Map of Rome and not looking at Piranesi's Campo Marzio close enough. Ironically, within the Eisenman piece the illustrations and captions of the Ichnographia and Nolli's Map of Rome are inverted!

abstract for Studium Urbis
2003.01.19 17:26

Mnemonically Delineating Veracity

"Authenticity is one thing, veracity another."
Marguerite Yourcenar, "Faces of History in the Historia Augusta" in The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays.

An apparent lack of veracity has always been at issue within modern interpretations G. B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campi Martii (1757-62) despite Piranesi's extraordinary 'scientific' knowledge of ancient Rome and it's remains as evident throughout the four volumes of Le Antichità Romane (1756), as well as throughout Piranesi's other archaeological publications, including the Il Campo Marzio dell'Antica Roma. Contemporary architectural theorists from historian Manfredo Tafuri to architect Peter Eisenman view the Ichnographia as a city devoid of its own history, thus a plan prognosticating autonomous urbanism, yet that is exactly what the Ichnographia Campi Martii is not.

Beginning with comparisons between select portions of the Piranesi's Ichnographia and Giambattista Nolli's Pianta Grande di Roma, it becomes clear that the Ichnographia is an elaborate mnemonic devise. Like the imaginary building plans that Roman orators created in their minds as an aid toward the memorization of their speeches, the Ichnographia is literally an imaginary plan manifest as an aid toward the memorization of virtually all of ancient Rome's history. Thus the Ichnographia is not a fantastical reconstruction, rather, like the art of memory itself, the Ichnographia is a reenactment.

Mnemonically Delineating Veracity concludes with a brief reenactment of how an independent artist from Philadelphia came to discover a heretofore unnoticed initial(?) printing of the Ichnographia Campi Martii.

Re: clarification
2005.05.08 19:03

First off, I accidentally skipped a paragraph within the passages I sent you earlier today. The missing paragraphs comes after "...Campo Marzio leads to the same conclusion." Here's the paragraph:

The obsessive articulation and deformation of the composition no longer correspond to an ars combinatoria. The clash of the geometric "monads" is no longer regulated by any "preestablished harmony"; and, most important, it demonstrates that the only meaning this paradoxical casuistry can refer back to is pure geometry, in the absolute semantic void that characterizes it.

It seems that Tafuri saw (in the Campo Marzio) individual plans that don't signify anything either historic or symbolic or even realistically typologic, and all together the Ichnographia is heap of meaningless fragments, thus it's all a divorce from any symbolic/meaningful system.

I just read some of Barthes' Elements of Semiology where a sign is composed of a signifier and a signified, and, what Tafuri sees is the Campo Marzio plans (individually and as a 'whole') as signs that still have a signifier, i.e., architectural building plans, but these signs/plans lack a signified, something that gives the plans any real meaning.

In reality, Piranesi employed all kinds of signs that carry a wide variety of signifiers--sometimes it's the shape of the plan(s), sometimes it's the placement/location (rightly or wrongly) of the plan(s), often it's just the label/name attached to the plan (which signify at least some historical existence), and then there are examples of combinations of the above distinctions, e.g., the Atrium Minerva (wisdom) as centerpiece of the 'garden of satire' which is situated at a location coincident with the top of the Spanish Steps, where Piranesi moved his family and business about a years after the Campo Marzio was published.

Anyway, there is so much out there now (especially from Eisenman) regarding this great analysis that Tafuri did, that this may be just the beginning of a great unraveling. Odd, I never imagined that reenactment would be at the center of all this.

In simple terms, Tafuri's work is unfortunately a history that was cooked too quickly, served too quickly, and eaten up too quickly.

It rocked Eisenman in his chair...
2005.11.08 15:23

The following is part of an unexpected email I received about an hour ago:

"I am a student at the Yale Graduate school of Architecture. We have Eisenman as a professor and he makes us analyse, among others, Piranesi's Campo Marzio. Along with my own analysis, I used some of the more striking parts of your very interesting and excellent analysis. It rocked Eisenman on his chair and he is now inquiring into your analysis, of which he had not heard."

Eisenman was rocked in his socks!
2005.11.15 13:17

[Eisenman] mentions in "The Wicked Critic" (2000) that "This document [the Ichnographia], then, is a useful example for Tafuri for two principal reasons: first, in his montage of actual buildings, fantasy buildings, and buildings moved from their actual site..." It's worthwhile noting that no where does Tafuri ever mention that some buildings within the Ichnographia are moved from their actual site, yet within the Encyclopedia Ichnographica as published at www.quondam.com 1998-2000 there is much note of buildings within the Ichnographia that Piranesi moved from their actual site. Moreover, that Piranesi moved some buildings from their actual site is indeed part of the original material within the analysis of the Ichnographia at www.quondam.com.



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