Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Tafuri, Manfredo


Tafuri, Manfredo

Tafuri, Manfredo; architectural historian and theorist; b. November 4, 1935; d. February 3, 1994.
Architecture and Utopia - Design and Capitalist Development (1976) and The Sphere and the Labyrinth - Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (1987) entitle the texts within which Tafuri lays out his interpretation of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius.

Tafuri text

From Manfredo Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth - Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987):

p. 33-36: In the Campo Marzio (The Field of Mars) the metaphor of the machine-universe heralded in the Carceri is fully developed and articulated. To confirm Piranesi's relationship to the neomannerist style of the Roman eighteenth century, we must observe that it is here in the reconstruction of the Campo Marzio that he gives form to what in the sixteenth century, or in the era of the so-called baroque Mannerism, was still an unexpressed hypothesis, a utopia so dangerous that it could be manifested only through allusion and in structures of limited dimensions.

The dissolution of form touches urban structure in the Campo Marzio--no longer with the oneiric pretext of the Carceri. Of course, the ulterior historicist pretext remains. But, as we shall see, also in the Campo Marzio (in fact, principally in Campo Marzio) Piranesi uses that pretext as a double-edged weapon: the Auflösung [the dissolution] touches both history, inasmuch as it is a principle of value and an instrument of action, and the very concept of the city.

Compared to the Carceri, the Campo Marzio actually appears polemical and self critical. It was published in 1761-62, at the same time as Magnifcenza ed architectura de' Romani and slightly after the re-elaboration of the Invenzioni capricciose di Carceri. We have already observed how this re-elaboration marks the advent of an intense crisis of the object in the Piranesian poetics. In the Campo Marzio what is contested is the limitedness, the abstractness, the randomness of the hermetic "objects" that throng the plates of the Carceri of 1760.

[...] This makes even more significant the fact that the Carceri and the Campo Marzio unequivocably attack "language insofar as it is a mode of acting upon the world."

We must verify our observations in the very heart of the structure of the Campo Marzio. It is immediately apparent that this structure is composed of a formless heap of fragments colliding one against the other. The whole area between the Tiber, the Campidoglio, the Quirinale, and the Pincio is represented according to a method of arbitrary association (even though Piranesi accepts the suggestions of the Forma urbis), whose principles of organization exclude any organic unity. Only the area of the northeast and the southwest, included in the double bend of the river, seem to be recomposed into structures in some way unitary and well defined: two orthogonal axes, roughly parallel to the course of the river's bend, guide the composition of the Sepulchrum Hadriani [Hadrian's Tomb], of the complex formed by the two circuses of Hadrian and Domitian, which extend along the axis of the mausoleum, of the Circus Agonalis, of the Circus Flaminius, of the Templum Martis, of the Gimnasium Neronis, of the Terme [Baths] of Agrippa. A second alignment, regulated by a rectilinear axis, is found in the northeast sector.

Here we come upon a succession of groups of monuments, totally without archeological basis and characterized rather as public facilities: the Porticus amoenitati annexed to a gymnasium, the Naumachia Domitiani, a triangulation of areas of green, protected by the "statuae virorum illustrium" and connected to a natatio, it, too, triangular, open on the other side of the Pons Fabianus.

Clearly, however, the acknowledgment of these alignments serves only to heighten still further the "triumph of the fragment," which dominates the formless tangle of the spurious organisms of the Campo Marzio. Not by accident does it take on the appearance of a homogeneous magnetic field jammed with objects having nothing to do with each other. Only with extreme effort is it possible to extract from that field well defined typological structures. And even when we have established a casuistic complex of organisms based on triadic, polycentric, multilineal laws, or on virtuoso curvilinear layouts, we end up with a kind of typological negation, an "architectural banquet of nausea," a semantic void created by an excess of visual noise.

Yet it is worth noting that what is valid for the entire composition is even more valid for the individual organisms. It is evident that, in his Campo Marzio, Piranesi presents a virtual catalogue, a typological sample book of models based on an exception that very effectively gives the lie to the rule. For further verification of this, note to which the degree to which the structures of Hadrian's tomb, the Pantheon, or the Theatre of Marcellus--among the few major monumental works in Piranesi's plates having a basis in reality--are arbitrarily reduced to minor, almost unrecognizable incidents, even as they are inserted into a continuum of fragments that deprives them of any autonomy as well as of the very status of "monument." They are exceptions that do not confirm a rule, then, and that lack any hierarchical organization. All of which permits Piranesi to show, simultaneously, just how vast the fields of these exceptions can be, once a generic classical reference has been appropriated by an experimentation based on geometrical deformations having no limits. But this same exaltation of the fragment also permits him to demonstrate, conversely, the uselessness of this breathless pursuit of exceptional structures.

Note, for example, the insertion of the officinae machinarum militarium within the triangle formed by the three large piazzas joined at the Pons Fabianus. The central star, formed by the intersection of two equilateral triangles, appears to be rotated with respect to its natural lying position, so that its vertices, aligned on the cross-axis, terminate in the little side rooms flanking the large site: the whole organism seems to be a kind of clockwork mechanism, in which, however, there is an independence of the parts and a lack of interest in formal qualities.

Also structured like hermetic "machines" are the organisms of the Circus Agonalis and the group of the Templum Martis and the Gimnasium Neronis, which form a kind of enormous notched wheel having differentiated spokes; the group located at the center of the Cripta Balbi, based on the intersection of two ternary groups of circular spaces and of a central rotunda defined by several concentric orders of columns broken by trapezoidal rooms on the traverse axis; or, finally, the group dominated by the Bustum Caesaris Augusti, an imposing collection of regular and irregular geometric forms one grafted on to the other according to the law of opposition. (Attention is also called, in passing, to the appearance of two phallic-shaped planimetric organisms converging on the hexagonal atrium, which foreshadow, perhaps with no other intent than a pure ludus geometrico, the project of Ledoux's Oikema and some of Soane's typological notions.)

But it is in the Horti Luciliani that the mechanical architecture of Piranesi reaches an extreme level of abstraction. Here, a complex of structures in semicircles and in sectors of circles obeys the rule of gemmation, as they revolve around the Atrium Minervae: an astonishing mechanism, in which Piranesi achieves the maximum refinement of his geometric instruments.

p.37: The duplicity in the Campo Marzio becomes evident. The typological casuistry, at the very moment it finds itself fully liberated, demonstrates its own inability to structure an urban organism. The supremacy of pure form declares its own ineffectuality when confronted by the power of space.

One cannot exclude the possibility that Piranesi had as a second goal a criticism of the obsessive typological experimentalism of eighteen-century Europe. If this were so, the sample book contained in the planimetry of the Campo Marzio would serve as an explicit moralistic warning. Such a hypothesis can be confirmed by certain passages of Piranesi's commentary on the plates. In fact, in the dedicatory letter to Robert Adam, Piranesi hides between the lines his negative opinion of the transformations wrought on the Campo Marzio in the Imperial Age: "...when...the Empire was given to one person alone...that site was kept, no longer for the use of the military, but to introduce the populace to pleasure." It is difficult not to discern here a parallel between the ancient tyranny of one man alone and the tyranny of the ancien régime. The republican virtues appear once more as polemical models of reference. The above is confirmed subsequently by a parallel that Piranesi draws between two architectural "decadences"--that of the Imperial Age and that of the late baroque. He writes:

What I must fear, rather, is that certain aspects of this delineation of the Campo might seem inspired by pure caprice, rather than drawn from what is real; if someone compares these aspects with the ancient manner of architecture, he will see that many of them break with tradition, and resemble the usage of our own time. But whoever he is, before condemning anyone of imposture, let him observe the ancient plan of Rome mentioned above [the Forma urbis in the Campidoglio], let him observe the ancient villas of Lazio, the villa of Hadrian in Tivoli, the sepulchers, and the other buildings in Rome that remain, in particular outside of Porta Capena: he will not find more invented by the moderns, than by the ancients, in accordance with the most rigid laws of architecture."

comments on Tafuri

p. 13:
"It was Piranesi who carried out Laugier's theoretical intuitions to their extreme conclusions. His ambiguous evocation of the Campo Marzio is the graphic monument of that tentative opening of late Baroque culture to revolutionary ideas."

I imagine Tafuri's statement may refer to Laugier's chapters on "the Embellishment of Towns" and on "the Embellishment of Gardens."

pp. 14-16:
"In Piranesi's Campo Marzio the late Baroque principle of variety is completely rejected. Since Roman antiquity is not only a recollection imbued with nostalgic ideologies and revolutionary expectations, but also a myth to be contested, all forms of classical derivation are treated as mere fragments, as deformed symbols, as hallucinating organisms of an "order" in a state of decay.

What does the late Baroque principle of "variety" mean?

Perhaps a better interpretation is that Piranesi's Campo Marzio is a "new reality," namely the realm of the virtual. Piranesi is here taking "history" down a totally new path. By "redrawing" history he is, in fact, "writing" a new history.

Here the order in the details does not produce a simple "tumult in the whole." Rather, it creates a monstrous pullulation of symbols devoid of significance. Like the sadistic atmosphere of his Carceri, Piranesi's "forest" demonstrates that it is not only the sleep of reason" that conjures up monsters, but that even the "wakefulness of reason" can lead to deformation: even if its goal be the Sublime.

pullulate 1 a : to send out shoots or show signs of growth : BUD, GEMINATE b : to breed rapidly : produce abundantly 2 a : to increase rapidly : become abundant : MULTIPLY b : SWARM, TEEM

The definition of pullulation goes hand in hand with the notion of a fertilized architecture. I can now more confidently speak of the Campo Marzio as perhaps the ultimate fertilization of Roman architecture. The well established fertility of Roman architecture has finally become actually fertilized, and this notion can be specifically illustrated in my "hierarchy of the plans."

The "forest" I assume refers to Laugier and to the place of origin.

Piranesi's critical interpretation of the Campo Marzio was not without a prophetic quality. In this work the most advanced point of Enlightenment architecture seems precisely and emphatically to warn of the imminent danger of losing altogether the organic quality of form. It was not the idea of totality and universality that was in crisis.

I am not sure what Tafuri means regarding "the immanent danger of losing all together the organic quality of form." What exactly is the "organic quality of form?"

For me, and perhaps also in truth, the organic quality of anything is not a single process, but many processes, i.e., all the physiologies.

Architecture might make the effort to maintain its completeness and preserve itself from total destruction, but such an effort is nullified by the assemblage of architectural pieces in the city. It is in the city that these fragments are pitilessly absorbed and deprived of any autonomy, and this situation cannot be reversed by obstinately forcing the fragments to assume articulated, composite configurations. In the Campo Marzio we witness an epic representation of the battle of architecture waged against itself. This historically developed language of building types is affirmed here as a superior principle of order, but the configuration of the single building types tends to destroy the very concept of the historically developed language as a whole. History is here invoked as an inherent "value," but Piranesi's paradoxical rejection of historical, archeological reality makes the civic potential of the total image very doubtful. Formal invention seems to declare its own primacy, but the obsessive reiteration of the inventions reduces the whole organism to a sort of gigantic "useless machine."

The Campo Marzio is an "assembledge" only after a long history of accretion, however.

accretion 1 : the process of growth or enlargement a : continued development from within b : increase by external addition or accumulation (as by adhesion of external parts or particles) c (1) : the increase or extension of the boundaries of land or the consequent acquisition of land accruing to the owner by the gradual or imperceptible action of natural forces (as by the washing up of sand or soil from the sea of a river or by a gradual recession of the water from the usual watermark) 3 : CONCRETION : cohesion of separate particles

assemblage 1 a : a collection of individuals or of particular things : AGGREGATION b : a group of organisms or fossils sharing a common situation (as a microhabitat) essentially by chance 2 a : the act of assembling : ASSEMBLY b : the state of being assembled 3 : AGGREGATE 5 : the total of related culture trails and artifacts associated with any one archeological manifestation

The battle (in architecture) of type against the language of a whole is a perfect example of the create/destroy metabolic process.

Piranesi does not reject historical and archeological reality as much as he "redraws" it. He re-presents ancient Rome in its ultimate fertilized state.

I contest the notion of "useless" because the Campo Marzio is actually a place that is adroitly programmed: the theater district, the place of burial, the military camp, suburban gardens and villas.

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.

Again, "rationality" and "irrationality" relate to the metabolic imagination.

Where exactly is the proof of "uselessness?" Perhaps the expression "useless machine" is only used as an oxymoron symbolizing the contradiction (metabolic) nature of the plan.

useless : having or being of no use : producing no good end : answering no desired purpose : INEFFECTUAL, INEFFICIENT, UNSERVICEABLE

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.

The archeology of the Campo Marzio is not a mask, but rather a means to an end, an end that actually goes beyond archeology and into the virtual.

The city of the Campo Marzio can be known because I myself now know it, and knowing it reveals much more evidence of the plan's ultimate meaning that must now be taken into consideration.

The notion of rationality and irrationality no longer being mutually exclusive describes metabolism at its best.

The notion of an "equilibrium of opposites" is more descriptive of the osmotic process.

Essentially it is the struggle between architecture and the city, between the demand for order and the will to formlessness, that assumes epic tone in Piranesi's Campo Marzio. Here the "Enlightenment dialectic" on architecture reached an unsurpassed height; but at the same time it reached an ideal tension so violent that it could not be understood as such by Piranesi's contemporaries. Piranesi's excess--as otherwise the excesses of libertine literature of the era of the philosophes--becomes, just through its excessiveness, the revelation of a truth. But the developments of Enlightenment architecture and city planning were quickly to hide that truth."

I am not sure, at this point, what I think of the notion of architecture and the city as being the metabolic process incarnate, however, I do see their combination as the generator of the virtual realm.

"Piranesi's excess" coincides with the chronosomatic notion of an architecture of extremes, and perhaps in both cases, the extreme is the region where truth is most readily found.



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