Over the four day weekend I had the opportunity to visit and study a whole slew of Carlo Scarpa’s works, and honestly, out of any places I’ve been to or seen photographs of, Scarpa is the only one who matches the compositional expertise and focus of Frank Lloyd Wright in my mind. And he matches my Buddy Frank with far fewer built works. This is an architect who has mastered the detail beyond any other. Every connection on a stair rail, and every square meter of wall is a work of art in itself. He is not one to design an element and repeat it throughout a project either. Every element is different from the preceding one, and they build up into a mysterious and bewitching whole. Scarpa’s works are not determined by bold showy architectural “moves”, but by a complex interlocking of every single detail and constructed element on the site.
I took a train to his Brion Family Cemetery where he is also buried, and experienced an architecture that was somber, humble, understated, powerful, sincere, poetic, transformative, timeless, and still. It was unlike any other architecture; the feeling I experienced there could only be compared to the peacefulness of Taliesin, nestled into it’s Wisconsin hillside, truly of it’s place.
I sat and attempted to take in the amount of thought that could compose a place such as this. Every view is perfectly framed, the light shines in, as if straight from the heavens, and shadows play off each other and are reflected in shallow pools.
How, as an architect, do you create something that captures the emotion of death and of mourning? I would challenge Calatrava or Zaha Hadid to create such as place that is even adequate. The forms they use are in their very nature bold, arrogant and showy. An entertainment. Death isn’t about entertainment.
Water was a common element throughout the cemetery, a reflecting pond here, fountain there, lily pond at the edge, and a thin channel of water through the middle. It was quiet. Incredible.
My trip to the Brion work was followed by the Castelvecchio, also insanely and frustratingly beautiful. Aside from the display cases, there is a bridge between two structures that cuts diagonally across the void. The roof continues above you as if part of the building had fallen away, and a stairway juts out to meet you, slicing through the opening in the wall, yet revealing the existing structure tenderly and carefully, with the same silence as at Brion.
One of the things I love most about Scarpa’s works is that element of mystery. Stairways that wind down into some unknown room, screens standing quietly and concealing yet another space that seems to fold unexpectedly into the older structures, floating stairs, and streams of water from hidden locations. Each of these is never there just for effect, but gives way to whole new spaces, and always reveals its secret.
Check out this video Will made as the guys were on their way back from the long weekend in Switzerland. They went to see a few of Peter Zumthor’s works, and I think the Baths in Vals made them a little loopy. Hilarious:
The last few weeks here have been a complete blur. There’s still so much to see and so little time left, I feel as though I’ve seen almost nothing at all. The long weekend has come and gone, and I’ve divided my time between studio, countless museums, and a weekend or two at the beach. There’s actually so much to write about, I feel overwhelmed simply writing one experience down on paper.
While this most recent weekend was filled with preparing for the studio final and what was probably the last day I will spend at the Mediterranean this trip, the weekend before was truly incredible. (To put it in the words of one of my sister’s classmates, “It was life-changing.”) I traveled to Venice with a group of the girls and spent time at the Piazza San Marco, which I suppose every tourist has to do, and walked through the Doge’s Palace, a true Venetian masterpiece of the middle ages. I entered with my little group and quickly fell behind them as I wandered through the exhibits and stopped to sketch in the courtyard. Before I knew it, they all came out of the museum, asking if I had already gone through. So the rest of the Doge’s palace was kind of a rush, but still fun. Later we went into the Museo Correr, the museum at the end of the Piazza, and studied all the roman sculptures, of course arguing over which was the most handsome. Ha, just kidding…sort of.
The last of the exhibitions was designed by My Man Carlo (ie Carlo Scarpa) also known as Scarps, by me at least. Anyway, this guy is pretty incredible, and if anybody knows how to design a museum exhibit, it’s him. I spent about an hour just sketching the sculpture bases, screens, and other displays he designed. I kinda missed the art in that exhibition…sorry. There’s a unique combination of both flow and balance that guides the visitor through the spaces, and really frames the art itself.
I broke off from the group later in search of the Masieri Foundation, the site and program of my studio project Winter term 2010. Unfortunately there’s a locked gate at the beginning of the passageway to the canal :( At least I got plenty of photos from the Grand Canal.
The next day we went to see the inside of the Basilica San Marco, but decided the line was just too long, and there were so many other things to see in Venice. I had read about Tadao Ando’s renovation of the Punta della Dogana, the triangular building at the tip of the south end of the Grand Canal, so I convinced a few others to join me.
I was actually pleasantly surprised. I expected Ando’s work to be a little cold and impersonal (I know, stereotype concrete construction why don’t you) but I loved it. It might have been the contrast between the new concrete and steel walls and the old brick and wood trusses of the original structure. The art exhibited there was also beautiful and bold, and very interesting, compared with my opinion of the art in the Zaha Hadid art museum. I thought the construction was very thoughtful and solid, which I can’t say at all for Zaha.
We also visited the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which was an amazing experience. I had the chance to see some of the works I had studied in my spring art history course, including Picasso’s, Rothko’s, Boccioni’s, and Max Ernst’s, which I especially found interesting. In art history texts, these modern works often look boring and simple, but up close, all the textures and strokes come alive off the canvas, and they are truly stunning.
I did a little bit of shopping in Venice, and bought a beautiful watercolor painting, a book on the Querini Stampalia, and an adorable architectural version of the three little pigs. Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, and my buddy Frank each play a starring role.
I made a visit to the Querini Stampalia, a gallery and library, and one of My Man Carlo’s seminal works. Unfortunately it was closed for 3 months due to the Italian Government’s budget cuts to the arts. As a result, I had to settle for sketching a few details of the bridge connecting the building to the small piazza adjoining it across the canal.
With that, I rushed over to the Gallerie dell Accademia, a museum whose exhibits were also designed by Scarps. The railing he designed for the entrance to the museum was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (excepting of course the Brion Cemetery, which I’ll bring up later). They didn’t allow pictures, but I made a few sketches.
By this time, I had to take the boat bus back to the train station, but I did get the chance to see Calatrava’s new bridge across the grand canal. I don’t think this piece of architecture was at all appropriate to it’s site. It’s almost like a giant slug tried to cross the canal and got stuck (Sorry Santiago, but it’s true, try harder next time) (btw Santiago, what does blood red have to do with Venice?)
Anyway, I think I’ll save Vicenza and Verona for the next post.