Posts tagged with "Vincent Scully":

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A new book on Rome’s urban formation probes its political and historical roots

In one of his last interviews, Vincent Scully claimed, “When you go abroad for the first time, most of your thoughts are about your home. Because you need to define yourself as you confront a very different culture.” Americans, Scully believed, “experienced this phenomenon with special intensity.” Indeed, for traveling American architects, going back to Daniel D.H. Burnham and forward to Robert Venturi, and of course for Scully himself, this was never truer than with regard to their experiences in Rome. In Rome: Urban Formation and Transformation, the author, Jon Michael Schwarting, maintains a certain distance from the American academic context and produces a rational, detailed examination of Rome (and other Italian cities) and a method of investigating and understanding architecture and urbanism by searching its rational basis. Both of these aims are achieved without claiming historical precision but by using history in a polemical, rather than factual, manner. A collage of a great amount of information and studies regarding Rome’s urban structure, this material was gathered over years of research, formally conducted at Cornell University in the 1970s and further elaborated in five case studies by students working in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture program in Rome during the early ’80s. Schwarting was a student of Colin Rowe’s at Cornell, who, Charles Jencks said, “[gave] the younger generations of architects the metaphor of the past, of history, of references, as a viable generator of present form.” Influenced by Rowe’s vision, the author collects historical, analytical, and graphic data derived from these elaborate examinations of the ancient city, which is seen as a perfect case study to comprehend and demonstrate how urban formation, transformation, and architecture in general are in a critical relationship with the concepts of the ideal, the utopian, and the physical reality. Schwarting’s principle interest is to explore how, at various scales, the political, social, and cultural scenario of a specific time in history has influenced the forma urbis and affected its architecture. Rome, he proposes, offers a critical example of these dynamics for the American architect: The city’s developments and transformations have always been in a dialectic relationship with the existing environment. This urban strategy begins with the development of the Roman Republic and Imperial periods, gradually modified by medieval urban fabric, and finally transformed in the Baroque period by Bernini and even Borromini. Schwarting starts by clarifying fundamental concepts required to examine and understand the city’s history. At first, he introduces the issue of the progressive use of tradition in architectural language, which leads directly to the debate regarding utopia, the ideal, and the real and their dialectical relationships within architectural speculation. This argument was the main concern of Renaissance intellectuals such as Da Vinci, Scamozzi, Vasari, Filarete, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who all engaged in the designing of perfect, ideal cities. The author points out that none of these prototypes, except for Scamozzi’s fortified city of Palmanova, were ever built. According to this, the author states that—platonically—the enthusiasm typical of the early Renaissance treatises must be interpreted as instructive for cities’ potential transformation rather than reflecting an ambition for actual construction. The solution was instead realized in the adaptation of ideal principles and rules, derived from classical knowledge, to the real, existing conditions, with respect and according to a context that was rarely intended to be altered. In particular, the book focuses on the period from the 15th to the 18th century, between the Renaissance and Baroque periods, in which Rome was to be completely transformed into the new center of Christianity. The city needed a rethinking of its structure in order to create monumenti, piazze, chiese, e palazzi for the new dominant aristocratic families and for the Vatican, with a large flow of pilgrims. Popes Giulio II, Clemente VII, and Sisto V saw the possibility of giving Rome new life by creating ideal spaces and conditions in fragmented interventions related through a complex radial street system developed from important urban nodes in order to reach each other. Sisto V ultimately wanted to create an urban stellar system, namely, Roma in sideris forma. The lesson learned from Rome is a realization of how the principles of the ideal and the perfect would be impracticable for the whole but can exist in fragments, in a dialectical relation with the real, chaotic physical context in which the Renaissance architects, instructed by popes and noble families, imagined their projects as a representation or a recollection of the idea of perfection. Schwarting writes: “Each architect built according to the existing city, developed strategies to enhance the ideal plan notion, by creating a building and spaces that reinforced it.” These projects “are ideal set-pieces inserted into an existing urban fabric and, thereby, provide a degree of order, by providing a reference [...] for the surrounding area.” It is important to mention the quality of the graphics—produced thanks to extensive analysis and fieldwork by the researchers and students—are exceptional and very rigorous. These technical hand drawings aim to visualize the architecture and buildings in relation to their context and to the city as a whole, exemplifying a concern to consider each piece as part of a more complex structure. To conclude, we could quote Giancarlo De Carlo in his description of the work for the Piano Programma in Palermo by Giuseppe Samonà, to portray the research by Schwarting in Rome as well. “He [Samonà] used to spend all his energy—both physical and intellectual: The surveys in Palermo were long and frequent, and his days at work started early in the morning and finished late at night, when he used to go out with students to have an arancino or a gelato, depending on the season.” Rome: Urban Formation and Transformation By Jon Michael Schwarting, Applied Research & Design $30.59
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New mural honors the late Vincent Scully in Seaside, Florida

When architecture historian Vincent Scully died in December at age 97, the field mourned the loss of a giant. After all, this was a man with a six-decade career at Yale, whom Philip Johnson once deemed “the most influential architecture teacher ever.” Now, there's a new monument to his honor in a community indelibly shaped by his principles. With a wide-ranging career that inspired Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk's explorations of New Urbanism, it's fitting that the thinker is now memorialized in Seaside, Florida, one of the first planned communities based on the philosophy. An early supporter of the plan, Scully taught Duany and Plater-Zyberk, as well as other notables who would go on to build in Seaside, including Alexander Gorlin and Robert A.M. Stern. To honor his impact on this seaside town, a new mural was dedicated this weekend, during Seaside Prize festivities. The piece was painted by internationally known street artist Gaia (the nome d'arte of Baltimore-based muralist Andrew Pisacane), who was selected for the commission by architect and urbanist Dhiru Thadani, a former Seaside Prize winner. Gaia's design features a portrait of the academic alongside an image of the Acropolis from the cover of The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, all taking a pride of place on a purple wall in the center of town, near a generous open square—naturally.
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Seeing Rome through the eyes of Robert Venturi

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is not an easy book, or so we were told by Vincent Scully in the introduction to Robert Venturi’s seminal 1966 publication. The book’s release is the stuff of modern architectural mythology. When initially published, Venturi’s text signified a daring step away from modern orthodoxy. It encouraged the design community to actively participate in broad architectural discourse, to treat the past as prologue rather than discarding it as merely vestigial. The book was loathed by many. Treated as critical contraband, it was seen as incendiary and vulgar, and was perceived to be a jab to the prevailing momentum of Western architectural progress. However, to a small fraction of midcentury architects, the book was a welcome embrace of architectural inheritance. It was a permissive, if soft, manifesto allowing designers to stretch out, to embrace a messy and nonlinear practice, to get a little weird. Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby proudly identify with Team Venturi. The first pages of Robert Venturi’s Rome, to which both contribute text and watercolor illustration, celebrate the profound influence Complexity and Contradiction had on the way they practice, teach, and understand the built environment. Reading the book as students proved to be a shared watershed moment. Fisher immediately shifted focus from art and art history to architecture, and has worked in Rome as both an architect and Rome Prize Fellow. Harby received the book from Vincent Scully in a fateful transaction that led to a Rome Prize Fellowship and a recurring teaching position in the Eternal City. Robert Venturi’s Rome is ostensibly a travel book for the architecturally inclined, exploring some, though not all, of the Roman sites referenced in Complexity and Contradiction. Fisher and Harby “propose to take the reader on a journey through time and ideas by visiting and discussing nearly thirty Roman places that exemplify Venturi’s revolutionary ideas,” and they use the Complexity and Contradiction table of contents, and supplemental quotes from the original text, as a framework for ten short tours. Unsurprisingly, by pairing buildings and urban spaces with the tenets of Venturi’s work, including “ambiguity,” “contradiction” (both “adapted” and “juxtaposed”), and the “double-functioning element,” Robert Venturi’s Rome is quickly revealed to be more complex, and yes, more contradictory, than a standard travel guide of the Fodor’s or Rick Steves variety. Fisher and Harby pragmatically outline locations and hours of operation, but eschew detailed photography for their own watercolor illustrations. The images of buildings, architectural elements, and plans are gorgeous, lovingly rendered and evocative, but leave details to be examined solely by text. Accordingly, the text often carries an unevenly distributed burden. Venturi populated Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture with more than 250 images, mixing architectural photographs and drawings with mannerist and abstract paintings, an approach that buttressed his criticism and apologia. Conversely, Fisher and Harby are successful when describing formally familiar work, like the Pantheon or Casa Girasole, but struggle when examining complicated baroque spaces, like Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.   Vacillating between highlight reel and inside baseball, the tone of the book is inconsistent. It is simultaneously a travelogue for the architecturally curious and a series of esoteric incantations relying on the erudition of the reader to spot the sly relationship between Fisher and Harby’s text and Venturi’s design exegesis. The esteem in which the authors hold Venturi—and his work—and their admiration for Roman architecture is evident. Venerating both theorist and city, Fisher and Harby note, “it is possible that, without acknowledging it, Venturi…is celebrating the fact that in the hands of Borromini and many other architects, classical language is a living, fluid thing, and not the dead language that Venturi’s modernist contemporaries would have considered it.” By design or otherwise, the publication of Robert Venturi’s Rome feels timely and in keeping with a broader revivalist spirit currently underway. It fits easily with the recent Ettore Sottsass show at the Met Breuer, the successful effort to designate Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s Ambassador Grill as a New York City landmark, and the recognition of the glass pyramid–topped Musée Louvre renovation with an AIA 25-year award. Still, it takes a unique kind of architectural navel gazer to appreciate the meta-narrative of a book about a book by an architect designing buildings about architecture. Scully suggested that Complexity and Contradiction might shift our professional perspective from the Champs d’Elysées to Main Street. Through thoughtful analysis and vivid illustration, Fisher and Harby remind us that Rome is a complex city of interwoven Main Streets populated by both historic exemplars and idiosyncratic oddities. Robert Venturi’s Rome “evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus,” write the authors. “Its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once.” Coincidentally, so does Robert Venturi’s Rome. Brian Newman is an architect and university campus planner and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis. Robert Venturi's Rome Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby, ORO Editions, $25.00
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Architectural historian Vincent Scully is dead at 97

Eminent architectural historian Vincent Scully died last night at age 97. Through his six decades at Yale, Scully taught some of the 20th century's most influential architects and critics, and influenced countless students with his energetic lectures.

At a time when architecture historians focused on Europe, Scully centered American architecture and design in his writing and teaching. A New Haven, Connecticut native, he graduated from Yale and (after a stint in the Marine Corps during World War II) joined the Yale faculty in 1947. In 1991 he began teaching at the University of Miami, though he returned to frequently to teach at his alma mater until 2009.

Yale announced Scully died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

“I think he probably did more than anyone else over the last 60 years to affect not just architecture but architecture culture as well,” critic Paul Goldberger and former Scully student told the New York Times. “He showed us that architecture is not just forms in a vacuum. It’s about what kind of society you want to build.”

In his lifetime Scully wrote books on Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn; Greek sacred architecture; American cities and the American vernacular—20 in all. Later in his career, he rejected modernism he had once embraced, critiquing its rejection of ornament, humor, and reference and the modernists' cavalier attitude towards historic urban fabric. He championed his hometown's potential, using it as a lens to consider the changing American landscape and the ways architects could shape the total built environment, not just individual buildings.

The Architect's Newspaper (AN) is preparing a longer appreciation of Scully for publication shortly.