Chapter III “Contrasting Effects of Solids and Cavities”

With this post I’m going to continue the text I’ve written relatively long time ago – “Experiencing architecture” Chapter II.

As the previous post covered the topic of seeing both cavities and masses, today’s daanico is going to elaborate on the visual effect we can obtain by using these two qualities. Otherwise, how to make space look gorgeous.

Renaissance order

The example which is being described by Rasmussen at the very beginning is Porta di Santo Spirito by Antonio da Sangallo. Only a short glance is required to realize what this gate wants to tell us. Ancient beauty, harmony, rigid order are visible in every column and every cavity. What’s interesting about it, is that formally the gate was never finished; and it does no difference to the buildings’ beauty at all. Rasmussen indicates that the idea that stays behind the gate is as clear as the ancient ruins were comprehensible for Renaissance architects. This successful effect was able to obtain by substantial use of space. The stunning rhythm of convex and concave forms adds drama to the structure and the effect is even enhanced when warm, Mediterranean light falls on its stones. In that moment the gate displays its essence most clearly and only then the darkness inside its passage contrasts so distinguishably with the bright skin of the façade.

Effect fini is what academic artists used to call their pieces when they saturated and polished them to the extent that human eye couldn’t notice brush strokes. If we took one of such artists and show him our gates, he would definitely start to add details to the structure. However this method neither adds more beauty nor meaning to this piece. This popular technique of XIX-century artists stands in great contrast to nowadays sustainable thinking. Especially phrase coined by famous modern architect Adolf Loos, “Ornament is Crime” add a lot to today’s attitude towards old, academic thinking. His writings are full of comparisons of adding ornaments and gorgeous details to sexual activities, which in context of Freud psychology played pivotal role in art.

Manneristic experiments

Let’s consider now the second example from the book, Michelangelo’s Porto Pia. It displays how use of materials took advantage on the architecture. Congestion of copious details in all its possible forms and variations is so dense and so imposing that it creates nothing more than a meaningful noise. Although this artist is so well-known for his dramatic buildings, this time drama underwent creator’s ambition.

Although this disappointing attempt, Michelangelo’s experiment succeeded at the end in what we can today admire as St. Paul’s Cathedral. Experiments, are what distinguished this artist from the crowd and it’s just a matter of discussion whether Mannerists experiments can be called a sexual stimulation of adding more and more strange details, or perhaps a real architecture. Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne designed by Baldossare Peruzzi is one of these experiments outcome. Professor indicates that its today’s outlook is quite different because the street where the building curves its manneristic façade, has been widened after its erecting. Called by Rasmussen beautiful in its own fashion, the palace has many interesting elements. Located on crossing of two streets, its main entrance deeply hollowed out looks like continuation of the street. This displays how space can be used to receive interesting effects.

Baroque vibrancy

Dynamicity, surprising, exaggeration are all terms completely fine to connect them with Baroque period, and its imaginative experiments, resembling these of Michelangelo. Baroque originated many geniuses, like Borromini, sculptor, painter, and architect, whose oblong colonnade on the St. Paul’s Cathedral’s square adds drama to Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Also Borromini’s contributions can’t neglected while his magnificent San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane amaze us by its curved, responding to the narrowness of the street facade. These two, and many other less known artists and their copious imagination added life to this period.

The example studied in Rasmussen’s masterpiece, Santa Maria della Pace, particularly vividly displays Baroque values. Its extraordinary use of cavities and convexities is just poetical. Its dramatic façade resembles something alike explosion, crumbling, sweeping and can be only described as a theatre of architecture. However, the tragedy of this architecture lies in its quantitivness; while Renaissance architecture operated ideas which are timeless, Baroque’s beauty lasted only until a stronger opponents strode on stage. Compared to contemporary projects like these of Frank O’Gehry, Baroque buildings seem massive, stiff and firmly bound by gravitational forces.

Turning_Torso_(185592393)                                                  romasivosapienzacupola (1)

What can we end up with?

Successful arrangement of our three dimensions is also visible in the plaza where Fontanna di Trevi was built. Baroque was the time when many interesting urban experiments have been conducted, therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that places such as mentioned before church Santa Maria della Pace or Fontanna di Trevi, had their own prepared surroundings, In form of refined houses and streets nearby. The spatial composition around Fontanna di Trevi is amazing due to its oblong walls and vivid accentuation of the fountain as dominant of the place. Also the effect of contrast has been prepared there. The rugged rocks of the fountain strikingly oppose polished columns and walls of the church behind.

On the other hand, architecture may be as well used to obtain harmony, like in one of the greatest examples of XX-century architecture, Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. As the attempts of using vast amounts of ornaments in Porto Pia disappointingly failed, Wright’s ornaments worked out. That’s because Wright’s ornament is nature. Bernini’s rugged rocks in Fontanna di Trevi work in the same way as Frank’s limestone, white concrete, smooth glass and cold steel.

I hope that after this reading you’ll understand more the possibilities of space, which we take so straightforwardly in everyday life. What joins all the examples are that its creators were not afraid to loose themselves in experimenting. These were the experiments, which took Mannerists away from Renaissance artists giving birth to Baroque, which further inspired monsters, which we call architecture today. In spite of that, we cannot forget about the importance of responding to the surrounding. Regardless we will be artificially sculpting it like Baroque urbanists, or just take it as it is like Frank Lloyd Wright, our building are not  just separated from reality ejaculations of our imagination (or ambition), but real edifices, which should be intended to serve real people.


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