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An oscillation between the poet, the craftsman, the historian and the architect occurs that serves to blend any direct definition into an elusive amalgam. Having not technically qualified as an architect, the formal distinction, and perhaps restriction, of such a title left Scarpa as an outsider of sorts. Such a position produced in Scarpa the rigour and intensity of the self-educated and the inclination toward the regional. Being outside of the International modernist milieu as such, resulted ultimately in an isolation from the social and economical aspects of functionalist modernism. However, the formal aspects of modernist theory still influenced Scarpa. Subsequently, of the two aspects of the architectural phenomena, namely it’s social aspect and it’s specific poetry, Scarpa inclined toward the second.1. As Crippa continues, the link he kept to the first is what defines Scarpa’s genius. Scarpa himself, in speaking at the University Institute of Architecture in Venice of 1963-64, voiced his dilemma; “I have a reputation as a formalist, a creator of hedonistic beauty. I would rather build a council house.”2. Such limitations on his sphere of influence, while not inhibiting his developing a modern sense for the quality of form, restricted Scarpa to small works for private clients, along with museum and exhibition work. Nevertheless, time has revealed that Scarpa’s various interventions into historical settings, with their inherent regionalism, have provided valuable social results through appreciation, contributing to the cultural quality within a
specific individuality. This quality was recognized as important in the late seventies’ international modern movement.3. Regionalism and intervention in establishing a narrative define the works to be discussed. Carlo Scarpa was born in 1906 in Vicenza and rarely wandered too far from the Veneto region. Having completed a degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in 1926, Scarpa worked designing for the Murano glassworks in Venice, producing renowned works and establishing a rapport and method with the craftsman. Venice formed an indelible imprint onto his mind. It was essential to his roots and the Byzantinism that gave him a taste for a ‘relentless analysis of detail.’4. Such passion for his region and its history was coupled with an intense interest in the visual arts of the moderns such as Cezanne, Modigliani, the pointillists, futurists, and cubists. The formal values of architecture and art developed, further driven by a fascination with the Japanese obsession with visual formality and contrast. Architecturally, a modern sensibility came through the influence of Le Corbusier’s economy and ‘contour’, Aalto’s use of natural materials and most prominently Wright’s organic method for integral ornament. Venice cannot be denied as the greatest influence on Scarpa. It’s history and character provokes Scarpa’s extremely sensitive sense of place. Due to its isolation, industrialization has not impeded upon Venice. It remains a city of artisan craft, of walking, of vistas and alleyways, and of course the inescapable tension of the water. For Scarpa the water is sacred, not only for its capacity to reflect and fragment light, but also for its temporal qualities and the incessant wearing effect it has on materials, creating layer upon layer of stucco. The flood in Venice creates a nervous tension and everyone is
aware of the looming spill over. With the ebb and flow come the tiny increments of measure, discernable in the stratification of the walls or the filling of emergency drainage points. Detail and measure are a part of the Venetian life. Stucco is applied and reapplied, suggestive of the constant decay and renewal.5., the layering of history and impossibility of a complete restoration. Scarpa carried very seriously the attitude of the Italian processes of ‘restoro’ and ‘intervento’. Restoro is to restore and make anew, while interevento is considered surgical-to make well.6. Ruskin’s thoughts on the ‘inalienable link between the built fabric and the society that produced it’7. also resonated within Scarpa’s attitude to intervention; “They order you to imitate the style of ancient windows, forgetting that those windows were produced in different times by a different way of life with ‘windows’ made of other materials in other styles and with a different way of making windows. Anyway stupid imitations of that sort always look mean. Buildings that imitate look like humbugs, and that’s just what they are.”8. Problems with authorities to this end followed Scarpa because his primary interest in his intervention projects was not the concept of restoration, but more with historical clarity, making history visible by the co-existence of overlaying fragments of construction.9. Such an approach necessarily requires a knowledge of history, or at least the correct amount of enthusiasm and passion to research each aspect of a project. Determination to include and welcome the various ‘conversations’ surrounding a project, such as the historical precedent and the artisans involved, indicate Scarpa’s method for a
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total immersion into the work. He contained an obsession with the mark of the hand on the work and the process. The drawings bear this out as well, reflecting a constant drawing and re-drawing, distilling and searching for the final form up to the construction stage. In the same way that the formal and material joints in the built work suggest something more or achieve the clarity of the parts in the whole, so the many drawings enable an understanding of the architects intentions.10. Scarpa’s drawings for the works are constantly evolving and being modified, an approach made possible through emphasis on detail before a general plan, to maintain flexibility through the avoidance of the restrictions of a unitary idea.11. The details come first in Scarpa’s method with the expectation that from these details a whole will be formed, with each detail an integral part of this whole. Here, we can speak of the pre-eminence of the joint for meaning in Scarpa’s architecture. As Frascari says, the details tell the story of their making, placing and dimensioning12., they tell the tale, they make architecture speak as such. Details, or joints, can be both formal and/or material and in both instances joints are pre-texts for generating new texts.13. These then have the capacity to impose order on the whole. In Scarpa’s work the primacy of these joints work in such a way as to demonstrate the attributes of materials, design decisions, to articulate relationships between part and whole (spatially/formally and materially), and between new and old. The process, or the making, becomes described both in craft construction (material joints) and historical layering (formal joints), not to mention existing in the drawings themselves. An example of this in a material sense is the use of the trademark 270 degree circle motif in metal detailing which indicates the line up point in the cutting process. Formally, paths and
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views are construed to narrate meaning. More of these will be raised further along. Frampton speaks of the importance of the joint as the place where ‘presencing’ takes place.14. Scarpa’s technique of oscillation and transition between elements, most notable in his zig-zag motif, produces such presencing by delineating space through providing the joint in the divergence of elements, resulting in an awareness of the transition. Such oscillation between here and there permeates the work, constantly reminding one of their place. The message is evoked through these joints. To illustrate these concepts discussed, those of intervention, regionalism and speaking through the joint, we can analyse various work produced by Scarpa. The Querini Stampalia Foundation intervention was carried out from 1961-63. This was the rearrangement of the ground floor and garden of the existing sixteenth century Palazzo. The result is as much about Venice as anything else, utilizing formal devices to reinterpret and explain the city and its phenomenal location on the water. To achieve these ends, Scarpa weaved the new into the old and used water in ways that communicates not only through the beauty of its manipulation with light, but also of the inseparable presence water has to the people of Venice. For example, in recognition of the aqua alta, the flood, design includes provision for the movement of water inside the building. Following Scarpa’s method of inserting the new into the void of the old by expressing the border between the two with a sunken edge or channel, here also acts in recognition of the flood. Thus, it serves to help protect the higher, new level and symbolizes the Venetian ‘dominance’ of the water.15. These moats presume the task of drainage or controlled infiltration. Indeed, in the Watergate area, which faces the canal, the gates of grilled steel
‘welcome’ the water into a sunken area catchment. The patterning of the gate throws silhouette onto the water, its simplicity of horizontal and vertical bars allowing a reversal of shadow effect between day and night. Scarpa uses many consistent motifs, such as the notch, the zig-zag pattern and the ladder stair. Here, the ladder stair from the canal level to the new level, signifies the intervention, the transition. An additional function, due to its alternating arrangement of treads is as a water mark, to measure the rise and fall of the tides. Immediately the place, the here, is evoked. Stepped transitions in his work are a consistent theme. The surface of the new is always clean, orthogonal and planar, while the old remains in its original rough, organic state. All of the intervention work has this transition, the joint between the new and old which serves to then speak of both. Formally or spatially, the joint is evoked through changes in level as a transformation or modulation in space, delivering an awareness of presence through the physical sensation of ascent and descent.16. Again such a device is consistent in Scarpa’s work, manifested in various ways but serving to sharpen and clarify through distinctive separation. At Querini Stampalia, apart from the steps to differing levels, the entrance bridge serves the same purpose, leading up before returning down to the entrance door and thereby achieving a sensation of transition and presence. As mentioned earlier, the joint can be both formal and material. Both exist together to complete the wholeness of parts. Indeed Scarpa was so convinced that each particular detail be legible in itself that he would visit his sites at night with a torch. Focussed light from the beam would blur at the edges, much as the eye sees, and thereby test the clarity of each part.
Coherence, legibility and presencing through the detail continues through the expression or accessibility of a materials true nature. Acknowledging the true nature of each material was achieved by his notching technique to express the depth of each material, be it tectonic, monolithic, planar or solid. A separation of structure and function furthers such communication. Handrails for instance, consist of steel uprights, jointed at the transition to a more tactile handrail. If brass plate is used at joints and ends it is notched as a planar material. Accessible materials such as off-form concrete speak of its making. Various grades of aggregate are exposed in the Foundation garden wall, the stages of the pour are pronounced and the roughness contrasted with inlaid glass tiles, hinting at the Venetian characteristic of surface encrustation.17. Use of mosaic tiling in square patterning has two sources, one being the sensitivity Scarpa has toward Venetian artisan craft and the other his allegiance to the neo-plastic artists and modernist architectural influences Scarpa carried such as Hoffman and Wright. Neo-plastic form, a form that can be viewed from every point, a form that produces a rhythmic effect and destroys enclosure18. was used to great effect by Scarpa. Use of colour and light within open spatial relationships serve to make visible the gravitational and polarizational qualities, to open up the viewers capacity of interpretation.19. Instead of symmetrical order there exists asymmetrical multivalence. Colour, light, space and water are used for the multivalent variations they garner, and achieve sensations that can produce, according to Agostino, ‘treasures of numberless images gathered from any kind of perceived object’.20. The notching is explained this way too, the new interventions standing clear of the old, or the fragmentation of form by light. At Querini Stampalia, the garden shows
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Islamic and Japanese influences. Water ebbing and flowing through the mazelike alabaster ‘source of the waters’ suggests again connections to the Venetian tension of water spill. A secretive space, the water speaks with its trickle and separates the lawn, the joint, inviting contemplation. Renovation of the Castelvecchio in Verona into a museum follow the same precepts, most visible in the arrangement of space, purposefully and tightly controlled by Scarpa’s designated route to ‘engage the visitors perceptions by stimulating the processes of selection, integration, memory, imagination and allusion.21. Most prominent is the handling of the placement of the Congrande statue. Scarpa raised the statue high onto a horizontal concrete corbel, leaving it outside and visible from varying viewpoints. The statues placement occurs at the junction between two areas built in different eras. Placing it here reinforces the joint between the two and the statue thus forms a fulcrum around the dynamic rhythms and colours Scarpa has set up through his use of light and fragmented objects. Often he uses such a controlling device. At the ground floor gallery we can see his use of the modulated asymmetrical floor. Scarpa always laid the flooring perpendicular to the direction of travel to obtain a rhythmic sense. In considering the ceiling, various problems arose concerning beam depths and the possible necessity of a column in the middle of the room. Instead, Scarpa used a steel beam, which ran between the existing walls of the five gallery rooms. Even though the beam did not continue through the wall at each transition, the notching of the beam and the existing wall at the junction is a complete acknowledgement and elaboration of the joint, connecting the rhythms of the whole.
Returning to the Congrande statue, we can observe Scarpa’s use of the joint to layer history and clarify each intervention. Staggered levels and material transition, most prominently at the roof level, suggest evidence of demolition. This delaminates from terracotta to copper, and finally leads to the void between it and the adjacent wall. New roof construction members are lifted free of the existing double ridge beam which continues through to remain bearing upon the opposite wall, reaching out to join the two. Sitting in the middle of this formal joint between the two periods of construction is the statue, ‘grafted onto modern spatial coordinates’22. and releasing the potential for new interpretations. Finally, in an analysis of the work at the Brion Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole of 1970, we can further extrapolate upon Scarpa’s concerns for concentrating on the beauty in ornament, across the ages. Most revealing in this respect is the use of the zig-zag motif. Scarpa uses this in plan and section as a formal device that serves to accentuate the material effects in play, while also creating a metaphorical allusion or spiritual resonance through its association to historical ziggurat religious forms. Water is used once more for its many qualities with light and directional potential through flow. The experience of Venice again appears, not only with the water, but also the creation of pathways and vistas. Scarpa restricts sightlines and directs vistas to foster an impression of limitless space.23. However, by manipulating the edges of form with the zig-zag motif the space does not become inconceivable. These edges, contours, lead the eye to the joint and deliver the viewer back to the divergence of elements. By graduating the space through the zig-zag transition, the material is offered greater depth and complexity through its
varied light and shadow aspects. Use in the waterway gives depth and modulation, something the Venetian would be very much aware of. Scarpa’s method of ‘presencing’ extends to techniques such as constructing steps of varying thickness for acoustic variation. The entry steps are positioned slightly to the left to suggest the route to be traveled. Overlapping circles, another Scarpa motif, as a symbol of union, draw in light that reflects from the walls onto the treads. Again, as at Querini, the garden and lawn is raised and retained, something to look upon, containing the objects. The cemetery is planned in an L-shape with the tombs, the chapel and a water pavilion forming the three elements in each corner, joined by water. The curved form and encrusted mosaic underside of the tombs have early Christian precedents; craft and history are discernable. Mention has been made of lights role in evoking infinite variation. In the chapel an ascending zig-zag ceiling vault seems to drag the light upward and out through the apex. Scarpa’s concern in all of his work was with including the past, with attempting to be inside a tradition by making his architecture speak by being present through the joint. His architecture converses through an oscillation from the abstract to the concrete, from an evocation of suggesting what is missing by constantly reminding us of what is present, while maintaining a closeness and intimacy between the two.
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