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The infinite of the non-finito

Marco Frascari
Carleton University


Typical after the war inconplete constructions in Northern Italy slowly erected and mostly never finished by emigrants during their vacation time spent in their place of origin

Years went by, but the Italians did not lost the vice of leaving unfinish building around

A twenty years old unfinished building in Ragusa (contrada Treppiedi, Modica) demolished on Sept 4th 2011

Non-finito is an art history expression mainly used to refer to Michelangelo s uncompleted sculptures: a celebrated art technique pioneered by in sculpture by Donatello before him. My proposal, following the convention set by Zevi, is to use the same locution in architecture to indicate those buildings that have been left, for a number of possible reasons, in an elegant but incomplete state by architects or builders.

I propose to show that unfinished edifices, through their being suspended in time, the non-finito state, affects in a positive way the brain-body activity of people that partake of their architecture and make a beneficial use of them even in their incompleteness. On the other hand, deficient architecture, even if completed and whole, always affects our brains in a negative way.

This essay on the architectural non-finito is intended as a contribution, however small, towards an understanding of the role of neuroscience in understanding the facture of architecture. It is commonly thought that the physical sciences have, to the present day, governed the stages of human factures while increasingly future factures will be controlled by physiological sciences and especially by neurobiology. Physics and chemistry have ruled the making of building and by now their contributions are considered mature branches of learning contributing to architecture. With the aim always to increase comfort and wellbeing, using a proper understanding of the physical environment architects have been able to subjugate positively building tectonics.

An Internet site dealing with unfinished contemporary Italian buildings

Inconpiuto Siciliano

Incompiuto Siciliano is a project in progress that aims to identify and classify the aesthetic and formaI characteristics of unfinished public architecture in ltaly. The survey, carried out by Alterazloni Video together with Enrico Sgarbi and Claudia D'Aita, has so far resulted in tne classification of around 500 unfinished architectural projects. The Italian region with the highest number of unfinished public works is Sicily and for this reason the style identified by the researchers, widespread in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s, was dubbed "Unfinished Sicilian". The intention of the project was not merely to expose the phenomenon, but also to promote dynamic acceptance of it in order to trigger virtuous response mechanisms.

Playground within the Archeological Park of Giarre (CT), Italy.

One of building listed in the Incompiuto Siciliano and used to demonstrate how to transform uncompleted and abandoned building.

Proposal for transforming the existing built structure in an acceptable presence in the Park

San Petronio


During many earlier historical periods a quite large number of buildings had been left unfinished and for many diverse reasons.

Cathedral of Siena

Many of those buildings are perfect cases of elegantly non-finito work, and if people walking by the them are questioned about the building they acknowledge that it is incomplete, that perhaps the top part of faade marble works are missing, almost as they have never noticed it

yeah you are right ... it is unfinished!


Giulio Romano, Transept San Andrea (Mantova)

L.B.Alberti, Tempio Malatestiano, (Rimini)

Leon Battista Alberti Palazzo Rucellai


Palazzo Porto in Piazza Castello (VICENZA)

Palladio, Loggia del Capitanio (Vicenza)

The most Incomplete Palladio s Villa Porto (Molina di Malo)

Casa Cogollo Vicenza

Know as Palladio s House

Michelangelo Non-Finito Prigioni & Pieta Rondanini

The intentional non-finito

CASA Palladio Or Casa Cogollo

Casa Cogollo Immorsature

(stone-teething or stone tenons)

for the continuation of the facade

Palladio s House or Casa Cogollo

Bertotti Scamozzi s drawing
showing the facade as nished architecture

Possible extensions of the Cogollo s House Facade

L.Battista Alberti Palazzo Rucellai completed

So nothing new under the sun

San Salvatore Spoleto Italy

The basilica of San Salvatore (4th-5th century) incorporates the cella of a Roman temple and is one of the most important examples of Early Christian architecture. It was rebuilt probably after an earthquake and fire by the Lombards during the 8th century using also many fragments of roman temples in the valley

Mater Misericordiae
Angelo Mangiarotti
Baranzate milano 1957

The Ningbo Historic Museum was designed by Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio


Public library in Villanueva, Colombia

Mortensrud church Norway JSA


Jensen & Skodvin Arkitektkontor Design Period: 1998 1999 Construction period: 2000-200

The church is situated on the top of a small crest with large pine trees and some exposed rock. Geometrically speaking the church is an addition to the existing ground, no blasting and excavation was necessary except carefully removing the thin layer of soil.


Igualada Cemetery (also known as Cemetery Nou) was built by Carme Pins and Enric Miralles after an architectural competition held in 1984.

Peter Zumthor

Brother Klaus Chapel

Model Brother Klaus Chapel

Kolumba Museum Peter Zumthor

Cognition & Duration

In pre-modern Europe, architects

Architects built with time, using vast
quantities of duration as a primary means to erect buildings that otherwise would have been impossible. Not mere medieval muddling-through, this entailed a highly developed set of norms and efficient practices.

built not just using imagination, drawings, brick and mortar.

A powerful temporal program,

involving an uncodified set of building principles, guided the longterm planning and making great architecture for a vita beata.

Using architecture to think about time and using time to think about architecture.

Non Finito is Time in the mind:

(a) They moved the wall forward two meters. (b) They moved the meeting forward two hours. about space in terms of time

" People talk about time in terms of space more often than they talk " This pattern in language suggests that our conceptions of space and
time might be asymmetrically dependent: we construct representations of time by co-opting mental representations of space, but not necessarily the converse.


People often talk about time using spatial language (e.g., a long vacation, a short concert). Do people also think about time using spatial representations, even when they are not using language? (a) They moved the wall forward two meters. (b) They moved the meeting forward two hours



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