letter to Sue Dixon
Saturday, August 27, 1994
I am very excited because it looks like big chunks (of stone tablets?) are fitting together. Without knowing exactly where this project is headed, I know it is definitely going somewhere. I am going to relate all kinds of different information and ideas in this letter, so I will treat this letter as a collage (of fragments?)
I will begin with a list of what you will find in this package. You will find:
1. twelve (12) 11"x17" copies of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius. Actually they are cropped 11x17s for easy assembly. I tried to keep folding to a minimum. Items to note are:
a. in section F-17 the Terentus occulus aram Ditis et Proserpinae--what J. Bloomer describes as the gate to the underworld.
b. in section C-8 you will find a dashed line angling down toward the lower right, emanating from the center of the Area Martis (I guess Mar's Place). If you follow the line down into the next quadrant (D-9), you will come upon fine print saying "linea indicates viam triumphatem." You can follow this line down to the city wall at the bottom of the map. If you take your time and read all the monuments and structures the procession route passes by, it evokes a very cinematic image.
c. in section J-16 (top) you will find the (almost) beginning of the Via Flaminia--what I believe to be the only street that Piranesi has named and delineated within this map (except for a small portion of the Via Salaria in the lower right hand corner of the map). Take note of the plebeian houses along the Via Flaminia running through I-16, J-16 & K-15.
2. I am sending you copies of all Campo Marzio references found in J. Bloomer's Architecture and the Text plus her analysis of one of [Piranesi's] fragment-full plates [from the Anticita].
There are four sets of drawings from my own material. As I mentioned on the phone, you can consider these to be in rough draft form.
3. six (6) 8.5"x11" copies showing certain building complexes shown orthagonally within context and sometimes compared (in scale) to areas of Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. You will notice other buildings along the Parkway besides the Art Museum. (These building footprints represent an independent project of urbanizing the Parkway, which I have been working on since 1992. I actually wanted to do this project as my thesis at Temple.) These drawings give only the slightest hint as to what is possible once the base data (of the Ichnographia) is in the computer. The scale represents feet, with the largest unit equaling 100 feet.
4. six (6) 8.5"x11" copies of some buildings I have so far grouped according to building type. The plans on all six pages are at the same scale, and the grid on each page corresponds to the grid dimension on the large map. The placement of the plans on each page is random. Notice how the military buildings look like medals of honor and insignia. On the page numbered 240 you will find a plan labeled "villa publica". I wonder if that mean 'hotel'? (You will find this villa public in section E-17 within the overall map.)
5. 8.5"x11" copies of uncategorized buildings that I have entered into the computer over the last two weeks. This will give you an idea of how many buildings I can get done in roughly 80 hours.
6. 8.5"x11" copies of the Campo Marzio as far as I have gotten thus far. I mentioned on the phone that I might be 40% done, but it looks like 20 % to 25% done would be a better estimate.
All in all, I think that what I'm sending you now can be seen as only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the drawing material that can be generated. You expressed on the phone that it might seem that I could proceed without any collaboration with you, and to the extent of my just producing drawings this is true. What I see you contributing is (research on) the purpose of Piranesi's doing this (large plan), and the reasoning Piranesi used to manifest his purpose. I see your knowledge, experience, and already established interpretation of his representation, plus your knowledge of the historical and contemporary issues that Piranesi dealt with, as providing the historical background of Piranesi's workings--essentially you will provide the "why" and the "how".
I certainly do not mean to pigeonhole your contribution. I am merely trying to produce a thumbnail sketch of our potential collaboration. I hope that just saying "why" and "how" does not sound trivial.
As you can see by all the mistakes I am making, I am not able to put clearly put down in words what it is that I want to say. Let me just write down in outline form what I think our collaboration can accomplish.
1. Without even entering the realm of interpretation we could produce a "documentary" of the Campo Marzio. We could:
a. single out the elements that have historical evidence behind them, i.e., separate the fact from the fantasy.
b. overlay portions of the Ichnographia with maps from both the past and the present.
c. categorize individual buildings according to type and see how this categorization relates to Piranesi's ideas of urban design and other 18th century ideas of urban design.
(The above is only a list off the top of my head.)
2. On the interpretive level, I see your knowledge of Piranesi's plates dealing with fragments, and his method of representation of the utmost importance. Your background combined with the computer data and my computer skills constitutes the basis upon which we will ultimately present - represent - re-represent our "documentary" document.
On the second night of my conversation with Sue Dixon we talked mainly about Piranesi, and especially his role as a proto-metabolic thinker/designer/etc. In the previous nights conversation we discussed the plurality and the assimilation/metabolism mix of our present time (see note 201). While thinking during the day between our two conversations, it dawned on me more clearly that some physical manifestation of metabolism has been around since the appearance of the kidneys (from 1700 to 1800) (again see note 201). It also dawned on me that Piranesi spans exactly the same period as the beginning of metabolism.
I asked Sue if she would agree that what Piranesi did (especially) in the Ichnographia of the Campo Marzio was to metabolize Roman architecture. After Sue asked me to again define metabolism, she then wholeheartedly agreed that metabolizing was exactly what Piranesi was doing, but not only in the Campo Marzio. Sue immediately talked about Piranesi's chimney pieces and candlapera as designs composed through a breaking down and re-combination of many disparate historical elements.
To further the discussion and as an aside, I mentioned that I believe that the early modern movement in architecture falls much more in the camp of assimilation (absorption and purging), and that only in some (perhaps rare) cases did modern architecture reach the metabolic camp, e.g. I believe Le Corbusier's late architecture is a prime example of how an architect can make the transition from assimilation to metabolism.
Sue then brought up some of Piranesi's other works, namely the Prisons, and I said I thought they were Piranesi's good-bye to assimilation. (I guess after he realized that he was doing something--metabolizing--that was very new and very different than anything that had been around before.) Sue talked about how there is no clear source of patronage for the Prisons, and how that may suggest a more personal involvement on Piranesi's part, and then by extention the Prisons may carry a personal/specific message. Sue also made the point that there are two Prison series (something like 20 years apart), and that they are different in execution, and she was therefore lead to question again if there ia a very personal message to be gotten for the two series.
One point that I very much want to make is that Piranesi stands at the head of a new and separate metabolic imagination. Piranesi, therefore, is not a forefather of modern architecture since I believe modern architecture (especially the International Style) is actually a product of the final stages of asimilation. Piranesi's importance in history is still yet to become realized in that metabolism and a metabolizing imagination are exactly what the future holds in store. Piranesi's total influence and worth are not totally known yet, however we can start using the Timepiece to make guesses as to his true legacy.
Now here are some subsequent questions/ideas about Piranesi in general, and the Campo Marzio in particular:
1. Looking through my book of Piranesi sketches and etchings, I find it sometimes very easy to distinquish between which images relate assimilation and which images relate metabolism.
2. It almost seems that one could say that the overriding argument of his creative output was to demonstrate the emergance of metabolism, and the interplay between assimilation and metabolism, and I will even go so far as to say that Piranesi also gave us a glimps of what it might be like to leave assimilation behind (i.e. the Prisons).
3. Even though I immediately associated the Prisons with assimilation, I have to admit that I can see a great deal of metabolism in their execution. Of course this points to the fact that there will then have to be a much more cleaver analysis of the Prisons.
4. One way to use the individual plans of the Campo Marzio is to show how they demonstrate metabolism. This would be something along the lines of showing how Piranesi combined disparate architectural elements and created totally new forms of architecture (especially new forms of Roman architecture).
5. Concerning the Campo Marzio publication, the plates with views are of a purged site (i.e. erasure of all Medieval and Renaissance Rome). This purged aspect very much suggests the intestines and (a by-product of?) assimilation. Upon reflection, it seems as if Piranesi had to totally purge the site before he could venture into metabolizing the site.
6. One could look at Piranesi's Views of Rome as counterpoints to the purged views of the Campo Marzio. It is almost as if the Views provide a body of evidence, in their own right, that supports the concept of an metabolizing imagination.
7. Tafuri calls Piranesi's ideas utopian. I find this most interesting because Tafuri indirectly describes Piranesi as a man that designs for the future, and given Piranesi's body of work it is then easy to say that Piranesi designs for the past, present and future. As if looking at the Timepiece, Piranesi can see both the past and the future, and at the same time evoke the spirit of his own time.
8. If Piranesi is to be associated with the beginnings of metabolism, that means he is concurrent with the premire appearance of the kidneys. Now what is most interesting is that the kidneys are the only organs in the digestive system that come in a pair and are situated symmetrically. In fact, the kidneys are the only symmetrical part of the body between the hip bones and the rib cage-lungs-diaphragm.