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Inside the Density of G. B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius

A paper prepared for and presented at the Network for Theory, History, and Criticism of Architecture INSIDE DENSITY Colloquium, Brussels, Belgium 25-6 November 1999.
I thank Martine De Maeseneer for letting me know about the INSIDE DENSITY colloquium, and I equally thank the INSIDE DENSITY Organizing Committee for accepting my paper.
This paper is dedicated to Susan M. Dixon and Anthony D'Aulerio whose support and assistance brought Piranesi many degrees closer.
21 November 1999, Philadelphia

Albeit resolutely virtual, Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius nonetheless manifests a high degree of density not only in terms of architecture and urbanism, but with regard to symbolism, meaning, and narrative as well. The hundreds of individual building plans and their Latin labels within the Campo Marzio do not "reconstruct" ancient Rome as much as they "reenact" it. Thus Piranesi's overall large plan presents a design of Rome that reflects and narrates Rome's own imperial history. Given Rome's history, then, the ultimate theme of Piranesi's design is inversion, specifically ancient Rome's inversion from (dense) pagan capital of the world to (dense) Christian capital of the world--a prime example of the proverbial "two sides to every story."
With the inversion theme, Piranesi also incorporates a number of sub-themes, such as life and death, love and war, satire, and even urban sprawl. Rendered largely independent, each sub-theme relates its own "story." Due to their innate reversal qualities, however, each sub-theme also reinforces the main inversion theme. Piranesi's Campo Marzio is not only dense, it is condensed.
In 2001, the finished Ichnographia Campus Martius will be 240 years old, yet Piranesi's truly unique urban paradigm -- a city "reenacting" itself through all its physical, sociopolitical, and even metaphysical layers -- may well become the most real urban paradigm of the next millennium.

Ichnographia Campus Martius     1st state

1999.11.29 15:29
hello, Charlotte's email address?
Hello GaŽtan,
I am now home in Philadelphia again, but Brussels is still very much on my mind. I want to thank you again for your and Charlotte's efforts as the chairpersons of the "Thinking Density" session. Others may not have liked what you and Charlotte where attempting to do, but your plan certainly worked for me.

I plan to write my many impressions of Inside Density.

On Saturday afternoon, Charlotte took my on what I now refer to as the 'sacred and profane' tour of old Brussels.

1999.09.10 09:53
Brian asks:
* is the "cyberspace" of the Internet computer network a physical or non-physical place?
(multiple choice)
- material - immaterial or: * unknown question...
- actual place (in reality)
- virtual representation of a place (in consciousness)

Steve replies:
1. [critical response] this question seems slightly off the topic of electricity even though electricity is the structure[?], enabler[?] of cyberspace. I think that electricity's connection to cyberspace should be made clear first before explaining, defining cyberspace in the context of this list.
[the rest of the responses do not necessarily relate to electricity per se]
2. I find cyberspace sometimes analogous to physical space, but fundamentally as a "place" altogether different than physical space. The two can easily be compared, but they are distinct and separate.
3. cyberspace begins with pure virtuality, i.e., the potential to be something, then becomes a "place" when people participate, and ends, after the participation, to be again pure virtuality. For example, this survey question lay dormant, yet full of potential, for several days without participation, and with my reply it's potential is starting to be filled--the potential always remains because more and more participation can fill the potential more and more.
4. I like cyberspace because of its otherness. The more I participate in cyberspace, the more I realize that I now inhabit two realms, the real world and the world of cyberspace. Moreover, I plainly see that the cyberspace world will never be the same as or replace the real world, nor do I wish cyberspace to be "physical" in the real world sense.
5. Cyberspace as a place completely other is its greatest attribute. Those that view or want to make cyberspace and the real world the same are really only defeating the "real" nature of cyberspace. [Could it be that we as humans just can't easily deal with a parallel(?), other reality in addition to the reality we already have?]
6. [anecdotal reply] In 1993-94, I owned and operated a small art gallery in Philadelphia. There were many days when no one at all came into the place, yet the rent still had to be paid. I now see a total contrast between what I did then and what I do now at in that the "rent" at eBay is minimal and the number of people looking at what I have to offer is now at a maximum. In this case, the attributes of cyberspace are greatly superior to the attributes of physical space. And where else but in cyberspace can a sole individual [architect] "construct" a viable albeit virtual museum of architecture. I honestly feel that most of the present design professionals have not yet grasped the real (power?) of cyberspace.



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