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

inversion   1 : an act or result of turning inside out or upside down : FLEXURE, DOUBLING     2 : a reversal of position, order or relationship: as a : the reverse of an established pattern

The history of the Campus Martius, the Field of Mars, is as old as the history of Rome itself. According to Livy's History of Rome, Mars, the god of war, raped a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Silvia, who thereafter gave birth to twin boys, Romulus and Remus. The boys matured into powerful leaders, yet they also became fierce rivals--neither wanting to share power with the other. Romulus ultimately became the sole leader when he killed Remus in battle, and it is from Romulus that Rome receives its name. Livy goes on to tell us that the first structure within the Campus Martius was an altar raised by Romulus in order to honor Mars, and, moreover, it was in the Campus Martius that Romulus commenced the first Roman triumph, a victory march henceforth reŽnacted hundreds of times by subsequent Roman leaders. Finally, it was in the Campus Martius that Romulus one day disappeared within a sudden whirlwind of clouds and dust.

It did not escape Piranesi's notice that the beginning and end of Romulus matches exactly the beginning and end of Jesus Christ, who likewise had a divine father and a virgin mother, and who too ultimately ascended into the clouds. The father of pagan Rome and the father of Christian Rome are fundamental inversions of each other.

Piranesi's rendition of the Templum Martis (Temple of Mars) and the Area Martis, the place where the Triumphal Way begins, inversely matches exactly the scale and composition of St. Peter's Basilica and Piazza.

1999.12.04 06:58
hi Rick,
Thanks for you interest and encouragement. I intend to collect my thoughts and impressions regarding my participation within Inside Density, but I'm presently very ill--I have a severe head cold mixed with asthma, and, as a result, my days at home since Belgium have been miserable. Moreover, part of my problem is that I can't turn my mind off, thus no real relaxation. Hopefully I'll feel better next week, and then I can start writing again.

I'm (spot) reading Hilde Heynen's Architecture and Modernity (MIT Press, 1999). Hilde was a member of NeTHCA's (Network for Theory, History and Criticism of Architecture, Belgium) scientific committee which selected my paper for Inside Density. Hilde was also a key organizer of Inside Density, and she recognized reenactment as a powerful concept. Her book towards the end deals with mimesis, and I now see further how mimesis and reenactment cut a similar profile, but I also see how the concept of reenactment potentially manifests an annexation of mimesis.

everything: Image and actuality
I was inspired by Hugh's last post to 'perform' a simultaneous riff.
I haven't been to Bilbao, but I've been to Sydney (didn't hear any Opera though). I'm not much of a critic when it comes to visiting buildings, because I inevitably like most of them once I see them in person. So it comes down to anecdotes. You can have an inexpensive lunch on the terrace-plinth of the Opera House overlooking the harbor. There are signs on the tables under umbrellas; they read: "Do Not Leave Your Food Unattended". The reason for this warning, and I've seen it happen, is that the moment you leave food on the table unattended, a small flock of sea-gulls will "attack" your lunch. Yikes! indeed.
The Opera House is really a nice sight from the harbor. While in Sydney, I stayed at Manly Beach (not making that name up), which connects to Sydney via ferry or hydrafoil. The Opera House is quite the landmark, and it looks really good at night as well.
I went to Australia purposefully not taking a camera. In the early 1980s I read Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers, and very near the end of the book Mann writes a few lines about how there was no camera to capture incredible events throughout most of history, events like the reunion of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. Mann simple said, "they had to use their own lenses." There are times when I now purposefully "use my own lenses," and my trip to Australia was one of those times.

I got to go to Canberra as well (this was early January 1987). I just happened to be there the day after the enormous flagpole was erected over the new Capitol. Well, as then installed, the flagpole looked straight from the front, but it was definitely leaning back by about 4 degrees when viewed from the side. To record that brief early history of the Canberra flagpole was the only time I wished I had a camera while in Australia.

Flying home, the pilot informed the passengers that Canberra was visible out the right side of the plane. I thought this would be real neat to see because of the huge circular geometrics of Canberra's urban plan. Well, I looked and I looked. I knew it had to be recognizable. Finally, there is was, the whole of Griffin's plan about the size of the hole in a piece of loose leaf paper. What a lesson in scale.

In the early 1980s, Aldo van Eyck was a guest chair at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts. Van Eyck gave several lectures during the course of the semester. The first lectures was standing room only, but the rest became less and less attended--van Eyck talked for at least 3 hours each time, and there was lots of repetition. Anyway, this was just at the beginning of post-modernism's popularity within architecture, and van Eyck didn't like post-modernism at all. Basically, he wanted to continually prove that anyone interested in post-modernism didn't 'really' know architecture. He showed this slide of a detail of a fountain. You could tell it was historical, as opposed to modern, because of some flourish in the detailing. Van Eyck challenged the audience to guess where this detail came from; his point was that one really had to look at architecture to truly understand it. I should have answered out loud, but I only told the person next to me: "that's at the Taj Mahal." No one else answered, and finally van Eyck said, "it's at the Taj Mahal." My friend immediately looked at me and asked, "How did you know that?!?" I answered, "When I was something like 12 years old, I had a big jigsaw puzzle of the Taj Mahal in its classic view. I kind of know every inch of that place."

I have constructed a computer model of the Villa Savoye which I 'visit' occasionally, but I've never been there for real. The wife of an architect friend of mine tells a genuinely funny story about being there, however. When she and her husband were there, a group of other architects were there as well. Of course, all the architects had camera in hand, but it wasn't all that easy to take pictures. As Colleen stood in the background, she observed how each of the architects was gingerly walking around and taking snaps of the house while being careful not to get any of the other architects in their pictures or having themselves infringe upon another's pictures. Colleen said it was one of the funniest things she ever saw. I said, "You should have taken a picture of that."

Personally, I don't think architectural photographers are as important as architects, mostly because architectural photography only presents a very narrow slice of the building's life, and especially a slice when all the 'makeup' is on and anything unsightly is literally out of sight. Are they mostly false pictures? Not necessarily, but the potential for falsehood is definitely there, and it's often a potential fulfilled in one way or another.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but the architectural images I enjoy (and learn from) the most are the fine line drawings and engravings, be they plans, elevations, sections, perspectives, that are largely a product of the nineteenth century. That's why most of the architecture books I buy now are purchased through eBay.



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