It rocked Eisenman on his chair...
8 November 324
He says there are no streets there, so he doesn't know how the porticus operated throughout the Campo Marzio.
the buffalo were last
here in 1812
and the deer still eat
the flowers at night
the antelope play
A Critical Analysis: Giovan Battista Piranesi
One of the most powerful ideas that Jacques Derrida addresses in Of Grammatology is the possibility of another form of memory, a memory that no longer deals with fragments or figuration or abstraction but with something he calls the "trace". The trace is the presence of an absence, a presence no longer in its metaphysical fullness nor an absence as a dialectical opposite to presence, but rather something that exceeds the dialectic. It is more like a non-absent absence. But a memory trace is not new to architecture.
One of the best examples of the memory trace exists in architecture in one of G.B. Piranesi's didactic maps of the Campo Marzio, drawn in 1762. To understand the idea of trace, Piranesi's drawing must be compared to the Nolli plan of Rome. Drawn in 1748, the Nolli plan has today become the icon of an architectural fundamentalism which calls itself New Urbanism. It represents an idea of original truth, of a moment in time that uses this moment in the eighteenth century as a badge of authenticity to authorize work in the present. The Nolli map was a literal projection of Rome as it was in the eighteenth century. On the other hand, the Campo Marzio has little to do with representing a literal place or an actual time. The Campo Marzio is a fabric of traces, a weaving of fact and fiction.
The traces of the Campo Marzio have nothing to do with a literal representation of space and time as an aesthetic image; rather, they project time and space as well as act as an index of both. Piranesi uses the Rome that was extent in the eighteenth century as a starting point, but that possesses no original value; it is merely a being in the present. From this existential moment of being, he takes buildings that existed in the first and second centuries, in Imperial Rome, and places them in the same framework of time and space as the eighteenth-century city. Next, Piranesi moves monuments of the first century from their actual location to other locations, as if these were their actual sites again in the eighteenth century. Piranesi also draws in buildings that never existed. They seem at first glance to be memories of buildings that could have existed; they look like buildings until one examines them as functioning buildings. This idea of a building as a trace of function is similar to Piranesi's project for the Collegio Romano, which has a seemingly centralized plan. However, when it is analyzed, it does not actually function; it only symbolizes its function.
Equally, the Campo Marzio would not function as an urban entity. There are no streets as such; rather, the ground is filled with what can be called interstitial figures. In this fabric of fact and fiction, there are no clear figure/ground relationships, one of the underpinnings of the dialectics of contemporary architecture. There is no primacy given to the ground or to the figure. The result is not a figure/ground projection, as in the Nolli map, but what could be called a figure/figure urbanism. This idea of urbanism does not give primacy to the ground as a original instance or datum. Rather, the ground becomes an interstitial trace between objects, which are also traces in both in time and space. This presents a theoretical basis for urbanism as a tissue of memory rather than as a nostalgia for static icons. Such a notion is close to what Charles Sanders Pierce calls an index. In this context, an index can be considered as a record of events; it is a notational matrix. It undercuts all metaphysical ideas of truth and ideality. It is a multiple palimpsest, a series of overlays that mix fact with fiction. [In one sense...]
Peter Eisenman, "A Critial Analysis: Giovan Battista Piranesi" in Luca Molinari, editor, Peter Eisenman: Feints (Milano: Skira Editore, 2006), p. 40.
It rocked Eisenman on his chair...
Giovanni Battista Piranesi died today in 1778, on the feast of the dedication of the Basilica Constantiniani (known today as the Basilica of St. John Lateran), the first Christian basilica in Rome.
"Piranesi uses the Rome that was extent in the eighteenth century as a starting point, but that possesses no original value; it is merely a being in the present. From this existential moment of being, he takes buildings that existed in the first and second centuries, in Imperial Rome, and places them in the same framework of time and space as the eighteenth-century city."
--Peter Eisenman, "Notations of Affect. An Architecture of Memory" in Pathos, Affect, Gefühl (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2004), pp.504-11.
If you actually study the Campo Marzio you'll find the starting point, framework and the millennium's worth of buildings that Piranesi utilized. First there are the altar and race course dedicated to Mars by Romulus in the mid-eighth century BC. Incidentally, this is how the Campo Marzio received its name--the fields of Mars. And to manifest the framework there is the last Imperial artifact of the Campo Marzio, the sepulcher of Empress Maria, wife of Honorius, from the early 5th century AD. Indeed the sarcophagus of Empress Maria holds a key position within the Il Campo Marzio publication. And to complete the framework, the last page of Il Campo Marzio depicts a double theater.