Castello di Sermoneta

Castello di Sermoneta has a plethora of fascinating construction details and small spaces waiting to be explored. 

The entrance to the castle is a series of gates, drawbridges and winding steps – designed to weaken the enemy’s attack. There are also a couple of ‘roof lights’ which are holes right on top of gates, so defenders could pour down hot oil and stones onto their unwelcomed guests in battle. 

What I liked the most about the castle is perhaps its deep windows, sometimes going up to 3 metres deep. 

What is peculiar about these windows is that even though it is a castle, a number of these alcove spaces are meant as quiet reading spaces for its residents (Pope’s relatives). So although it is an impenetrable castle from the outside, with its rough stones and guarded gates, on the inside, it gives an impression of peace and tranquility. 

Another space that I found different is the horse stables. Covered with straws on the roof to withhold heat in the underground room, the stable can hold twenty horses. It is probably the definition of a medieval stable. I could almost see the knights preparing for battle, sense the horses getting uneasy, smell the blood and sweat and feel the incoming doom. The eeriness of the arched stable is increased tenfold with the rough texture of the straw roof – giving it an almost grotto-like atmosphere.

The internal courtyard is a story in itself. There are at least five different types of facades looking onto the courtyard, each working with the individual building’s history, function and aesthetics. 

Bibliography on Building Deaths

  • Buildings Must Die, Stephen Cairn, Jane M Jacobs
  • Suzzane Preston Blier, ‘The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression’
  • Filarete and Francesco di Giorgio (Renaissance period)
    Kruft, Hanno-Walter, 1994, A History of Architectural Theory
  • Alan Berger, Drosscape, 2006
  • Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Hollier, Denis, 1989, Against Architecture
  • Bataille, Georges, 1995, Enclycopaedia Acephalica
  • Morris, William, 1888 (1902), The Revival of Handicraft
  • Mumford, Lewis, 1931, Sticks and Stones: A Study of American Architecture and Civilization
  • Robben, Antonius, 2004, Death and Anthropology
  • Claud Bernard, 1876
  • Antoine Picon, 2000, Anxious Landscapes: From the Ruin to Rust
  • Keller Easterling, 2000, Subtraction
  • Cedric Price, 1966
  • Kevin Lynch, Wasting Away, 1990
  • Michael Thompson, 1979, Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value
  • Edward Hollis, The Secret Lives of Buildings (2009)
  • David Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, 1996
  • Bruno Latour, Albena Yaneva, ‘Give me a Gun and I will Make All Buildings Move’: An Ant’s View of Architecture
  • Delueze
  • Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter:  A Political Ecology of Things
  • Bandarin, Francesco and Van Oers, Ron, 2012, Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century
  • Architectural Design Magazine – Timed

Buildings Must Die, Excerpts

Stephen Cairn, Jane M Jacobs

Subtraction, pg. 40

A more emphatically deconstructive threat relevant to terminal literacy has been offered by architect Keller Easterling, who has begun to think about the discipline of architecture through the concept of subtraction. Easterling points to the ways in which subtraction (demolition and removal) are a necessary part of architecture, but notes that traditionally the architectural response has been to resist (preservation) or to answer with the ‘construction of their own magnificent idea… a restorative or corrective plan’ (Easterling 2003, 93). Demolition is often seen as architecture’s enemy, and nowhere more so than by those architects who see it as their responsibility to preserve architectures heritage. The preservation movement was forged around resisting demolitions of buildings considered to be of significance to the history of architectural creativity itself. In this sense, demolition could quite literally be an attack on the discipline’s archive. The historical specificity of early preservation efforts later broadened to include a wider body of architecture, whose significance was derived contextually, from social or townscape relevance. A contextual way of thinking about conservation can alter the way architects relate to demolition. For example, the early-twentieth-century Italian architect Gustavo Giovannoni viewed the city as an organism. … (H)e proposed ‘building reduction’ comprising the cautious demolition of existing buildings and the polite introduction of new ones (Menghini 2002). As we show later, the extension of conservation thinking to whole areas of the city has extended such models of design by erasure, wherein buildings deemed ‘inappropriate’ or ‘ill-fitting’ are removed in the interests of creating (or reinstating) a certain kind of townscape. This is subtraction in the service of an essentialist value.

In this context of resistance and attachment, Easterling offers a more abstractly formed and speculative meditation on the fact of buildings coming down. She suggests that architecture is on the brink of another approach to being with the many ‘species’ of subtraction, be it demolition wilful damage, natural disaster, or decay. She refutes architectural subtraction as proof of architectural failure, because it is a sign of an ‘architecture without permanence and therefore without worth.’ Rather, she entreats architecture to embrace subtraction as a ‘productive technique’ and ‘an operative practice,’ ‘both a tool and a new territory’ (Easterling 2003, 90).

Wasting, pg. 44

In Wasting Away he offers a sustained account of how society creates waste, manages waste, and variously lives poorly or well with it. His ambition in this wide-ranging and thought-provoking account is to offer a brief for living with waste well. Rather than lamenting the decay of buildings, or ascribing judgments of junk upon architectures that are considered under-designed or poorly designed, this volume offers a set of rules for living alongside the ‘tragic and marvellous’ process of wasting (Lynch, 1990, 166). Lynch’s book is attuned to the multiple scales of wasting in which buildings are embedded. He is as attentive to the multiple scales of wasting in which buildings are embedded. He is as attentive to the daily cycles of use and disposal that happen in buildings as he is to the periodic acts of abandonment and obsolescence that leave buildings, architectural edifices, and whole built environment unvalued and in ruins. Lynch not only offers a set of culturally and historically varied observations on wasting conditions and the built environment, he also sets out the basic positive guidelines for decay. These include planned obsolescence such that buildings could be designed to ‘decline gracefully’ or be ‘easily replace.’ For example, Lynch suggests that ‘in addition to asking that an architect show exactly how a building will look when it is occupied, he might be asked to show it remodelled for some other use, or as it will look in decay,’ or asked ‘for demolition plans for new buildings.’ Indeed, Lynch goes so far as to suggest that architectural designs should include plans for how buildings will be disposed of, including an estimation of the resulting costs and benefits.

Architecture against waste, pg. 52

Waste, in this vision of productivity, is a category that is placed over common resources as a precursive gesture to legitimate enclosure and privatisation, processes in which architecture has played a central territorial and symbolic role.

Architecture, then, has played its part as a technique for, and expression of, the appropriation of wasteland. It has both facilitated, and operated as a materialization of, the ‘proper’ use of God-given natural resources and human ability. … Architecture in this model of property rights is not simply something that comes after property, but operates in the name of enclosure as proof of rights sanctioned by Godly contract. Architecture’s presence proves creative productivity and the refashioning of an indeterminate nature towards purpose. An absence of architecture is proof of idleness, itself a sign of squandering. The European Enlightenment consolidated the link between reason, value, and order. The Architectural design functioned to order, to give form to the formless, to bring utility to the seemingly useless and value to the worthless. Indeed, in the Age of Reason architecture, with its mix of utility, beauty and permanence, operated as the cosmetic territorial order par excellence.

The ‘industrial art’ of architecture is both an art of creating shelter and a technology of partition, enclosure, and appropriation. … In [Martin Heidegger’s] meditation on space (Raum) he notes that its root, ráumen, means the act of making room in a constructive and productive sense. It also denotes a shadow meaning, that of clearing, removing obstacles, or evacuating.

Deformation, pg. 65

David Harvey offers a useful way of moving forward here. He thinks of place formation, in which architecture clearly plays its part, as a process of carving out ‘permanences,’ no matter how solid they may seem, are not eternal: ‘they are always subject to time as ‘perpetual perishing’… contingent on the processes that create, sustain and dissolve them’. (Harvey 1996, 261)

 

Immaterial Architecture

Jonathan Hill (Bartlett)

  • Hill explores immateriality in two aspects – the first is an exploration of the concept of security within the physical boundaries of space and the unknown outside, demonstrated through his example of home; the second is a discussion on architecture as an immaterial idea in contrast to a physical building.

Introduction

  • Architecture is expected to be solid, stable and reassuring – physically, socially and psychologically. Bound to each other, the architectural and the material are considered inseparable. But Immaterial Architecture states that the immaterial is as important to architecture as the material and has as long a history.
  • The first chapter considers the material stability and solidity of architecture through an analysis of two homes – one of architecture, the other of architects – identifying the safety they offer and the threats they face. ‘Chapter 1: House and Home’ discusses the coupling of material stability to social stability, and considers the resultant pressures on architecture and the architectural profession to be respectively solid matter and solid practice.
  • The second chapter traces the origins of the architect, as the term is understood today, to the Italian Renaissance, when drawing was first associated with ideas and essential to architectural practice. Dependent on the concept that ideas are immaterial and superior to matter, the command of drawing underpins the status of architectural design as intellectual and artistic labour. In conclusion, ‘Chapter 2: Hunting the Shadow’ relates the command of drawing to other concepts that draw architecture towards the immaterial, such as space and surface.
  • There are many ways to understand immaterial architecture. As an idea, a formless phenomenon, a technological development towards lightness, a tabula rasa of a capitalist economy, a gradual loss of architecture’s moral weight and certitude or a programmatic focus on actions rather than forms. I recognize each of these models but concentrate on another. Focusing on immaterial architecture as the perceived absence of matter more than the actual absence of matter, 2 I devise new means to explore old concerns: the creativity of the architect and the user. The user decides whether architecture is immaterial. But the architect, or any other architectural producer, creates material conditions in which that decision can be made.
  • In the conclusion and index, Immaterial Architecture advocates an architecture that fuses the immaterial and the material, and considers its consequences, challenging preconceptions about architecture, its practice, purpose, matter and use. Conclusion: Immaterial– Material’ weaves the two together, so that they are in conjunction not opposition. ‘Index of Immaterial Architectures’ discusses over thirty architectures – buildings, spaces and artworks – in which the material is perceived as immaterial. 3

Immaterial Home

  • The statement ‘All that is solid melts into air’ encapsulates the force of a capitalist society that, in expanding cycles of destruction, production and consumption, undermines all that is assumed to be solid, such as the home. 11 But in undermining the safety of the home, a capitalist society feeds desire for a home that is evermore safe. Sibley argues that while the apparent stability of the home may provide gratification it can also, simultaneously, create anxiety because the security and spatial purification the home offers can never be fully achieved. Often the consequence is an increasingly intense need for stability not an awareness of its limits: ‘Generally, anxieties are expressed in the desire to erect and maintain spatial and temporal boundaries. Strong boundary consciousness can be interpreted as a desire to be in control and to exclude the unfamiliar because the unfamiliar is a source of unease rather than something to be celebrated.’ 12
  • Referring to Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay on the uncanny, Sibley adds that ‘this striving for the safe, the familiar or heimlich fails to remove a sense of unease. I would argue that it makes it worse.’ 13 However, Freud offers another meaning of heimlich: ‘Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know about it.’ 14 Striving for the familiar is ineffective because the home can never be safe enough and the heimlich is not what it seems. Heynen writes: It is not without reason that dwelling is the key metaphor that Freud uses in his reflection on the uncanny. According to Freud, the most uncanny experience occurs in the environment that is most familiar to us, for the experience of the uncanny has to do with the intertwining of heimlich (what is of the house, but also what is hidden) and unheimlich (what is not of the house, what is therefore in a strange way unconcealed yet concealed). 15
  • The uncanny is experienced when something familiar is repressed but returns as unexpected and unfamiliar. 16 The uncanny operates where the heimlich (homely) and unheimlich (unhomely) converge. One is at home but out of place.
  • Sibley does not reject all attempts to construct a stable order. Instead he argues for the merits of both defined boundaries and spatial porosity. As an example he considers the child’s experience of the home. He writes that the negative view of strongly classified environments fails to take account of evidence from research in group therapy that children (and adults) need firm boundaries in order to develop a secure sense of self. If members of a family ‘live in each other’s laps’, in a boundary-less, weakly classified home, or they are ‘enmeshed’ as Salvador Minuchin put it, there is a danger that children, in particular, will not develop a sense of autonomy. 17
  • When it is identified with the formless, the immaterial is associated with all that appears to threaten society, architecture and the home, whether insidious disorder inside or lurking danger outside. But the threat of the immaterial is imagined as much as it is real. The desire for an architecture that is safe and secure can never be fulfilled. Instead, it may increase anxiety and further desire for an architecture that is evermore safe. Replacing a static and material architecture with one that is fluid and immaterial is no solution, however. Instead, compatibility between the spaces of a home and the habits of its occupants is desirable. A tightly structured group of people occupying a loose spatial configuration will create tension and anxiety, as will the opposite. However, matching users to spatial configurations fails to take account of changing users and changing needs. 18 Instead, a home must have the potential to be both spatially tight and loose. To accommodate evolving conceptions of the individual and society, architecture must engage the material and the immaterial, the static and the fluid, the solid and the porous. An architecture that is immaterial and spatially porous, as well as solid and stable where necessary, will not change established habits. Rather it may offer those habits greater flexibility. 19
    • [Think: a desire for heritage to be representative of the past is imagined as much as it is real.]

Immaterial Practice

  • On a more fundamental note, immaterial architecture revels in qualities – the subjective, unpredictable, porous and ephemeral – that are contrary to the solid, objective and respectable practice expected of a professional.
  • The stability of architects’ practice is a myth, however. Cousins states that the discipline of architecture is weak because it involves not just objects but relations between subjects and objects. 20 As the discipline of architecture is weak, so too is the practice of architects. But, weak is not pejorative here. Rather it is the strength to be fluid, flexible and open to conflicting perceptions and opinions. The practice of architects needs to confidently reflect the nature of the architectural discipline. Architecture must be immaterial and spatially porous, as well as solid and stable where necessary; and so should the practice of architects.

And then Hill moves on to give an index of immaterial architecture, from fabric to television and give a short discussion text on each immaterial.