The Monument_A Related and Contextualised System
Venice is a city with a proud past, reflected in the numerous cultural activities that still pervade it, but that, in recent years, it is seeing its identity changing.
It is one of the greatest architectural monuments of humanity, and as such, it would suffer in being compared with an ambitious new building, that maybe instead of help in maintaining its position as unique city in the world, would ultimately make it only more common.
It is indeed a jealous place, which is not revealed immediately but in fragmented glimpses, that lives in symbiosis with the environment, and finds its strength in unity and coexistence of all its parts, resembling de facto to a single and continuous painting. Its urban grid is dense, labyrinthine, which unties only at key points such as squares, or the Canal Grande.
Unlike the venetian city, the universities often manage spaces and functions in a schematic and orderly way; this allows them to separate departments, libraries, residences and offices from each other, and allow them not to find a real relationship with the city. In fact, in the universities, the students could spend a lot of time in them, but they won’t live in them, or at least most of them won’t; and even if they live in the university, they stay in residential areas, often separated from the educational areas.
This causes a margination and a closure, physical and ideal, of the departments, which becomes eremitical areas, partially alive only during the opening hours, and of the residences, alive only after the working hours.
Luckily the typical internal sectorization of the universities is not, however, entirely possible to Poveglia, because of its natural island’s configuration that makes the direct relationship with the city more difficult. Therefore, in this case the university must also incorporate part of the functions that would normally exist in the surrounding city.
In addition, the competition also requires the presence of residences in the project, which joined to the indirect relationship with the city, it means that for the most of the time, some students will spend all their time, day and night, on the island of Poveglia.
So, the project dialogues ideologically with Venice, and it is conformed like a real city, with its openings, its views, its chaotic appearance, but ordered, and especially with all its vital functions. It merges its most typical features, such as classrooms, libraries and offices, with some features characteristic of the city, such as shops, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, banks, barber shops, gyms and cultural centres, in a complete urban system.
The whole complex then does not present itself as an orderly place, where everything is sectored, but as a flexible place where the position, apparently disorganized, of all its functions it continuously keeps it alive, and crucially, encourages the exchange of ideas and of views, typical of a university.
In fact, the different departments will no longer be self-referential, but they will be forced to communicate with each other, and so the students, sparking an education more complete, in an atmosphere of harmony and serenity.
In addition, with this configuration, the students will live the university in all its aspects, all the areas, and for all the time.
The project is also organized to respect the historical green environment of the island, actively including it among the necessary connections, and using it as a guide to trace the macro-routes.
The use of buildings similar in size and in topological elements to those of Venice, highlights that also the Poveglia University isn’t revealed instantaneously but in fragmented glimpses, that lives in harmony with the context, and that finds its strength in unity and coexistence of all its parts, establishing then a sophisticated but powerful connection.
Who influences you graphically?
As for the design-representative level we’ve been influenced by a series of figures, between architects and artists, who have developed in an essential and delicate architectural monumentalism. This is because, as well as they provided us a partial intellectual inspiration on which to base the project, it provided us a reference for the clarity and simplicity of the representation of very complex systems. In terms of names there have been: Aldo Rossi, John Hejduk, Ettore Sottsass, Carlo Aymonino, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, OMA, Paul Noble and Metabolist movement in general.
What dictated the choice of a monochromatic palette? How does it relate back to the context of Venice which on the other hand is also rich in colour?
At the beginning we’ve been inspired by the XVI Century Venetian engravings, which impressed us for the maniacal precision, the degree of detail and for the ease of reading of very complex and highly stratified places. Inspired by that (one of our project’s aim was to create in Poveglia a place that should gather all those little details and that urban complexity which makes the near Venice more unique than one can imagine, to have an alive and liveable island before than a university campus) we found ourselves having to handle an articulate, very ambitious and complex project. Adding a further and not needed layer of complexity, like the colour, might have diverted the attention on other features, that were not at the basis of the main idea. In this way, we believe that the labyrinthine conformation, its stratifications and the density of its fabric, typical elements of the Venetian city, are in the first line and help the pursued analogy to emerge. Furthermore, the use of a monochrome palette sends back to a past when University was a place of universal knowledge, where the interdisciplinary dialogue and the people were the foundation of culture, a situation that we pursued with the whole idea of the project.
How relevant and important is it to address the Monument nowadays?
It is well known that many cities in Italy can be defined almost as monuments and Venice is one of these. The theme of the monument and the monumental in general, however, is often overlooked. Or better, now the monument is searched through a single architectural event, and not a related and contextualized system. Many of the new monumental architectures often don’t seek a dialogue with the existing, but they tend to make a direct comparison, a rivalry with the status. This approach is certainly valid in many other sites, and has produced unexpected and surprising architectural solutions, but it can’t be applied everywhere. Indeed, there are cities that must be respected, which don’t need a brutal contrast with the present, because their essence and their beauty are strongly linked to an indefinite past. This however doesn’t mean that this cities have to become open-air museums, abandon themselves to a passive living, and that they don’t need contemporary and radical proposals; but it means that we, as architects, have to pay more attention during the design process, in which the knowledge of history is fundamental. For us, a good intervention in these places could be the one that has the power to strengthen the relation between the different ages, keeping alive the existing monuments and maybe improve, silently, what already exists, without being a new and disrespectful monument. So, directly related to the question, it depends on where you are designing for.
Today many architectural images feature images of people which come from the like of Veteran, Hayez, Magritte, how does the inclusion of these fragments influence your image? Why was it necessary to use silhouettes of this calibre and not ordinary people?
We decided to use these kinds of figures not to create a nostalgic vicion of the University, but because these kinds of people give the impression to be more human than the ordinary cut-outs. We wanted these silhouettes not only to fill the images but to have the power to tell stories, to lead the viewers to think of different life scenarios between the potential inhabitants of the University. Therefore, we chose the paintings: artists often capture not the images but the intentions and, and even if they are in the form of fragments taken from a complex composition like a painting, they remain able to issue the same intention, and even to acquire new ones per the contexts. The people, deliberately of different ages, different painting styles, different historical ages, they meet and they exchange ideas between each other, identifying themselves like the stratifications in the university campus, helping us to strengthen the topic that we have decided to carry on.
How does the paint like texture is in relation to the proposal?
The proposal was made for a call of ideas. An idea is something precise, but non-defined at the same time. An idea expresses a meaning, a concept, a thought that, for definition, it owns its story, just as in a painting. And, very simply, we treated the project as a story, as a process that went through different phases and it obtained several answers, but it still can be defined better. For us, a call of ideas has the main purpose to start a debate about itself and not to suggest the final solution, otherwise it will be a photorealistic certainty.