Concrete Explorations

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Model, Students

Concrete Explorations

Nicolò Zanatta


This Master Thesis focus on the exploration of possible alternative urban spaces in the works of Piranesi, Sant’Elia and Rossi, via their translation in a series of cast models and 3D-printed elements. The final result is a series of photos that capture the absolute concreteness of the original proposals and the lessons they can still teach us, especially on how things could be instead. This research was tutored by professor Renato Bocchi and professor Fabrizio Gay.





Who influences you graphically?

I can’t say I have a single source of inspiration. My usual approach is to scour the internet looking for eye-catching images and, when found, try to go deeper into them. I am very fond of the hypertext-iness of the web and I’ve spent more than one afternoon just browsing sites and blogs to their very end. Pier Vittorio Aureli’s diplomas results and the rest of the AA, Brodsky & Utkin etchings, Massimo Scolari whole opera, are just a few names that come across as references for me. As photography goes, I’m mainly looking at Luigi Ghirri and Franco Fontana, two authors that can easily be read “graphically” too.

How does your photographic work influence your architectural work and vice versa?

I’d say the two of them are quite difficult to separate, to define. I mean that I usually “use” what I’ve seen in my architectural career as a template, a cross-referring image of something I’ve already seen. For example, I was shooting in a  building site in Venice and some of the spaces I was in were extremely reminiscent of Piranesi’s Carceri, which I used as a mental reference for the photos I was about to take. The same happens in my architectural work, using spaces I’ve had experience of while shooting, in the design process of the project. It is a curated selection though, not a totally passive one.


Painted Clouds


Suprematismo n 1

When photographing your Master Thesis, what parameters drove the various shots? What did you want to reveal/disclose?

One of the premises of my Master Thesis was show the concreteness of Piranesi, Sant’Elia and Rossi’s proposals. When talking about concreteness, I am not talking in a “brick-and-mortar” kind of sense but I a more theoretical and logical firmness of their ideas. These projects were made to show a possible alternative to the urban/architectural contingency, they undermine the assumption that things are given and set in stone. They have the nerve of asking “how could it be instead?”. This is something that was always present when shooting the models, the need of capturing the space of an idea as the space of a city.


What defined the use of black and white photography for these?

It came as a natural choice when I decided to use two materials for the models: cast plaster and 3D printed white plastic. Having both of these a white-ish appearance, the black and white conversion helped bringing forth the details and the definition of the volumes. I also guess I was influenced by Piranesi’s engravings and their ability of conjuring a sense of the Sublime (in a closely Romantic sense) through the chosen media too.


How was the exhibition structured and why?

This was a very interesting and tough aspect to tackle, as without a proper exhibition, the whole thesis could come apart and stay silent. I worked very closely with a group of friends on its design and we came out with the idea of the “windows” you can see in the picture. These simple wooden frames are positioned in direct line with the printed images, in a symbolic attempt of evoking the sensation of looking outside a window, into a land/city-scape. To be totally faithful to the logic of the thesis, the exhibition could stop here, without the physical models I used. But we agreed this would be a bit too extreme, so we decided to exhibit them in a clearly separated area, creating a sort of “storage room of shapes and forms”.



How does the physical artifact exist in relation to its photographed fragment?

This is a theme I was sort of obsessed while working on the thesis. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this relation is not important. In the sense that any physical manifestation of an object is still related to a Representation, the pure Aesthetic experience we have of it. As Piranesi, Sant’Elia and Rossi showed in their respective works, an Idea needs a Representation and the media in which this is done is not that important. There’s a factor of “appropriateness” to the media chosen but that’s it. If the Idea is strong enough and its Representation is equally effective, than it may well be a physical model, a photo, a comic-book, a movie or whatever else, it will still come through. That’s why the label of “paper-architects” is ludicrous, Piranesi has been, and still is, influencing generation upon generation of architects with its “paper-architecture”. That is the reason why previously I said that the physical models were a secondary aspect of the exhibition, because they may as well not be present in it. The images of the models are superior to the models themselves, and this is an hermetically personal decision.


Are you interested in developing the proposal further through the use of the images or are they a means to an end?
I am sure I will be “haunted” by my Master Thesis for the rest of my life. This is a declaration of intent, an un-finished work that will take decades to hopefully come to fruition. How this will happen, is still beyond me but I am definitely going to keep on working as an architect/photographer. I’m too deep into the white rabbit’s hole to let it go.


Nicolò Zanatta graduated in Architecture at IUAV University of Venice on March 2017.


Glass Wave


Earth’s Curvature


Three backgrounds


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