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10 May 2011

School of Bari

The Weight of the Past

Bari Cathedral from the South
I resisted the temptation to title this entry “School of Rocks,” since the Politecnico di Bari’s research on stone construction is too important to be taken lightly. I presented a paper at the first of what will hopefully be many ReteVitruvio conferences there last week, and was literally astounded by the quality of analysis and documentation the Bari doctoral students are doing. To mention only a few names, Marco Stefano Orsini, Francesco Scricco, Ubaldo Occhinegro, Enrica Leonardis, Vincenzo Minenna, Fiore Resta, Stefania Petralla, and Graziella Fittipaldi all presented outstanding papers in the Costruzione sessions on Tuesday May 3 (find the full program as pdf’s on the ReteVitruvio site). Director Claudio D’Amato Guerierri deserves a lot of credit for having shaped this research agenda and sustained its quality, and now its dissemination. Would that it plant seeds of change in the construction world—imagine stereotomy being a useful skill in building today!

If there was anything that gave me pause, it was the constant sense that the rigor of their historical research was continually buffetted by the notion that they would have to transform/adapt/abstract it to make it relevant as modern practicing architects. In some of the presentations by others this implied the use of steel, or the deliberate abstraction of form. The weight of the past for Italians is something that gives form and rigor to their studies, but also blocks their will to fully practice from within a tradition. The scientific approach to the past, while yielding a treasure trove of knowledge, also inhibits a living artistic engagement with it.

I presented my paper “The Inevitable Project: Avoiding the Formally Arbitrary Through Analysis and Poetics” as part of the Didattica sessions, and my hope is that it offers a way out of that impasse through an engagement with classical architecture as language—a means, and not an end, in other words (find the paper as a pdf by following The Inevitable Project link at the Academia Chiron). Jaap Dawson’s “Building Before We Build” also offered a mythical framework for the building act: an invitation to invite the gods to the design table (it made me think of Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Random House): “A life in which the gods are not invited isn’t worth living. It will be quieter, but there won’t be any stories.” p. 387).

Repairing the Nets in Bari Vecchia ("rete" means net)