tutte le strade portano a Roma

All roads lead to Rome. But should you be on that road?

American architecture students should turn around and go home. There’s nothing to see that they can understand. The problem reminds me of what Noam Chomsky says about rats running prime number mazes.

Rats don’t get prime number mazes. Prime numbers, for rats, are not a problem to be solved; they’re a total mystery, and not due to any lack of mental apparatus, not due to lack of sufficient memory or intellectual capacity. The problem is more fundamental. Rats simply don’t grasp the concept of prime number, and never will.

Americans can and do have a great time in Rome. Go and have a great time. But don’t go as an aspiring architect. Go as a partier. At dinner on a sidewalk in Rome I overheard an American at the next table talking about “the Croation guy and the French guy and this guy and the other.” While enjoying your primi and your secondi you too might overhear titillating American observations, like:

I just wrote to him (he’d gone home to France): “Bonjour, I saw someone else (is that the right verb? — haha, oh, yes, they use their verbs differently here…) Oh, look, he still hasn’t written back. I feel bad now. But if it were me, I’d want to know.”

Hey, whatever, if that’s a demonstration of American exceptionalism, or self-absorption, who cares?

But as an architect, you’ll understand nothing here: https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0c59UlCqLDwer (photos of Rome)

Unlike in the American way, making a building is not about making a standalone individual thing. Buildings are not objects. In Rome, as in most of the world, buildings are used to make both inside and outside place. Almost all buildings in Rome, with notable exceptions, are very plain, though massive, conceptually simple things. But together with the other buildings, forming an endless variety of outside spaces for being.

These spaces are infinitely various in feeling, with an infinite diversity of kinds of direct and indirect reflected daylight. Winding, connected spaces, always connected. This is architecture of continuity, and of being. Here buildings are used to make place where culture is cultivated, where being is nurtured, Architecture that makes where one is and can be.

Such a concept simply does not exist in the American mind.

Lacking it, the mind withers, and the body, and the soul. We know there’s so much lost. Architects, unable to make place that matters, unable to nurture being, have nothing left but to put all their energy into the object alone, making it ever more complex and articulated and blobby and indescribable by elementary geometry, or maybe tall, and taller and taller.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Foster says:

    Nice one Rob – to this day, faced with a neutral site to put a freestanding blob on, I don’t know where to begin. Not that sites in crowded UK, even out in the country, are ever neutral – always more ‘context’ than you can use. Buildings built right to the site edge (frontage strips yuk).

  2. WarPigs.blog says:

    Thanks Tom. Appreciate that I have a couple of readers 😊 Who have any interest. Hey check my latest here on Tangerine! https://tangerinefocus.com/2017/07/19/tangerine-1/

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