Tin-canned Clouds and Democracy – by Roberto Pasini

22 Marzo 2012Photo: @ Moreno Maggi Photographer

I met Massimiliano Fuksas in Vienna in 1996. I was attending rational-mondialist Anton Schweighofer s Technische Universit t as part of the Erasmus Program which has moved generations of vociferous students across the continent converting the abstract idea of a possible European belonging into love stories, sharing and desires. I had been accepted as an auditor in oneiric post-rationalist Gustav Peichl s Akademie der Bildenden KA?nste, and was planning to apply for permanent admission at SchillerPlatz 1. Yet at the end of the semester Peichl unexpectedly retired, intending to devote all his time to his caricatures in Die Presse, and Fuksas, who was completing his Wienerberg City twin towers, was asked to be pro tempore director.

Consequently it was in front of Fuksas that my portfolio drawings were spread out on the large wooden desk which had been used by Otto Wagner for reviews. When I was called in, he was looking at the drawings with a smile. By then he was fifty-one and had already achieved international fame. If I think about it now, I am very surprised that he was at all interested in a twenty-five year old student s works; at the time, on the contrary, it seemed natural. Yet he was actually crinkling his eyes with pleasure at some recently evoked thought.

He then asked who I had studied with. I mentioned some Venetian epigones of ai???La Tendenza in Florence and Vittorio De Feo in Rome. Fuksas commented that he liked the projects in spite of the fact that they were ai???cattivi maestri (literally ai???bad teachers , an Italian expression usually associated with intellectuals accused of the widespread induction of militant students for terrorist activities in the early ai???70s). He then uttered a few simple words which since then have begun to slowly descend in my conscience, still continuing now in a series of evolutionary interpretations. He said: ai???architecture is a democratic artai???. He was certainly condemning Italian academia s unfounded snobbism, as well as returning the disdain he had received. Yet he was also historically accepting heavy interference from the many agencies involved in the complex process of converting his work from preliminary sketches to implementation.

Once the selection sessions were done we only saw him once or twice more at the Akademie that semester. Democratically, he divided his time between his many commitments. After all, they would soon include some of the largest constructions in the world. In many of those works, later, I believe to have identified features associated with that elementary definition of architecture which had crossed the space of Wagner Hall. The crystal stream crossing the Milan fairgrounds surprises the observer with the designer s ostentatious disinterest in the beautiful curve, as well as the poor detailing of modules and joints with solid exhibition volumes. The conidial intrusions in the light wells of the virtuosic fuselage at Schenzhen airport show evident perimetral disconnection, as if produced by two separate consciences. It was the same at the beginning, though. The postmodern fracas of the schools in Latium seems accepted with crass indifference. The many unplanned cusps in the free curves of Orvieto s cemetery catch one s eye like the chaotic volumetric intersections of the metallic complex at CollA?ge Saint Exupery. Yet, besides an overt construction bulimia, the irritation arising from that stridor also recalls a flaunted multiplicity of operators in a collective, ununiform and modernly heterogeneous action. Even the latest fashion is thrown into that ai???democratic stridor as one of the independent forces operating in the context, embodying action that is as much collective as it is diametrically opposed to the choral construction of cathedrals.

1 la teca

It is not surprising that completed works often differ quite markedly from his preliminary drawings.In the case of Fuksas, the preliminary project is openly used as leverage to unleash his outstanding and uninhibited ability to exploit relationships to win commissions. He does not fall in love with these drawings, but rather uses them in the most effective way. Whoever does a lot of building loves material work, and Fuksas, if I may say so, loves it without deodorant: that fiery vortex swallowing up thousands of people, their upsurges and rage, clashing desires, superhuman effort, humiliation, the basest interests and the noblest passions, compromise and rebirth, all lasting for years until completion. His volcanic ascendancy in Italy s architectural theogony is diametrically opposed to Renzo Piano s apollonian lineage, endowed with tectonic perfection. I can envision Fuksas plunging into the eye of that vortex of obscure antimatter (or anti-architecture) like a giant with prodigious energy or a demon broken by his many experiences. Maybe it s because of the movie clips picturing him as a young man in the ai???70s, bringing the student movement into the factories among the workers, entering the blast-furnaces with the extra-parliamentary groups who were abandoning ai???peace and love and ai???non-violence amidst the fumes of melted metals.

Any interest in the coincidence (or lack thereof) between his almost legendary cloud-like preliminary drawings of the conference center and his works in an advanced stage of construction would imply the existence of an original ideational nucleus, a sacred product of artistic, instantaneous and self-serving poiesis. This condition, however, does not apply to a ai???democratic production process in which the preliminary drawings are nothing but an occasional incipit and an instrumental vehicle. In any case the nocturnal lighting effects portend magical transfigurations, even though in the daytime the cloud of the famous multi-televised sketch will not assume an architectural form at the EUR.

At the moment, inside a heavy steel and glass cage there is an informal, transversally sliced mass with a sequence of metal ribs that looks like the skeleton of an enormous dinosaur. High-fashion models have helped open up a gash in the gigantic belly, with evocative runway photos drawing views through the open metal limbs. With the partitions in place we will be able to assess whether or not ai???democratic architecture can build a blade+shrine+cloud without collapsing into a wall+box+blob.

By exempting this work from ai???autonomous art critique guidelines I do not intend to suggest that the ai???democratic architecture we are talking about is more suitable for a Neo-Marxist formula, in which an architect s work is judged by how it fulfills its teleologically assigned task of redesigning construction and industrial manufacturing systems. Apart from these criticisms I would simply like to point out what can be regarded, provided a certain desperate drunkenness, as a much more interesting experiment in our country s contemporary democracy.

The construction of H&dM s bird s nest in Beijing has shown how the Chinese production system s endemic approximation, chronic in People s Republic s monolithic authoritarian-corruptive-nepotistic leviathan and unshakable even under the blows of the fashion-fetish detailing Dioscuri, does not compromise the poetic performance of that same production system, unfolding on the enormous scale of the Asian world-country. Similarly, at the Centro Congressi Italia we will see whether the artist s giant force can tame the vortex of a decaying democracy s melted matter, reducing the heterogeneous polyphony of voices and the multiplicity of degraded agencies collective action into a work of architecture.

3 l'interno

On my last visit, Rome was enjoying the warm winter sun. Zigzagging across the EUR, with Nervi s incumbent flying saucer appearing and disappearing behind imposing volumes, I felt like a neo-nomad in the ai???non-work continuum . Figini s and Pollini s columns paraded by my side like white ghosts, then Montuori s squared exedras and Muzio s curves, La Padula s archeological osteology and Libera s sail anchored to the tops of the tambour, still filled with a metaphysical wind that blows it away.

I strolled around the tin-canned cloud, took photos in an unsuccessful search for the angle that might enhance the transparency of the walls and capture the maritime pines superb foliage, and I wondered if the dimensions of the cage might be overwhelming even for the existing urban masses of EUR s monumental scheme. Nearby I recognized the marble stairway from a video-interview in which Federico Fellini described this area as the garden of his paradise and I realized that I was anxious to witness the epiphany of a long-evoked ai???democratic ectoplasm amidst the sublime metaphysical geography produced by a totalitarian vision in a corrupted regime.

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