Since the world is going through a delirious road, it may be right to have a delirious point of view
The historical perspective of this essay does not intend to subvert, in any way, the established thesis of the specificity of the Italian architectural contribution to the international debate. On the contrary, we would like to say that contemporary Italian architecture is much more differentiated than one would expect.
Therefore, here we will start to talk about contemporaneity although we are aware of the short distance from the designed and imagined architecture of today.
Marcello Guido’s case is apparently ambiguous but an interesting one also because it is foreign to most recent historiographical built ups.
In the midst of the wealth of many possible and plausible entanglements, we believe that his work must be read in the wake of the centuries-old Italian architectural tradition that is in the wake of history. It is a history made up as much of rules as of bizarre inventions, of steps back and jumps forward.
Marcello Guido is not a promoter of temporary or foreign architectural fashions. On the contrary, the twisting and oddities of his architectures seem to spring out from a precise way of looking at the past masters. We are clearly hinting at the critical-operational method by Bruno Zevi but also to a very special personal sensibility that make the architect think about the conscious and unconscious eversions of architecture. At times, Guido’s ravings seem to find their secret origins in Francesco Milizia’s architectural descriptions published in the famous condemning pages by Borromini where is singled out an architecture that is a mix of “(…)orbicolato e di retto” (a mix of something in the form of an orbit and of something straight). Here everything is upside down and reversed as the brain of poor Architect who, in order to do new things went crazy with the undulating dripping; instead of making easy the running of the water he restrained it with delicate mouldings of strange and new forms under a heavy burden (…), with protrusions, contorsions, ravings of every kind. Nonetheless, in this oddity, something harmonious and vague is shining(…). (1. )
The way Milizia himself is suggesting for Borromini’s architecture, the ideas that in the course of the centuries seemed heresies or hallucinations were indeed creative representations destined to realize a vision personal and universal at the same time. Although it may seem strange, they almost always proved their internal coherence and have exercised an ambiguous and mysterious fascination.
Going back to architecture, it is truly unusual to notice how some Milizia’s observations apply to Guido’s projects; how they apply to his sharp angles, his zigzagging of rain shutters and facades, the unusual combination of curvilinear and rectilinear.
What appears to us as overabundant is the result of a complex intertwining of geometrical abstractions in which the taking away, that many architects favor, is not understood in a literal way. The taking away seems to reverse its usual meaning. Guido does not take away material from a primitive or primigenial geometric entity in order to draw from it the living space. On the contrary, he adds signs in order to take away the dimensions and try to give form to the rest.
It is a challenge that adds semantic value to architecture and reveals the craziness of the act. There is no peace in thinking architecture as what is worth it is the negative of what is first designed and then built.
Borromini, both for Guido and for Milizia, is the epitome “(…) of heresy. He intended to be excellent through novelty. He did not understand the essence of Architecture. Therefore, his undulating and zigzagging way came forth along with his craving for ornamentation so far from simplicity which is the basis of beauty. He gave free rein to his fantasy of using cornets, columns and niches, broken pediments and any other oddity. There is, however, even in his biggest extravagance, something great, harmonious, chosen that reveals his sublime talent (…) (2).
Architecture is not only an object that has to be shaped but also a text to be filled: the architect works for projects and also for interpreting, translating, betraying, criticizing.
The meaning of the quotation and the sense of the further words clearly recognize the diversity of Guido’s architectures. After all, we think that the singling out of this trait is an act that separates from the ungenerous, facile and foolish babbling about much misunderstood architecture that lacks adequate critical tools.
Marcello Guido puts architecture in a process of decantation that courageously brings afloat contradictions and gestures. This is Guido’s Deconstructivism; his works are architectures but also critical texts and demonstrations of how is possible to build outside prefixed schemes and rules. It is exactly this that makes him, or, more precisely, that makes him appear, subversive and heretical and, at the same time, gifted with a saturnine appeal. The warning is on the epigraph by Baudrillard at the beginning of this essay. If this is not enough, we can quote the beginning of the Lautreamont’s Maldoror’ s Chants: “The reader, temporarily arrogant and ferocious like what he is reading, may find, without losing his orientation, his wild way through the wasted waters of these dark and venomous pages. Unless he put in reading a severe logic and a tension of the spirit at least equal to his mistrust, the killing exhalations of this book will flood his soul, like water on the sugar. It is not good that everybody reads the pages that follow; only a few will be able to savor without risk this bitter fruit.” (3)
We quote this passage not for a desire of approving the myth of the melancholy artist and of the Nemo propheta in patria (no one is a prophet in his country). On the contrary, it is in order to say that Marcello Guido is against all prophets, those comfortable at home and those that are wandering in exile. This explains the necessity of the double warning: the historical perspective is the one borne out of modernity that is the putting into a crisis the preexistent values.
This is why Guido’s works are born as a reflection on the language of architecture and on history. His work is based on the experiences of crisis and breaking away, his language is a personal trying at a re-writing.
Guido is also aware that within the pre-fixed canons is not possible an equal relationship with the Classical because he well knows that the common way to refer to the ancient world and make it interact with us is deeply spoiled by stereotypes.
The lack of communication in the contemporary world is often a form of illiteracy vis a’ vis of history and of the past. Several authors have highlighted that as much the idea of the Classic is rigid and celebrative as much it is easy to a very low level of semantics or to simplifications and common places similar to marketing. There is so much art and architecture accused of incomprehensibility if it is not wearing the clothing of easy symbolism.
The entire project work by Guido –especially projects like Piazza Toscano orf the Museo del Cavallo that are in rapport with preexisting structures- proposes an urgent rethinking that sooner or later will concern even politics. It is the matter of redesigning the cultural living together of worlds that old mental schemes would want us to see them as incompatible.
After all, it is a matter of re-orienting, as it cyclically happens) the interpretation of different times, and/or cultures, by listening to the difference. The past, as Heidegger teaches us, is not simply past; above all it is a Gewesenheit, a “being been”, that is a preexistence that has not a definite placing because it is in a continuous tension, even turbulent, with our being here and now.
This is a meaning wider than the concrete, steel and glass connections put in the ancient context by Marcello Guido.
The adopted solutions are obviously reflecting also the love and respect towards the ancient but still keeps the ephemeral fascination of contemporaneity. The interventions are thought as reversible, the contact new-ancient is entrusted to diminished surfaces that however do not compromise what preexisted. In short and ultimately, any hypothesis of plagiarism and mimesis must be excluded.
action vis-a vis the past. Marcello Guido had the sensibility of recognizing the enchantment for the spatial relict exercised by the archeological preexistences but getting involved with them and transporting them to the present time overlapping them.
The nostalgic sayings of where it was, as it was, are for Guido just a distant echo. As Cesare Brandi suggests, the attempts of bringing back to the ancient splendor the preexistence must be interpreted as disrespect to aesthetics and an offense to history. The work of art is considered reproducible and time is put in conditions of reversibility. The continuous challenge between immanence and eternal return is again in force.
A big mistake would be, because of the above reason, to evaluate Guido’s work with the methods of philology. His architectures for sure are working with history but from it they also derive their modernity.
Such project philosophy is experienced in various works and it witnesses how Marcello Guido is foreign to the current fashions of the architectural jet-set.
In particular, his buildings are signaling a kind of resilience in front of the ordinariness of the a-tonal and a-problematic spaces of academic minimalism and of the simplicity imposed by the communicational homologation.
The trends become insidious traps into which many architects are falling into. They tend to be of facile gestural formalism and too committed at the ephemeral and commercial promotion of their works.
The crisis of the universal models of the Enlightenment and validated by the typological and morphological analysis so dear to some architects, is a confirmation of the dutiful and necessary de-construction of the aesthetic laws of architecture.
Marcello Guido has developed a kind of dissent towards an aesthetic system dominated by the presence of formal archetypes and eloquent metaphors that are nothing else but a residual of the beaux-arts completely submitted to the logics of the composition.
However, the Deconstructivism, as we intend it, is quite far from the logic of a reversed construction. It is also quite far from the common understanding that it is a specific way of designing a plant and/or an architecture. Above all, deconstructivism is not a recipe or a prescription, even less an successful elixir (especially in Italy!).
This de-construction intends instead to signify an intimate and organic conviction, a method for thinking and working, a writing that aims at a language of zero degree capable of running through the entire history of architecture with new eyes in order to discover analogy and recollections, looking for the long red thread of modernity that does not know temporal boundaries. In order to set up an architecture that could truly be space, really space, and therefore lived and free life.
The Atlantic task of those who take this road is the re-thinking and re-writing of history, leaving behind the taboos of composition, form, thought. Namely, it is leaving behind the classical koine’ in order to be open to contamination, to a new experience, to a courageous language of neologisms that require a bald understanding but that is also made up of old words that, in a new context, open up to “perfected” and not univocal messages.
A continuous temporariness that relocates and destabilizes the virtual dimension is required from the metaphors of yesterday. This virtual dimension, beyond its meaning, is nothing else but the change of perspective brought in by the new perceptive tools, that is the new state of a metamorphic and less sound concept of the perspective.
The modern paradigm of the electronic perspective perceptions make clear the operations that have to be done.
Another more articulated panorama, represented also by our other no-corporeal extensions, is there. It is not the only biological limit imposed by our eyes, which, as Kant said, filter the flow of images towards our brains. The environmental context that is proposed to us is also perceived through technological prosthesis of daily usage before the information is processing reality.
At times, the virtual dimension impedes us, without our complete realization, the possibility of an experience of covering, and/or interacting with, the external world.
Of course, this changed concept of the perspective makes immediately clear the obsolescence of the perceptive-compositional approaches of the 19th and 20th centuries in the project of architectural spaces. This concept highlights also the necessary opening towards the informal and the casual, sometimes by means of complicated mathematical algorithms. The new scientific rationalism is based, as matter of fact, on the open road of Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy that shows how it is not possible to know simultaneously the position and the quantity of movement of a certain object. On the basis of this consideration, and thanks to fractal geometries, we can understand how the presumed formal chaos is another state of being of the matter, still “regulated” by some laws.
The apparently opposed archetypes of the Babel Tower, of the sphere (that implies formal perfection and purity) and of the labyrinth appear miserably weak only in a simply dialectical logic.
The con-fusione (confusion) joins together, in a problematic way, the incomprehensibility of the new languages that sprung out of the contemporary Babel with the refined underground logic. This happens by means of a precise mechanism that rules the labyrinth (it is a matter of presumed irrationality versus a presumed rationality). Guido attempts to manage these fusions with his various projects although in them common elements of a compositional process of more traditional trademark are not lacking.
We would rather say that his architecture is made up and lives thanks to these fusions and contrasts. The level zero language is not a goal to be reached but something to which we must all the time to aim to and hope for because in order to project something new it is necessary to develop what previously had been done by others. In the process of development, there are elements of the old theories of architecture that by necessity must be taken into consideration.
Guido’s projects that most echo the heritage of the past are housing buildings both because there is the idea of inhabiting of the buyer and because the firms operating in the private market are not so prone to experimenting.
It is easy to observe in Guido’s architectures recurring typologies and solutions. The most evident of these solutions in the one family houses as well as in the buildings for apartments is that of placing the staircase in the front or façade creating, in such a way, a characterizing project’s code.
Today’s projects are a kind of portrait of the customers and they substitute the language experiments of the projects thought in the 1990’s for the public administrations. Today’s customers are a bourgeoisie that tend to patronage if it were not for political and social context that, after all, is quiet and indifferent to intellectual efforts.
These reflections are coming directly from Tafuri who was worrying about the projects for palazzine (villas and pretentious houses) of Ridolfi’s latest period. Marcello Guido by thinking the living in in a way similar to that of Ridolfi in the villa of Via De Rossi in Rome does not propose a way of living. On the contrary, “an expressionistic clashing of forms, a restless and dodecaphonic list of geometric distorsions come out (…). The “slap to the taste of the public” is reiterated” (1.)
In a different way must be interpreted the formal lacerations proposed by the planimetric development in the volumes of other projects and realizations.
The code and structure seem to be able to help only instrumentally, in order to later destroy and disintegrate them by presenting an architecture that however is completely deprived since no evident trace of them is left.
We think that another aspect of the project with a peculiar importance is the setting up of a rapport between external and internal.
The unique creativity of the project –the spatial continuum underpinning it- defines simultaneously internal and external not as antithetic entities but as spatial events as the apparent architectural skin on the outside in reality is the last boundary of the inside spaces and is also the fractured perimeter of a much more complex spatial entity.
From this, a new spatiality derives that merges the internal and external and where the spaces cross and oppose themselves refusing the code of consoling or more traditional architectural languages. The used language acquires, in such a way, unknown words and neologisms that become reciprocally conditioning elements and that activate “pulsations” of a compressed space in tension between interior and exterior, over and under, superficial and hypogeum.
Such pulsations generate the above mentioned expansions but also those scraps of space that seem to come out from the incessant going on of the scissors upon a paper box.
Guido’s rapport with the landscape deserves similar attention. Above all, in works like the Center for the study and development of the Albanian ethnic minorities and the facility Center for the “Crista” park.
It is interesting to notice how a particular way of observing history has oriented some Guido’s choices. The same happens with the landscape. In order to explain this, we will make use of the monumental publication Voyage pittoresque de Naples et de Sicile (2) by Saint-Non.
Undoubtedly, it is one of the most important books of the 18th Century. In the pages of this encyclopedic work, a story is narrated in a unique way even if it is directly connected to the fashion of the Grand Tour that was common among the wealthy youth of the European aristocracy since the end of the 17th Century.
The journey made by Jean Claude Richard, abbot of Saint-Non, to the discovery of the Grande Grece, is in itself extraordinary and offers an important reading key of the Southern Italian landscape.
What is the connection between the 18th Century traveler and Marcello Guido’s work?
It deals with what we will try to explain with the category of the philosophical Sublime, that is the consideration that, with the Modern, reality becomes a wound that opens us to the unconscious.
Saint-Non, going through the Mezzogiorno, is deeply impressed and charmed by the natural, landscaping and architectural patrimony of the rough lands of Calabria and offers us expressive and imaginative tales and visions.
It is exactly in this that the sensitivity of Saint-Non seems close to the reading of the landscape that Marcello Guido proposes to us with his works: the greatness of millenarian epochs is merging with the precariousness of the “non-finished”, of the smallness of the human constructions that challenge the nature by evoking the categories of the “picturesque” and of the “sublime”.
The comparison may seem hazardous or, more probably, out of place. However, we believe that the suggested connection is important since it posits the birth of “Romanticism”, in a risky but stimulating way, in the South of the Mediterranean, rather than in the lands of Central Europe. It is not only the matter of an historical legitimation of the presence of Guido’s romantic architectures in Calabria. Above all, we like to think that that romantic and, in some way, expressionist seed, always present in the derelict Southern landscape, has been picked up intact after the Saint-Non’s passage.
In particular, we wish to say that we like to imagine that Marcello Guido has inherited, from the romantic expressivity, that special way of seeing the nature, the urban conglomerates, the cities, the roads, the monuments, the mountains. It is a way that suggests the anxiety and the amazement for the novelty and aims at the uncertain aesthetics of the sublime versus the aesthetics of the beautiful, that namely, in other words, exalts the contrasts.
It is clear, here, that for the sublime we understand that pathetic acting that is “an artificial disgrace that puts us, like the real disgrace, in an immediate rapport with the spiritual law that commands our soul” (3): it is what William Turner has realized with his paintings.
In any case, it is opportune to highlight that in providing this reading we are creating a connection with stories only apparently distant.
The reasons for this way of referring by Guido to the landscape and of imagining the picturesque and the sublime are tied, without any doubt, to the visions of the late Enlightenment. These reasons may also steer quite rapidly, at first, towards the romantic expressivity and later to the contemporary one. It is a matter of stories that find their analogy in a common sensitivity rather than in forms to be shared. With this, we intend to imply that the relationships are not of figurative or formal nature.
For instance, when Guido designs a work like the Center for the study and development of the Albanian ethnic minorities, probably he is charmed by the hills that face the Gulf of Sibari in a way similar to that of the old travellers of the 18th and 19th centuries.
If we just look at the drawings of the Voyage pittoresque by Dominique Vivant Denon and by the team of landscapists and painters that had been charged by Saint-Non to represent the great naturalistic patrimony and the historical witnessing of an exotic land, dense with distant memories, as it appeared to their eyes.
It is a matter of fantastic and dreaming visions more than a staccato on the reality: it was not important to represent the true but rather what was there of threatening and deceiving, of terrible and melancholy, unreal and suggestive.
The drawings remind Guido’s architectures because they imagine, after centuries and with different techniques, magmas in movement and they subvert the ancient memories and the archeological witnessing in order to involve elements of the reality in the play of the oneiric and introspective.
This happens also with the Piazza Toscano project where the archeological finds are seen naked and work as a basis and pre-text that is offered to the power of the expressivity and creation of the architect.
What is imagined by Guido is already contained in history, in the preexistent urban planning texture, in the picturesque offered by the natural landscape. We must know how to abstract out of it the sublime and all its edges and contrasts.
This operation reminds us also of the more typical character of modernity, the one singled out by Marx and Baudelaire during times of crisis and changes in the society. It is not a matter of seeking and offering certainty but of looking at the paradoxical condition of the landscape and the city exactly because cities and landscape appear with their dreamlike rapidity even when they evoke ancient memories.
After all, when Nietzsche says that “God is dead”, he joins the extremes of this paradox of the modernity for which today every man’s product, including his own thought, and every manifestation of the nature appear as disinherited of the divine that previously was in them. For this, man and nature are constrained of being interpreted as continuously changing and risky and obliged to enter the dimension of the fantastic and unreal.
It is like unfolding the pages of a private journal: the works of art or architecture are distinctive journals of modernity. The journal is not an effective medium as it does not at all contemplate the mission of spreading a precise message but rather of guarding it. The artist knows that there is no form for a possible dialogue or, rather, that the journal is the only possible form.
Ernst Junger, in his Irradiazioni (Strahlungen) (4), tells the story of the journal kept by seven sailors who, in 1633, decided to spend the winter in the small island of San Maurizio, in the Glacial Arctic Sea. They were disembarked by the Dutch Company of Greenland on this remote island in order that they could study the arctic seasons and the North Pole astronomy. When, the following summer, the whale flotilla returned to visit the sailors, only their journal was found. The seven sailors where dying of scurvy when, in other parts of the Planet, Galileo was having the great argument about the free will in front of the tribunal for heretics. Guido’s works of architecture are a kind of uneasy journal where transgressive pages alternated with more monotonous ones are not missing. He knows well that nothing else will be left, except, his work, to witness what he has done not with the romantic pathos but with scientific and modern disenchantment. It is the matter of an operation that only apparently is the fruit of irrepressible drives; it is indeed the result of a method and of a precise Weltanschauung. The interesting things is exactly this and it appears incomprehensible to many architects who are lacking the critical tools in order to understand the great turn of modernity.
“Since then, we became accustomed to the idea of living on a sphere that is flying, at the speed of a bullet, in the depth of the space, towards cosmic whirls. Every anti-Copernican spirit, if he is well pondering the situation, must admit that it is infinitely easier to accelerate the movement than bringing it to a calmer pace. For this reason, the nihilist is in an advantage above all others. From this derives the enormous risk of the theological actions that are being prepared. At a certain speed, even the objects in a state of quiet are a danger and have the function of bullets. In the Arab fable, it is sufficient to mention the name of Allah to reduce to ashes the flying demons, like with the fire of a planet. The seven sailors are already figures in the Copernican world whose characteristic is also this nostalgia of the Poles. Their journal belongs to the new literature; and we can say that the sign for recognizing this new literature is, in general terms, the detachment of the spirit f
rom the object, that is of the author from the world. This brings us to a wealth of discoveries. These works require a more and more careful observation, a strong awareness, the solitude and, finally, also the sorrow. After that first journal, many others have been found (…).” (5)
The big mistake of certain architectural critique, especially Italian, is the attempt of judging those who appear heretics without opening the eyes and without the due detachment.
Contemporary art and architecture seem incomprehensible, especially when we trey to bend their polyvalent message in a forcefully dialoguing direction.
We were saying just a little earlier: the journal, as a work of art, is a form of colloquium that is not worried of communicating to others because that is not the intention of the one who wrote it. The journal does not at all resides at the level of communication but passes over it and transfigures it; it does not use the meanings of the words but it expropriates them of the signified aiming at the signifiers. From here, the common error comes of accusing much art and architecture of incommunicability. In some works, the author does not satisfy an immediate and external need of communication and understanding; he simply does it at a different and internal level.
If today Saint-Non were to go over his own steps and were to meet Piazza Toscano or the facilities Center for the Crista Park designed by Guido he would be amazed and charmed like then, in his times, and he would wonder about the mysterious unions between the works of man and nature, about their precariousness and, above all, about the evanescence of the ancient archeological finds that exercise more fascination by means of their usage than by means of the contemplation of them.
I say this not in order to conclude a hermeneutical exercise but in order to say how Guido’s work is an activity with history where the impossible can happen because the impossible has already happened. After all, we well know that history –and, in saying this, we wish good peace to the philologists- is a big mosaic where the one who represented later, cannot contaminate the one who came earlier.