Mellon Senior Fellows 2011

Guido Beltramini and Michael Webb
Research, January 2011 to December 2011
Guido Beltramini
Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Italy

Almost all Renaissance architects from Alberti to Michelangelo addressed the subject. For them architecture and war meant building walls, bastions, and siege machines. Palladio wasn’t interested in any of those things, however.

He wrote that no fortification can hold out against a well-organized siege. Security lay in being able to deploy an army on the battlefield, in knowing how to set the platoons in regular formations, arrange them on the terrain according to precise geometries, and move them along well-defined lines to avoid becoming a formless mass. The ancient Romans were masters at the art of deploying troops and so Palladio turned to them, as he had done in architecture by studying their buildings.

In the last ten years of his life, when he was one of the best-known architects in Europe, he took time off his projects to produce eighty plates illustrating two texts on ancient war: Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War and Polybius’ Histories. Nobody until then had done anything similar, not even a man of letters, never mind an architect. The result was books with very effective bird’s-eye views that illustrated all the important aspects of the lay of the land and the geometry of battle.

But why was Palladio so interested in this subject? He was no militarist. In a rare documented statement of personal feeling, he expressed how far he felt from the world of presumed “heroic deeds.” On the one hand, he almost certainly wished to improve his social standing, by changing his status from architect to “author.” On the other, we can find connections between his books on war and his architecture. In his graphic reconstructions of battles the ranked soldiers and encampments are laid out in such a way that the overall design of boundaries and structures is a projected image of a future conquest of land.

Michael Webb
Archigram, United States

The lecture is constructed around the notion of the journey as an interval between the memory of the place one has just left and the anticipation—contrasted with the actuality—of arrival at one’s destination. Two projects, the Drive-in House and the Temple Island study, implying two very different types of journey, are used to illuminate this theme.

Drive-in House, executed between the years 1985 and 2000, journeys from a parking space in a car park to a house along a dangerously busy road so replete with thrills that arriving at the destination might be, at least in architectural terms, something of a letdown: the house ends up an empty shell of techno equipment waiting to be energised by the arrival of the car. The project can be read on one level as an attempt to reengineer and mitigate the unsustainable state of American extra urban development; on another, as a suggestion that a house interior may be just a large scale version of the car interior. This idea was also exploited in the earlier Cushicle/Suitaloon project. An interest in the car and its relationship to buildings first appeared in the Sin Palace project, begun in 1961. A selection of drawings associated with this project will shortly become part of the CCA Collection.

A trend running through the work of Archigram concerned the diminution of the architectural footprint: the Cushicle/Suitaloon or Ron Herron’s Manzak and the Electric Tomato. Their antecedents included Buckminster Fuller asking how an office building might be used during the night when it lies empty, or Cedric Price persuading clients that they didn’t really need the building they had commissioned him to build.

In the Temple Island study an imagined journey down the regatta course at Henley-on-Thames from a point of stasis reaches immense velocities that radically distort space and time to the extent that normal methods of architectural representation become subverted and vast structures are created in the air.

The CCA Mellon Foundation Senior Fellowship Program was established in 2001 to encourage advanced research in architectural history and thought. With the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CCA has welcomed distinguished scholars for residencies of one to eight months, culminating in a public lecture.

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