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Architecture 493 Spring 2006
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Week 1: Course Overview
When one considers the founding of the city of Rome, the choice immediately presented is one of myth or science. The myth is that of Romulus and Remus, their nurturing by a wolf, and the bird omens they followed to found Rome. Science turns to archeology to questions of history in this matter.
Because of my beliefs I look to science for my answers, and, therefore, will respond to the lecture and readings along these lines. The founding of Rome, to me, seems a matter of the salt trade that originated and flourished in Ostia. The Tiber River was a major communication and transportation route that provided a path over which salt could be moved inland and traded. With this precious rescores moving up the Tiber, a primary trading post up river became necessary. Rome met this necessity.
As for the specific location along the Tiber River, Rome is where it is for a few major reasons. The for-most reason is Tiber Island. This small island in the middle of the river provides an opportunity for easy bridging of the river. At the time, a crossing of this nature is advantageous because those that require an easy crossing will pay a levy. Another reason is the natural landing site (referred too as the Forum Boarium in “The Foundation of Rome”), which provided a safe haven away from strong river currents for boats to be unloaded or tied up. Ease of fortification was provided by hills (the Aventine, Palatine, and the Capitol) that dotted the banks of the river and the planes near by.
These factors determined the location of Rome, not Romulus and Remus.
Week 2: "Rome Before Avignon"
“Rome Before Avignon” paints a broad and somewhat confusing picture of Rome and Roman life in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The text covers almost every sort of dealing including real estate dealings, noble family squabbles, trade, prejudice, religion, social hierarchy, education, art, and elaborate processions and parades.
It is clear that the city of Rome declined once the Roman capitol was moved to Constantinople. By the time the thirteenth century rolled around it population was down to around 35,000. Medieval Romans were building their homes and business into and around the ruins of classical Rome. Even the Colosseum was home to some of Romes more prominent families. Rome was sparsely populated, and ancient construction was being claimed by new residents. The light use of space within Rome led to small farms and vineyards springing up around the city. Through all this the most impressive ancient architecture was left standing.
Though Rome had declined, it was still the major commerce center for the towns and villages close by. In this way, Roman culture continued to influence the surrounding population through the middle ages up to the present.
Inside the walls Rome was being divided into 13 different districts called rioni. These districts simply served identification of different area, and had little affect on Roman politics or laws of the time. Later, different rioni would be characterized and known by the profession of the people who lived there. Some areas were settled by butchers, others by sailers, some by leather workers, etc. This isolation of professions led to guilds that acted in some ways like modern day unions do in this country. They regulated a trade, or kept competition fair in the industry. These guilds never became very powerful because they were poorly and primitively formed.
What was happening was the wealthier and more powerful families were buying up land. Landlords emerged and became a controlling upper class. Since inheritances were rarely divided families were often held together by their possessions. Plots of land were oddly shaped and often identified by the ruins that were on them. Description of these plots was often provided in a bill of sale. The description also included who lived next to a piece of property and what their profession was. Through these documents historians are able to learn much about medieval Rome, such as the process of sale. Also extrapolated are the names of the most powerful families, such as the Orsini family, the Ponte family, or the Savelli family. These families, among other were constantly at “war” with each other. Not the fighting and killing kind of war (most of the time), but a financial war for property.
While noble families were fighting of land rights, the lower economic class of Rome struggled through a slow economy. The fish market was constant because of the Tiber River, but what really lifted Rome’s economy was tourism. Religious pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit the Vatican and see the relics that the Pope and other cardinal guarded in Roman churches. Aside from a constant influx of small parties of worshipers, huge religious groups would travel to Rome. The Curia, lead by the archbishop Robert Winchelsey, was one such group. When a group like his moved through Rome the economy blasted off. When they left things quieted down. This was normal for Rome over this time period. This is not very different that the economy today. There is a definite tourist season in which the Roman, Italian and European economies see much higher earning than when foreign money is not present.
One thing that was very interesting to me was the treatment of Jews in medieval Rome. They did have fewer rights than the Christians, but they were not treated very badly by society at large. Their businesses were profitable, and there weren’t any large groups of people that generally refused to interact or do business with them. From what it sounded like, their treatment seemed pretty good in comparison with some other times and places.
As far as architecture goes… the 13th century did give us Santa Maria Maggiore and some beautiful mosaics which I hope to see there next fall. It won’t be the only medieval structure standing in Rome, but I think it will be the best example of the art from that period. We’ll have to see…
Week 3: Professor Susan Gaylard's Lecture on Renaissance Rome
The most interesting topics of week three’s lecture on Renaissance Rome was the military inferiority of Italy at the time and the changes that science brought about in European society. The decline of the Roman Empire is partly to blame for both of these situations. When Rome started to decline in the third century AD the military obviously went with it, but so did the science. The time of Antiquity, when science and the arts flourished, that started in Ancient Greece and ended with the decline of Rome. After this point the quality and quantity of scientific activity dropped off. In the seventh century Muslims invaded the Mediterranean Basin and some of the documents of Antiquity were lost to Christianity. As Europe began to establish trade with Muslim countries during the Renaissance these scientific documents from antiquity that had not been accessible for centuries were translated and reintroduced. This led to scientific breakthroughs like the Copernican revolution which started in 1543 and lasted well in to the 1600s. While this new found fascination with science surged through Europe, Italy was being torn apart by multiple invading countries. Spain and France fought over huge parts of the country. In 1527 a Spanish army sacked Rome. The unorganized nature of the Italian peninsula and the growing practice of scientific discovery helped to form the new idea of the individual that Italian art of time presents to us today. “The Planning of Renaissance Rome” describes conditions in the city that would lead common people to proclaim their individuality. In the second paragraph of page seven it reads “they (improvements made by the governing Vatican) almost invariably improved the city functionally and aesthetically, if often at the expense of the rights of the citizens.” The Vatican’s ruling attitude at the time was described as self serving, but not motivated by bribery. The ideology and ambition of the church resulted in a ruling body that was committed to God, not the people. The Vatican also governed many of the surrounding areas so Rome was more the ‘seat of a wider realm’. It sounds to me the priority of the Vatican was to make worship easier for the people, not life. Rome at the time had no industry or exports, so the economy focused on serving the Papal community and pilgrims. These surroundings would encourage any single person that found they had some marketable skill to advertise themselves to get more business. Before the Renaissance guilds controlled production. Organizations of skilled laborers were contracted for production. Guilds existed in Medieval Rome but they were poorly developed and organized. The failing structure of the Roman economy cleared the way for individuals to leave the guilds and produce work on their own. Last weeks lecture showed us the emergence of individual painters in Italy during the Renaissance. Since then the guilds haven’t completely disappeared, but there are individuals operating in every mode of production or industry imaginable.
Week 4: Anne Stevens Lecture on Perception and Representation
Anne’s lecture on perception and representation provided some abstract insight into the nature of art and architecture. Before actually discussing perception I just accepted that different people will see different things, have different feelings, or get different ideas when exposed to the same thing. It makes sense to me that how people interpret something depends on their experience and preferences. Thinking of past academic experience, I often remember myself and some of my fellow students altering projects and assignments to better fit the preferences of a teacher, even if those changes weren’t appealing to the student. That is much the case in our learning today. First we must come to understand building design requirements given to us, and then we must organize them for optimal function. Perception is important in communicating design themes which will determine form and appearance of a building. It is often difficult for me to communicate my ideas about theme because my perception of art and architect ure is very literal. I focus very much on function and form with little thought to abstract ideas. Integrating abstractions into my designs is difficult because my experience is that function is more important that aesthetics. I prefer a space to be easy to use instead of beautiful or to portray an artistic theme. The result is often a representation that doesn’t follow an idea that my professors like. Slowly I have learned to focus more on themes than on basic design. I build my concept into a building and then make the building user friendly. One area where my literal thinking helps me is drawing architecture from observation. I enjoy find proportion and structure in a building first. With freehand perspective drawings primary structure is the starting point for the drawing. I usually find proportions by watching the people that are using the building. If I need to be more precise I will pace off the surfaces I need to measure one yard at a pace, and if that doesn’t work I use my shoe length as one foot an d then step it off. Once the basic proportions of a façade are established then the overlain detail can be added. Looking at the artistic detail and ornamentation of a subject is a wonderful way to memorize a building. Drawing details force you to study connections, repetition, scale, and the way everything ties together. All these things are what make architecture great. A thousand slides aren’t as good as one hand drawing. One thing I haven’t had much experience with is drawing the context that a building exists in. The surrounds are easy to draw if they are just more buildings, but to capture the nature of urban space if more difficult. It will be hard for me to produce a drawing that one can look at and know that it was a shopping center or market. I think that the people in the drawing tell the story the best. Drawing in people holding shopping bags may help to show the shopping center. A fruit stand with a merchant making a deal could speak of a market. What interests me is the people one might find ar ound classical architecture in Rome. Who will they be and what will they look like? When I catch them in my sketches what story will they tell about the context of my subject? Will you see a tourist trap with my class mates being swept up by the herd, or will it be more the picture of a wonderful piece of art tucked away from the outside and taken for granted by passing locals? I hope the latter.
Week 5: Dean Christine Ingebritsen's Lecture on the European Union
Christine Ingebritsen’s lecture presented me with a lot of information that was very surprising to me. I knew European Countries are starting to combine economic elements of the region but I had no idea it that the European Union was as organized as it has become. What interested me was how cooperative European nations were with Germany after WWII. The “Treat of Rome” wasn’t signed until 1957 so I guess the Europeans had 12 years to calm down. It also seemed to me that economic experts were trying to prevent future wars after WWI and WWII. The idea of mutual trade and cooperation keeping the threat of war out of the minds of those in power was a strong motivator for the architects of this agreement. The progression from the “Treaty of Rome” in 1957 to the “European Union” in 1993 isn’t surprising to me or even hard for me to understand. Mutual cooperation can only make things better for those involved so it seems to me natural and logical for European nations to come together and pool their resources into on e political body. It sounds like this arrangement has benefited Europe so far. That’s why is has continually grown stronger and the international cooperation that we see has moved to more and more areas of regional and world politics. Talk of common constitution seems a logical progression to me and I would be surprised if, by the time I’m an old man, Europe hasn’t come closer together under a common constitution that in a governing document for the entire region. I also think it’s only a matter of time before the remaining nations that aren’t part of the E.U. (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Turkey) restructure their interior governing principle and institutions so they can join the E.U. It is to beneficial not to join. Professor Ingebritsen said that Europe is turning into one big state. They have a common currency (Euro), a flag, a common identity (status as a EU nation), a common governing body in the EU, and common laws written and agreed upon by the EU. The international cooperation that has resulted from this is a sign that the system works for the individual countries. The problem that I see with their system excludes ordinary labors from any real benefits. Labor unions are not reaching over national boarders to organize international… yet. I haven’t the slightest idea what results this aspect of the EU situation will have or if it will just be worked out eventually. I think the later is more likely but once again, I’m sure I will see what happens before I die. What I will also see and what scares me a bit it the emergency of the EU as a new world power that far exceeds any other body, including the United States. I doubt that military power is going to play too big a role in future politics and policies between the US and the EU, but I do know the way we use our military in the future will play a huge role in how the EU and the rest of the world treats and deals with us. I just hope that our future political leaders don’t try too hard to hang onto power that we will inevitably loose to the growing str ength of the EU. With our country in a down swing right now it might be easy for a conservative leader to be too tough on emerging foreign powers. If that happens it could make an enemy of the EU, then military power would be important. That could lead to a lot of people dying, and I hope I don’t live to see that!
Week 6: Professor McLaren on Modern Rome/"The Third Rome"
Professor Brian McLaren’s lecture on modern Rome gave us a few more things to look at while we’re there next fall. The presence of the Fascist architecture makes sense but was none the less a surprise. The memorial for Italians killed in the caves during WWII is particularly interesting to me because I just learned about it the other day on the History channel. Also because it is the first of its kind in that it isn’t a single man on the back of a horse or something of the like. The most interesting comment in my opinion was “Modern Rome can never escape Rome’s past.” In a city that is famous for its ancient architecture, today’s architects must feel the pressure of living up to such a past. In the article that we read last week about Richard Meier’s new work in the middle of Rome, the author referenced a city in which works of architecture are judged by their survival through centuries, and not decades as is the case in most other cities. Because ancient architecture will always be a part of modern Rome it will always be thought of as a city of monumental architecture, and new designs will probably always try to aspire to that reputation. Fascist architecture may have moved away from that monumental theme a bit by focusing on more simplistic structure, but that period is gone. Even during that time Mussolini planned an administration/office building from which he would run his country that had a commanding view of the entire city of Rome. This was more in line with the thinking of a Roman emperor, but I guess that is how Mussolini thought of himself.
“The Third Rome” covers some of the same time period that Professor McLaren covered. This reading, however, is a bit more negative about the changes that took place over that time. It sites the destruction of one third of Rome by its own residents. Spiro Kostof does admit that the changes were necessary because of the changing political nature of the time, the resulting influx of people, and the eventual arrival of the automobile. By 1900 Rome’s population was up to a half million people. Mussolini increased the size of the roads, built more housing, and improved communication in Rome. Large chunks of the city disappeared in this flurry of construction. Kostof writes, “the Third Rome was competing not only with its neighbors in Europe but with itself”. This goes back to the subject discussed above in which the present day architects in Rome feel the pressure of designing work that is equal in scale to some of the ancient work that has made the city so famous. The Third Rome was not the mighty world power tha t it once had been. It was not the huge population density that it once was. It was once great and I’m sure that every leader in Rome between Constantine and Mussolini had dreams of making it into the city it once was. One final quote that was very interesting to me on page 12 reads, “After the Rome of the emperors, after the Rome of the Popes, there will come the Rome of the people.” This was said by Giuseppe Mazzini, and it addressed the unification of Italy and the establishment of Rome as the capitol. Kostof uses this quote to suggest that Italy could never have been united successfully under a different capitol. Professor McLaren said “Modern Rome can never escape Rome’s past.” There is so much history in the city of Rome. There has been so much power there in the past. I believe that everything in this world changes, but the seemingly endless perseverance of Rome as the center of the Italian peninsula challenges my theory. Because people are so accustomed to Rome as a seat of power, maybe this is why i t will continue to stand. For now, though, I think I will disagree with Kostof. If the power of the Italian government went wrong, the people may come to see political power in Rome as a bad thing. I think that under certain circumstances, even some which may have existed in the past, Italy could very well move its capitol to another city.
Week 8: Professor Kingston Heath on Vernacular Architecture
Professor Kingston Heath’s lecture on the ‘architecture of place’ touched on a very interesting subject. It was a little difficult for me to follow his lecture because of his speaking style, but the subject itself made for an engaging lesson. Anyone in this program knows that different regions have been producing different architecture since the beginning of time. A quick consideration of this fact made me think “well, of course,” but the information the Dr. Heath presented was anything but elementary. What is interesting to me is the mixing of architectural styles that has been happening and is happening all over the world. Our own International District is a good example of architecture from two very different regions of the world existing and mingling in the same place. My current studio project is for a library/community center to go in the International District. One aspect of the neighborhood that interested me was the architecture that resulted from the traditional architecture of Asian countries mixi ng with American architecture. Some of the buildings showed little Asian influence on the outside even though they are home to very traditional Asian business that had been in the district for decades. Other newer buildings seemed to boast a cheesy American imitation of what Asian architecture should look like. I haven’t studied Asian architecture so I can’t speak intelligently on the originality of what I saw in our own International District, but there were buildings that showed the influence from Asian and American styles. This changing architectural form is another subject that Professor Heath touched on. He suggested causes that might drive change such as economic, political, social, or natural events in a region. A specific example is the rebuilding effort that is happening right now in the areas hit by the Tsunami of 2004. The construction of temporary shelters and mass housing in the wake of the disaster are often the result of aid from all over the world, but these new structures are usually very di fferent than the building they are replacing. While the new construction is desperately needed, is does not relate to the regional culture or traditions in all the different places where this new construction is taking place. Slowly over time new buildings that have more cultural meaning will work their way back into the built fabric of those societies, but some of what is going up today will remain for years to come. The presence of these foreign and unique structures will affect the urban design and development now and even after they’re gone. They may even lead to changes in the building traditions of the areas where they stand. This aid that produces these buildings is a form of the globalization the Professor Heath also mentioned. He said that the “vernacular is being threatened by globalization.” This is true in that cultural building traditions will eventually be lost. It is not true in that we in the near future will start designing more and more with the environment in mind. We will never completely get away from regional architecture, even if it is only Mother Nature that holds us to it. In my own opinion, our history and past culture, even if lost, will not be forgotten, and therefore, will always be reflected in our art and in our Architecture.