Italy is the country with the most significant historical and natural heritage in the world, and also the one who first gave itself, over a century ago, the bodies and strict regulations for its preservation, so as to fix this attention in the founding principles of its own republican constitution.
But conservation for conservation spawned two paradoxes: on the one hand the unruly entropic drift for anything that is not covered by the rules of preservation. On the other hand, autistic immobility within the enclaves of conservation, which don’t allow the freshness and openness to the differences that have always marked the history of Italian architecture. While some exceptional works have been undertaken, in spite of everything and all current regulations notwithstanding.
Starting from these observations, we want to promote some ad absurdum arguments regarding Italy’s problematic relationship with its context and its historical legacy. Presenting a series of impossible commissions, we hope for a future of Italy where intelligent, reasoned, cultured and international breadth proposals—for millennia boast and pride of this country as well as world cultural heritage—will still be promoted and welcomed.
Italy owns the largest and more consistent cultural, architectural and landscape ecosystem in the world. If compared with other countries it has two fundamental differences: the first is the uniqueness of the human landscape, the more interesting the more artificial it is (think of the Ligurian terraces, the cultivated hills of Tuscany, or the canals and the great works for deviation and use of water courses designed by Leonardo da Vinci in Lombardia), a landscape that Italian populations have begun to dramatically change even before the ancient Romans; the second is the unique feature of the Italian architectural heritage, with its widespread distribution of exceptional specimens scattered throughout the cities and the countryside.
Italy is also the first country in the world that has adopted rules and public institutions for the protection of its landscape and cultural heritage: those rules became the pillars in the same basic principles of the National Constitution. On closer inspection, however, these rules—born with the noble purpose of preserving the Italian historical heritage and landscape—had two great paradoxes as a corollary.
The first is an Italian geographic territory in a serious state of decay and exasperated aggression, despite more than a century has passed since the introduction of the first decrees of protection, always focused on the historical centers and the most authoritative specimens as if the rest of the Italy and its minor/current architecture did not exist: in this case, the proliferation in Italy of movements and spontaneous associations for the extreme-NIMBY conservation of land and for the integral preservation of every minor monument—with a few exceptions—can further complicate things, as random, or spurious, or born under antagonistic pressures phenomena fundamentally derived from the chronic inattention on the part of the Italian institutions.
The second paradox, more subtle, is the fact that the cultural heritage object of this great and right attention was the result of centuries of cultural evolution, overlaps, conflicts that have left countless victims on the ground. What we all admire today as the historical legacy of a country that belongs to the heritage of all mankind, when it was realized it was the most advanced for its time, often in contradiction with what had preceded. So the Romans did with the remains of previous architectures, which they reinterpreted according to their special and actual worldview. So it was in the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, with heavy interventions in retrofitting and reuse of pagan temples; this is what happened in the Renaissance, or in the Baroque, with impressive demolition of entire existing urban tissues according to the new cultural moods. The findings of previous eras, when deemed worthy of survival, often were freshly re-contextualized, placed side by side to new developments in a regime of peaceful coexistence.
Now the problem is this: if the rules and institutions today fond of keeping all this legacy had already existed centuries ago, they probably would not have allowed the creation of works that intend to preserve today. An example: imagine Ser Filippo Brunelleschi to present his draft for the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore to an hypothetical Monuments Superintendence in Florence, 1420. Can someone guarantee that this project would have received a favorable opinion? Or maybe his dome would have been deemed too daring, too inconsistent with the actual context, with materials and construction techniques not in keeping with the Florentine tradition? Another well-known example: Who today would think seriously about establishing and expand an entire city in a lagoon without receiving the shafts of intellectuals, opinion leaders and associations? But Venice is there, and today it seems untouchable.
Addressing an architectural project can somehow become a serious problem if you find yourself in certain contexts [see Fondaco dei Tedeschi], while outside the fundamentalist enclave of protectionism the rest of the country continues to proceed undisturbed toward its entropic drift.
But there is an intriguing side of the coin. Italy is also the home of the exception that proves the rule. Many of the most interesting Italian architecture, even after the introduction of the national rules of conservation and preservation of the historical heritage and landscape, in some very special cases have been carried out as an exception to all laws. And yet entered deep into the architecture history of this country: think of the legendary Casa Come Me by Curzio Malaparte, subtracted from the bond of absolute preservation of Cape Massullo in Capri for intercession of the then Minister Bottai, or the fantastic Piero Portaluppi’s WagRistoratore, two restaurant-wagons assembled on pilotis at 2,500 meters upon Passo San Giacomo, destroyed by the fascists during the II World War to prevent them to be used as a refuge by the partisans fleeing to Switzerland.
Our hypothesis, ascribable to the “Preservation” category, aims to make an argument without preconceptions around the themes of context, pre-existence and relationship with history in Italy: it aims to stimulate an invitation to overcome this recent—but deeply rooted—inferiority complex, so fatalistic and so Italian, with regard to a past that is considered always better than the present, or—even worse—the future. Through a paradoxical, light, positive, antirhetorical, liberating reflection we will address some limit-issues, inquiring a possibility of intervention “ad absurdum” on themes and contexts that are still taboo, seemingly impossible to overcome in this country.
Because intelligent, reasoned, educated and international proposals had the right to citizenship in this country for thousands of years, and there’s no reason why it should not still be the same in the future.