Materials, when used well, point to something greater than themselves, not the reverse. The key issue here is an awareness of the richer life of materials. What matters is what materials can do. And what they do is move someone. Take someone somewhere else.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last,
“What’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.” A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner.
Doors speak to us through the materials they are made of, the floor they sit on, the rooms they connect, and their touch which evidence the craftsmanship in their making. Doors have many guises. My father ensured that the door leading out to our backyard garden was swung the wrong way, it stayed like that and annoyed us every day. Twenty years later it is a welcome quirk, like an old dog that is sad to see you leave and pleased to see you home. We painted our back door with automotive paint, and that shiny door became a treat. It still brings pleasure.
Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery is located in San Vito d’Altivole, north of Bologna. The Brion-Vega Cemetery is a monumental tomb cum landscape designed for the Brion family, founders of Brionvega (the Italian electronics group). The architect, Scarpa, is himself buried in this cemetery in the interstitial space, the thickness, created by the walls of the old and new cemeteries. He fell down a concrete stair — not in a cemetery full of concrete steps — but in Japan in 1978. Scarpa had spent the last ten years of his life realising this incredible cemetery and described his work in the following terms:
“I have tried to put some poetic imagination into it, though not in order to create poetic architecture but to make a certain kind of architecture that could emanate a sense of formal poetry. The place for the dead is a garden. I wanted to show some ways in which you could approach death in a social and civic way; and further what meaning there was in death, in the ephemerality of life — other than these shoe-boxes.” (1)
Scarpa knew his materials. He knew how to work them, how to push them. He could make the heavy hover. In Essays Critical and Clinical Deleuze describes Masoch’s use of words as transforming suspense into suspension. Scarpa achieves something similar. The most seemingly weighty and stable of elements is made mobile when part of a trajectory: his concrete gate is poised and requires the lightest of pressure to open. For beyond the raw concrete and its permanency, there is a style or a concept, or a milieu. All of Scarpa’s incompatible fragments, elements, symbols and signs are mobile. They articulate trajectories, backdrops; always taking you somewhere else: The wall beyond the corn; the corn and the village beyond the wall; the bridge, the island, the waters and the tomb beyond the stair.
Scarpa’s materials take you, as you take them. His concrete stairs lead you into the landscape and the garden but also run you up walls; take you below water lines; have you enter the sky. You cannot walk these steps. Or at least you cannot walk the steps as one might usually walk a step. These steps that abstract your movement both in concrete and in timber.
In all of my work, the body — and how it is typically situated in a garden landscape figures prominently. I lay out paths for the living body to physically engage a landscape, both directly and as a site from which to view a distant idealised landscape. In this regard materiality is therapy. A diagnostic architecture. The aim in any of my works is to lay out trajectories and becomings. Transparent and warm materialities that open us up to new ways of thinking about life and in so doing create new ways of living. This is my investment.
1. Carlo Scarpa ‘Can Architecture be Poetry’, in Peter Nover ed., The Other City: ‘Carlo Scarpa: The Architect’s Working Method as Shown by the Brion Cemetery in San Vito D’Avitole’, (Berlin: Ernst & Sohn, 1989), 17–18.
Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery is located in San Vito d’Altivole, north of Bologna.