The Venice Variations: Preview Part 3

  1. The three artefacts as networks

The analysis of Venice, Calvino’s novel and Le Corbusier’s Hospital is conducted to understand at a deeper level whether there are characteristics in the city that are creatively transposed from the city to the other two works. It also looks at what creative devices have been employed in crafting the city, creating the novel and designing the building.

I look at Venice’s street and canal networks, combining historical research with spatial network analysis methods. We see that the squares of Venice, or its campi as they are known in Venice, are all linked by through- movement, or the paths that are frequently crossed when moving between all pairs of origin and destination. This characteristic is observed when we examine at the combined street and canal network, by joining them when they intersect through loading steps, suggesting that the squares are nodes in the intersection between the two systems.

This pattern captures a pattern of evolution since early times, as the churches and campi were the social nuclei of parish islands, semi-autonomous community centres ,which contained a market and were serviced through their proximity to water.  Campi also facilitated rain water collection through wells at the centre of each square. The continuous network of through routes indicates that bridges were built so as to link the campi with each other producing multiple interconnecting centralities. A key characteristic of the squares is that they belong to a combinatorial language of elements square-church-well-canal-bridge-loading steps, which leads to the emergence of a recognisable order, devoid of preconception.

The analysis of the Hospital shows a modular scheme and networks of routes intersecting in the square areas. The architects of the building have retrieved the non-designed architecture of Venice and embedded it in a new designed reality.

The structure of Invisible Cities is often discussed as a diamond shape. My analysis of the individual texts it consists of shows that each text evokes conceptual relationships that express variations of the four symmetries in a tessellation, such as reflection, translation, glide reflection and rotation. Plotting these transformations on the diamond shape captures the interplay between combinatorial possibility and conscious intention.

Their differences notwithstanding, Venice, Invisible Cities and the Hospital release enormous amount of potentiality that trains the viewer and reader’s imagination. The morphological affinities between the three artefacts bring along alternative definitions of authorship, bridging across the divide of architecture as the product of individual authorship and the city as the outcome of collective effort, or between structures that are built and those that are only mentally accessible through imaginative projection.

While artists, critics and writers have widely engaged the relationship between high art and everyday culture, from the outset, architectural design has been – with a few exceptions – distinct from the anonymous processes by which buildings and cities are produced at large scale. By challenging the opposition between individual and collective authorship, and between existing structures and imaginative projection, the book provides an animated sense of physical morphology and of culture, one in which rational analysis and imaginative thought reinforce each other.

Image: Narrative structure of Invisible Cities. Drawing by Sophia Psarra.


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