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SensesSenses Senses and and and perceptions: perceptions: perceptions: the importance the importance the importance of ornament of ornament of ornament in CarloinScarpa Carlo Scarpa in Carlo Scarpa work. work. work. considerations about materiality and sensoriality of architecture in the digital era.

History and Theory of Architecture professor Irenee Scalbert work curated by Marco Fantoni


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Contents

Preface Multi sensoriality of the human body The work of Carlo Scarpa Sense of tactile and materiality Research for atmosphere Details for the eye and for the hand Bibliography

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1. Herbert Bayer, “Lonely Metropolitan”, 1932, Buhl Collection

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Preface I decided to write on this arguments after i read Juhani Pallasmaa’s book “The eyes of the skin: architecture and the senses”. It seemed to me that Juhani’s sensory reading of architecture and his concerns about the predomination of vision and images in this digital era have something in common with the way i experienced some moments of my education and, above all, within the context we live. The supremacy of images and the so called “retinal-experienced” architecture of nowadays is strictly related to the culture of the society we live in (mostly intended as occidental) and to the super-commercialization that has overcome the architectural panorama starting from the 70s, seeing it as a product which needs to be sold. Rem Koolhaas writes that the product of architecture we live in today is a “Junkspace” regulated by economical reasons, which is reflected in the

moltitude of computer images and renders we see everyday. Those images, besides of flattening our simultaneous and synchronic capacity of imagination are causing a loss of a multi sensory design of the built environment and represent the inhumanity of some contemporary architectures and cities, which are neglecting the body and the senses. The task of many architects has been to re-think about an architecture for the senses, working on details, materials, atmosphere, in order to avoid the alienation of our senses even in the ordinary life, following the idea of a city for the sensorial engagement. The choice of Carlo Scarpa as a representative of this idea is merely linked to my personal experience.

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2. Caravaggio, The incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail)

3. Carlo Scarpa, detail of the “acquasantiera� in Tombra Brion monumental complex

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Multi sensoriality of the human body The relation that our body creates with the surroundings isn’t just visual, but comes from the participation of us as a whole. This is in clear contrast with today’s architecture, “which has adopted the psychological strategy of advertising and instant persuasion: buildings have turned into image products detached from existential depth and sincerity”, as Pallasmaa writes, basically we tend to look at the world as a set of potential photographs. Ornament in contemporary architecture has reached in many cases a non-human

scale, aproximately the scale of a whole building, which needs to be itself an icon or the visual representation of something. The industrial production of objects, the standardization and the kind of loss of an haptic approach to architecture affected the multi-sensoriality of our perception in built environments. We enter shopping malls or museums which are not accomodating our senses, all what we need to do is moving our eyes. We forgot that for our nature, the eye requires the confirmation of the other sense to experience and understand things.

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The work of Carlo Scarpa Scarpa hadn’t any education in architecture schools when he was young, instead he started working as an artisan and a craftsman for the glass manufacturers in Murano. His experience as artisan made possible for him to grow an intense, sensual relation with the nature of different materials and with the hapticity of the artisans. Even though Carlo Scarpa accepted some principles of modernism, his way of doing architecture is still considered as an “unicum” and his indifference toward the actuality or not of his job demonstrates it. His architecture has to be considered strictly linked to the culture of his own land and the tradition, which he re interpretates in a critical way. The way he thought about architecture is different from most of the modernists, which preferred an architecture of “sobriety” and “poverty” in the way they treated ornaments: Scarpa is concerned about the study of the detail and the fragment in which he sees the main way to elevate the sensorial experience given by the architectural artifact.

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Sense of tactile and materiality Even though it’s true that Carlo Scarpa’s architecture has a strong relation with visual perception in the way his creative process works, it would be impossible to understand his creations just by using the eyes. The drawings are the visual reflection on his imaginary and to those of his cultural references. The final result of his architecture reveals the deep study and the intimacy he has with the materiality of things. The way he explicitates the nature of each material, underlining the manual working process needed to build it is strictly similar to those tactile wisdom that existed (and somewhere still exists) in traditional cultures. Construction in those cultures is guided by the body in the same way that a bird shape its nest by movements of its body. These aspects strenghten the intimacy of the experience that people have in relation to the built envelopes they have to live in. However, the sight, as Scarpa teaches, doesn’t necessarily have to imply a rejection of the other senses, as the haptic sensibility, materiality and authoritative weight of his architecture prove; the eye invites and stimulates muscular and tactile sensations.

4. Carlo Scarpa, detail of the concrete wall in Tomba Brion page eleven


The fusion of the matericity of the built with natural elements and the surrounding landscape is a key to emphasize the narration that Carlo Scarpa operates in Tomba Brion, which is conceived as a “summa� of his ideals. What he realized here is an evocative scenario which makes you using all your senses to perceive it.

Research for Atmosphere


5. Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia 6. Bridge to Querini Stampalia, detail of the handrail

7. Olivetti shop logo detail, Venice

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Details for the eye and for the hand Scarpa seems to understand that composing doesn’t mean to negate differences between elements, instead, he wants to underline and reinforce those differences. This process is shown, above all, in the details, which have in Scarpa’s architectures the aim to put the eye and the body closer to the object, in order to involve all the senses. The study of a detail, also when it concerns a technological aspect, is seen as something that negates the ripetitivity or the semplification of an industrial process, dominated by the economical number; instead, it evokes a component of “excess” which has a precise function. The ordinariety is cancelled in the “luxuous” form of the small fragment, that evokes the culture and the expressivity of a precise place. The luxuosity is not conceived as a waste, but as the manifestation of a deep intimacy with things, that is evasive and unique. Memory is the space that details are calling back to.

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8. Detail components of Tomba Brion


Bibliography - “Carlo Scarpa, Complete work.”; Francesco Dal Co and Giuseppe Mazzariol. Electa, 1984 Milano. - “The eyes of the skin: architecture and the senses”; Juhani Pallasmaa. Wiley 2012. - “Carlo Scarpa, guida all’architettura”; Sergio Los. Arsenale editrice,1994. - “Building as Ornament”; Michiel van Raaij. nai010 publishers. - “Junkspace”; Rem Koolhaas. Quodlibet 2004. - “Il complesso monumentale Brion”; Vitale Zanchettin. Marsilio, 2002. - “Architecture without architects”; Bernard Rudofsky. University of Albuquerque, 1964.

9. Detail of the “arcosolio” in Tomba Brion page nineteen

Senses and perceptions: the importance of ornament in Carlo Scarpa work.  
Senses and perceptions: the importance of ornament in Carlo Scarpa work.  
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