An exhibition curated by Jonathan and Marco Pierini, until October 24, at the Palazzo Ducale Urbino. Text: Jonathan Pierini
Promoted by Galleria Nazionale delle Marche together with ISIA Higher Institute for Applied Arts of Urbino, the exhibition Spiriti presents Giancarlo De Carlo’s vision for the city of Urbino as a space for design, education, and the cultivation of citizenship, inviting visitors to rethink the architect’s work as a lesson for contemporary design practice.
De Carlo’s long relationship with Urbino, and with the rector of Carlo Bo University, began in 1952, when the architect was commissioned with the renovation of the campus. Six years later, De Carlo was put in charge of drafting the city’s new masterplan, presented to the public in 1964 with the book Urbino: la storia di una città e il piano della sua evoluzione urbanistica [English ed. MIT Press, 1970]. The masterplan of Urbino is the most conspicuous expression of De Carlo’s structuralist approach to architectural design. It unites his work with that of other members of Team X, whose contribution to architecture practice transcended the material dimension of design, moving towards broader questions about the structure of communities and societies. When we think of design as a practice that is merely at the service of mass consumption and the standardization of production—as it is all too often understood today—a new reading of De Carlo’s work can help readjust our focus on the relationships between space, objects, groups, and individuals, opening a room for critique that can truly challenge design’s objectives and methodologies.
In this respect, De Carlo’s own critique of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, and of the relationship between architecture and the multiform expressions of American pop culture, provides a useful case for reflection. In his view, Venturi and Scott Brown, and the Pop Art movement in general, found “vital material, worthy of artistic representation, in the most trivial products of our time,” broadening the spectrum of design production to include forms previously not considered to be deserving of attention [De Carlo, L’Architettura della Partecipazione, Quodlibet, 2004, 71]. At the same time, De Carlo saw the limits of these experiences in their inability to produce repercussions outside of their disciplinary fields, or worse, in the way that they contributed to making certain degenerations of capitalist development more acceptable through the use of labels such as “commercial vernacular,” “complexity,” “contradiction,” and “disorder.” The latter in particular is a useful term of comparison to measure the distance between De Carlo and later popular postmodernist and deconstructivist stances. According to De Carlo, there are two types of disorder: the first is a form of free collective expression within a community, which arises in reaction to processes of social flattening that are produced by institutional systems of power; the second is an expression of the system of power itself, which sometimes produces anomalies overriding its own rules. Needless to say, De Carlo invites designers and citizens to pursue the former: “you don’t design disorder [...] Whoever has attempted it ended up designing a messy kind of order, which is still order. In fact, the real question is not to reproduce the external aspects of disorder, but to establish the conditions in which disorder can freely manifest itself.” [Ibid., 74]. It is in light of this principle that we can fully appreciate the design ethic that guided his masterwork in Urbino.
De Carlo’s design for Urbino was informed by an interdisciplinary and inclusive approach that triggered a public conversation across disciplinary boundaries involving various local parties, from institutions, to schools, to individual citizens. His masterplan became a vast cultural and social project inspired by an understanding of architecture as an instrument at the service of the community, whose scope is to evaluate and organize relationships between groups and individuals. In his essay An Architecture of Participation [Melbourne Architectural Papers, 1972] he points out that, although the representation of architecture often fails to include people—a heritage of the Renaissance tradition—places are, in fact, “experienced, consumed, perpetually transformed by human presence” and thus it is only through one’s own body, senses, and mind that we can appreciate the quality of a place. At the same time, for De Carlo, the very idea of quality is to be understood as the richness emerging from a plurality of views.
Considering a plurality of views, as the essential prerequisite for understanding the quality of a place, is also the core value that informed the realization of the exhibition Spiriti, in which eight internationally renowned photographers and ISIA educators—Paola Binante, Luca Capuano, Mario Cresci, Paola De Pietri, Jason Fulford, Stefano Graziani, Armin Linke, and Giovanna Silva—recount their own experiences of De Carlo’s architectures in Urbino. This multifaceted collection of works, presented right inside the 15th-century Palazzo Ducale, fundamentally challenges the monocentric views typical of Renaissance painting that are so particularly dear to the city’s artistic tradition. Instead, it offers a new, collective experience of De Carlo’s modern and radically democratic vision for the future of Urbino, and for that of design practice at large.
Exhibition Catalogue: https://corraini.com/it/spiriti.html