These days, everyone seems to be talking about the death of the architectural profession – the growing irrelevance, the commercialization, and the hollowing out by engineers and developers. In these supposed “tough times,” where should young architecture students turn to? Parametrics? Radicalism? Revolution? For IaN+, the final evening lecturers of the Cornell in Rome series, the answer is “none of the above.” To do architecture, according to IaN+, one must recognize what one does NOT want to do with architecture — and then just make the projects work.
In a lecture titled “This is not a manifesto,” architects Carmelo Baglivo and Luca Garofalo of IaN+ reflect on their desire to rid architecture of its superfluous threads – its ideologies, its formalism, and its grandiosity. As an introduction, Baglivo and Garofalo explain that contemporary architecture is a self-referential act, driven more by media than by issues of the city. Lost in the culture of consumption, architecture as a discipline has lost its meaning as a “thinking tool to interpret reality”. To make the discipline grounded again, architecture has to eschew what it is not, and what it cannot deliver – an anti-manifesto, in a sense.
Garofalo summarized IaN+’s theories and recent projects with five points: 1) No Utopia, 2) No Vision, 3) No Radical Projects, 4) No Icons, and 5) No New Paradigms. For “No Utopia”, Garofalo presented a theoretical project for a New Parliament: a lattice roof structure in a plaza that is neither indoor nor outdoor, realizing the lack of hierarchy in our non-utopic reality. “No Vision” featured a project for Benetton in Tehran, which features a “linen” mesh that blurs public and private zones, while “No Radical Projects” showed a competition entry for the Busan Opera House that intensifies reality through a vertical piazza. In “No Icons”, Baglivo showed an extreme project to gut and transform underused buildings in Rome into housing units, but concealing the interventions by maintaining old facades. Finally, in “No New Paradigms,” the two architects showcased their two built works: Centro Anziani Falcognana and Ospedale del Mare.
For all their ambitious discussion about manifestos and radicalism, IaN+’s realized works are more straightforward, albeit still good. With Centro Anziani Falcognana, the office devised a new senior center next to verdant meadows in Rome’s outskirts. The project’s “money shot” was the front portico, which feature dramatic angled beams that leap off from the roof. Meanwhile, Ospedale del Mare is a courtyard addition into an existing hospital. An “elevated tree” connects different points of the courtyard together, and the main spine punctures through the existing block to terminate in a circular outpatient building.
Between their built and theoretical works, there seems to be a great disconnect; eschewing radicalism and the spectacular, IaN+’s architecture may look unbecoming. But that’s okay. If the office’s goal was to free architecture from lofty, unrealistic ambitions, then what remains—their built works—are simply good spaces. “Urban devices” and microinfrastructures may be more evocative words to describe the projects, but in the end they are just words. If and when architects have a chance to make projects which others feel are dazzling, or extraordinary, then great. If not, then architects are better off just making buildings work — projects that fully engage reality — and leave the thought-provoking theories for another lecture.