Existentium

Project

By studying potential forms of interaction between art forms, the project examines the interaction between architecture and narration. Architecture can become a narrative where shapes and materials show their metaphorical potential rather than being just simple building elements.

In this vision, we find a building where narration and architecture merge together: the Danteum of Terragni, a monument that «translates» the Divine Comedy into architecture.

The Danteum becomes the investigative tool of the graduate Project. It establishes an “empirical approach” by testing the potentialities of narrative architecture in a housing project.

The project aims to become a new Eden for Lausanne, where the Divine Comedy is the main tool for its design. The lyrical metric of Dante’s verses regulates the structure of the project, while the narrative content of the cantos is evoked in its interior. The Eden is the setting of an architectural tale where simple gestures of everyday’s life are narrated. The project becomes a spectacle of the Human Comedy, representing the human existence.

Existentium is the title of this show about existence. Like the Danteum, the Existentium feeds on the Divine Comedy, staging the «cammin di nostra vita» (Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, canto I, v.1).

Interview

What prompted the project?

The aim of my work was to examine the interaction between architecture and narration, by verifying how art forms such as cinema, literature, and painting can interact with it to produce a poetic work. Architecture thus becomes a narrative event through the use of forms and materials, related to their metaphorical potential rather than their design as building blocks.
In this vision, we find a building full of allegorical connotations where narration and architecture merge together: the Danteum, monument to the work of Dante, designed by Giuseppe Terragni in collaboration with Pietro Lingeri. It is a project that represents Dante’s journey in the Divine Comedy through the immersion of the visitor in a series of evocative and fantastic atmospheres.

Starting from the Danteum as an investigative tool on the metaphorical and narrative capability of architecture, my project is defined as the intention to establish an “empirical approach” by testing the potentialities of narrative and metaphorical architecture not in a monument like the Danteum, but in a program often excluded from any form of artistic expression: a neighbourhood.

My project proposes a farming district mixing housing buildings, productive and non-productive public spaces, which at a first sight has the appearance of a traditional aggregation. The theme of living and cultivating thus becomes a theatrical spectacle in which the human gestures of everyday’s life and the existence of man are staged. Existentium is the title of this show about existence. Like the Danteum, the Existentium feeds on the Divine Comedy, staging the “cammin di nostra vita”.

What drew you to the divine comedy?

The choice of the divine comedy derives partly from the influence of Terragni and its Danteum. I was also inspired by the fact that the divine comedy is the allegory of human life, and at the same time a human comedy that is translated into the project of a neighbourhood of habitation.

The project of this district aims to become a new Eden for the region of Lausanne, where the Divine Comedy becomes the main tool of its design, applying a method comparable to the one of Terragni for the Danteum: the content of the divine comedy was separated from the form, the allegory of the metric structure.

Thus, the lyric metric of Dante’s verses regulates the structure of the project, while the narrative content of the verses that describe Eden is evoked in its interior.

Following the desire to create a new Eden and based on the reading of its description in the divine comedy, the project is based on the principles recovered from Danteum of Terragni.

What informed the choice of Lausanne as the site where to unravel this speculation?

The location is a fundamental element for every narrative. There are more reasons that led to the choice of Lausanne for staging the Existentium.
The project is located in a region designated for future densification of Lausanne, in a place identified by the master plans of the north of Lausanne as capable of responding to the future increase of the population: a currently agricultural area. The project is situated in this context marked by the desire to reconcile the built density required by the future urbanization with the safeguarding of the cropping surfaces present on the site, thus preserving its inherently agricultural identity. In addition, Lausanne is a place that for me has autobiographical connotations. Exactly like Koolhaas who designed exodus in London where he carried out his studies, I also designed the Existentium where I completed mine. In this way the choice of Lausanne is also symbolic, it is the city where I started and completed my studies of architecture, it is the city that I saw change together with the development of my point of view on architecture. With this project, I wanted to shape Lausanne through my look and my narrative approach.

How important is narrative as a tool within architectural discourse and practice?

The Existentium is deeply linked to the theme of narration. The project is based entirely on the verses of Eden of the Divine Comedy, both narratively and metrically.

The conception of Eden in the project follows lyrical motifs defined in the same way as those used by Terragni in the Danteum. For example, in the Existentium, the drawing on the ground is defined by the metrical structure of the six (songs) of Eden, producing a form of concrete poetry.
On this drawing there are two platforms linked by a path. This journey evokes the one of Dante inside Eden, and each element that the visitor encounters corresponds to those encountered by Dante.

From this point of view, the two platforms connected by the path evoke the path of Dante in Eden: the two platforms are the moments when the procession stops, and they become raised places made for allowing the creation of scenographical landscaping devices.

How effective is photomontage as a medium to speculate and provoke?

Photomontage was a perfect tool for this exercise. The photomontage allows the contamination of multiple references, allowing me to create seductive and surreal images, where references of medieval miniatures meet with references of the super surface of Superstudio. Through the photomontage, the Existentium stands as a fantastic world characterized by a series of my personal references, architectural and not, projects, drawings, works of art that have influenced my scholastic path and defined my vision of architecture.

What was your work process?

Once identified the region of Lausanne as the setting of this stage, the first operation was to test the potential of the site to see how it reacted to different ideas. For this purpose, I made a series of photomontages that showed a collision between the project site and various personal and historical references were introduced like a fragment of the central park, Exodus, the “Ville radieuse” and the gardens of Versailles, up to works of concrete poetry.

Following these experiments, a clear path has been outlined: a garden of Eden surrounded on one side by a series of bar-shaped buildings intended as a continuation of the existing tissue and, on the other, a series of dwelling towers arranged more freely according to the outline of the forest.
In this way, the Existentium began to develop around the definition of the complex relationship between theory and project and took over as the object of investigation the role of narrative in the project Danteum of Giuseppe Terragni. Like the Danteum, the Existentium translates the Divine Comedy into architecture but at the same time also becomes a stage of the human comedy where human gestures of everyday life become a spectacle. In addition, a series of artistic, literary, and cinematographic references have been included with the purpose of generating a form architecture intended as a form of artistic expression.

What role did the drawing play as a tool through which to explore and communicate the project?

The drawing is a translation between the idea and the practice, between the real and the unreal.
Drawing is a form of exploration of reality and its limits. In the project of the Existentium, it is through the drawing that it is possible to translate the divine comedy into architecture from the narrative and structural point of view.

What informed the scale of the images when printed?

The relationship between architecture and narration has also informed the scale of the image. The images have been printed into a triptych. When closed it shows all the architectural plants and once opened it shows the Existentium project. The choice of the triptych is partly due to a desire to create a stage to present the project. On the other, it is linked to references from the past such as the triptych by Bosh which also represents the Eden.
The project wanted to act as a scenic element.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

I think the most important tool for an architect is the narrative, the ability to tell a story.
The intent is to check how other art forms bordering on architecture, such as cinema, literature, and painting, can interact with it to create a poetic work full of lyrical demands and universal values through the use of forms and materials, a narrative event linked to their metaphorical potential rather than their conception as constitutive elements of a building.

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