Tag Archives: Isufitaly

Kahn revisited




Kahn revisited

Giuseppe Strappa

In architecture, certain ideas and key figures need to be continuously reinterpreted, and each generation has its own form of reinterpretation. It has happened in the past in the case of certain architects, from Vitruvius to Borromini, whose lessons in creativity end up being the product of the times in which the interpretation took place, a result of the many, changing readings that have been made, layer upon layer, over time. It happens still today. I believe, however, that this fruitful form of rethinking and further examination is readily, if not principally, applicable in the case of Louis Isadore Kahn, who was the bearer of a message that was, by its nature, predisposed, one could say, to many different interpretations.

This book – the progress of which I have had the pleasure of following during its various stages of evolution – proposes exactly this: a new interpretation of Kahn’s legacy carried out with scientific scrupulousness, while being aware of the critical state in which design projects find themselves today. A “new” Kahn, in other words. A Kahn, certainly, who is completely modern, since in him are embodied the anxieties and abuses of the contemporary condition. But his is a modernity that is exceptional and different, one to be totally re-examined, because he painfully attempted to diagnose these divisive factors and re-arrange them in a single framework, to recompose the scattered elements of the shattered reality around him into an ideal form that would unify everything and hold it in place. In this quest for knowledge lies all the drama of Louis Kahn, and his perpetual innovation: surrounded by the most contradictory of all possible environments – the America of mass-production industry and market forces – he imagined a different, organic world, in which each thing had its own place in accordance with timeless rules (timeless, not ancient), and where everything recomposed itself, in a way unlike what happened in the past, of course, since nothing can take place without change. In a world dominated by speed, Kahn managed to perceive, once again and afresh, the slow, eternal ebb and flow of life in architecture. This concept was not linear in time, one could say, but a kind of cyclic, endless reappearance of forms.

I believe it is important for us to recognise his ability to place a measure on things, to set a limit that determined the actual meaning of a form: progressively rediscovering the poetic wisdom of the rule, and how it had functioned so well throughout history. We can sift through the ruins of a major calamity, but Kahn seems to be telling us that we know how to put those ruins back together again, like the young man in Tarkovsky’s Andrej Rublev, who faced with the annihilation of every scrap of traditional knowledge, remembers how to cast an iron bell, and gives this information to his fellow-citizens who are wandering lost among the destruction wreaked by the invasion of barbarian hordes.

And so, this re-composition, this activity of reconstructing anew what has been broken and scattered, is the great epic theme of Kahn’s entire course of experimentation, the anti-modern “other side”, we might say, of some of his many contradictory facets, which does not allow for simplification. This idea was inherited, to a certain extent, from Paul Philippe Cret, a remarkable architect and educator, whose career has been somewhat overshadowed by Kahn’s bright shining star, but which has also been dignified, as Elisabetta Barizza points out, by a recognition of Cret’s fundamental maieutic role in Kahn’s education. However, I believe that in the American architectural milieu, Kahn’s message was fated to fall on deaf ears. Despite the formidable amount of work that went into spreading his views, and the efforts of art historians in exploring influences and interconnections, there are few traces, in the work of architects of his time or later, of the influence of Kahn’s passing star.

The power of his architecture has, on the other hand, been the unintended driving force for an entire generation of Italian architects, who themselves had been brought up on teachings that differed from those of Cret, yet which were, in some sense, linked to them by an underlying idea of unity between parts, conveyed by geometry. Above all, the semi-forgotten notion of organism, put forward by teachers in Italian architectural faculties (in particular, that of Rome in the pre-war years), acted as an underground stream, deep-running and subliminal. Perhaps for this reason, Kahn’s teachings held a particular attraction for some members of the architectural scene in the 1970s, when, during a period of crisis and impermanence, they seemed to offer the illusion of certainty and longevity. Kahn appeared above all to bestow a new sense of pride and faith in the ways and means of architecture, which, long under threat for its basic principles, at that time was reclaiming its independence as a discipline.

Yet there was another affinity that, to my mind, favoured Kahn’s reception in Italy: a distinctive, Mediterranean way of perceiving the tangible quality of materials. The plastic potential inherent in Kahn’s work was, to a large extent, due to the genuine, masonry-based solidity created between spaces and construction, between the walls that supported the weight of a building and, at the same time, closed up the spaces; it also relied upon the form constructed out of the organic act of holding all the component parts of a project together. An act that nonetheless abandoned the precision of classical measurement, the ideal home of all ideas of organism, and took into account the fact that the ancient geometries of perfect cosmogonies had given way to the ambivalences of the modern world, and it was no longer a question of maintaining absolute unities, which did not include at least the beneficial seeds of the undefined. Since our minds have need for a crystal-clear esprit de géometrie, our hearts welcome the devices that create large shadows, the mystery of collapsing spaces, the light that shines from some hidden source, the glare that we want to shield our eyes from. Courageously, Kahn once more brings forth forgotten, grandiose themes that appear to engage the central core of an architect’s work: great imposing public buildings, the malleable design of monuments and the study of Platonic forms created by a meta-historic line of reasoning far removed from any form of internationalist rationalism. Thus, Kahn, using a language that was immediately comprehensible to Italian architects, assuaged the widespread distress and discomfort that emerged at that time, as architects were confronted with a modernist legacy, the limitations of which were already seen to be too confining. His ideas soon uncovered the real nature of this cultural crossroads – a point where many came together, or found themselves, only to disperse once again and follow other paths. That however brief moment of meeting nevertheless appeared to lay down a lasting foundation for an identity that was otherwise on the way to extinction. What would the researches, albeit original, of Franco Purini, Alessandro Anselmi, Claudio D’Amato, Massimo Martini and many others (if we consider only the Roman architects) have been like, without their encounters with Louis Kahn? I think that even apparently distant cultural contexts, such as that of The Swiss Ticino canton, managed to forge historical links with Italian architecture through the medium of Kahn. One only need think of the design project experience of Mario Botta, who inherited from Kahn certain research themes during his collaboration on the Palazzo dei Congressi project in Venice.

This subject matter has already been given wide treatment by the present author, along with Marco Falsetti, in their book Rome and the Legacy of Louis Kahn (Routledge, London, New York, 2018), which includes contributions from many of the protagonists of the time. Her working hypothesis, therefore, is solidly based on research into how much Kahn imparted to the Roman architectural scene, allowing her to claim that one could, in some ways, refer to a “Kahn season” experienced by all concerned. To go beyond this, to examine how this shared experience could have been drawn from a background of common ideas, is undoubtedly a task beset by uncertainty. However, what is clear and plausible is a recognition of a methodological source and a Kahnian poetic core, founded on a vitally new definition of an architectural organism, in its deepest sense of a design model that reconciles and links together the individual parts of a construction into a single, close relationship based on necessity, and assigns to each of them a common purpose. This interpretation is demonstrable – and is, in fact, demonstrated by Elisabetta Barizza – and links Kahn’s work to a European tradition of teaching and theory that found, in the inter-war years in Italy, not only its most modern and inheritable expression, but also its most convincing practical validation. This is to put forward an explanation that is partial, but that is also the task of any architect filled with enthusiasm for their work, even at the project stage. In today’s cultural climate, where it seems impossible to talk of unity and synthesis, the notion of organism remains one of the basic ideas on which one can establish a critical interpretation of constructed reality and, thus, of architectural design itself.

For this reason, then, a return to a study of Louis Kahn is a useful decision: to rediscover to what extent his work is valid for contemporary design, in order to resolve the current impasse in architecture, which has been stalled for decades in abstract, eye-catching researches, continually innovating without any form of central focal point. A new reading of Kahn’s concept of organism, by revisiting his works and his writings, I am convinced, can help our discipline of architecture find its way back to reality. This concept, updated and vital, does not, as his work demonstrates, imply any form of mechanical determinism, but is the expression of the multiple connections that link together elements, systems and structures, which together contribute to the final constructive outcome of architecture. The organism and organicity that Barizza identifies in Kahn’s work is altogether different from the naturalistic arguments utilised throughout history, nor do they have anything in common with the numerous interpretations proffered incessantly from the 16th century up to the current ideas of the organic, which have indirectly traversed modern architecture. The idea used here is more similar to the modern term, unknown before the Enlightenment, of “organisation”, in the sense of a set of rules that govern the coordination of separate elements with one another. This term entered the scientific vocabulary with the meaning of “ordering, arranging” in the mid-17th century, used to indicate a set of parts that collaborate together for the same function. Kahn’s employment of this idea – and his acknowledgement of the importance of necessity, congruence and proportion in design – enables one, in an exemplary fashion, to regard an architectural work as an artificial product of a unifying thought process that does not rely on the study of nature nor even on the study of single works created by architects, but on a form of universal formative structures that operate throughout history, within all histories. All of which goes to say that it is far removed from current thinking – which proves, to my mind, its greater usefulness.




La lezione riguarderà una sintetica presentazione del metodo morfologico processuale come strumento di lettura critica della realtà costruita in divenire. Questa lettura è basata sulle nozioni di “formatività”, capacità di dare forma attraverso un processo dinamico di trasformazioni e “generatività” capacità di generare con un numero finito di regole, un numero potenzialmente infinito di forme. Verranno fatti alcuni esempi di lettura riguardanti il palazzo italiano e alcuni esempi di progetto derivato dalla lettura inteso come ultima fase di trasformazioni in atto.





by FRANCO PURINI – in Paesaggio Urbano n.1, 2014

Team leader: Giuseppe Strappa
Project team:  Alessandro 
Camiz, Paolo Carlotti, Giancarlo Galassi, Martina Longo. 


click here              Purini su Carezzano  

An extensive debate about the city, based on different
and sometimes radically divergent models, in recent
years attempted to verify, using interpretative models
developed by the twentieth century architectural culture,
what was going on in cities.
Among these, three models can be distinguished because
of their complexity, clarity and interest.
With regard to Italy, the first of these models follows a
study tradition dating back to Gustavo Giovannoni,
Saverio Muratori, Gianfranco Caniggia, Giancarlo Cataldi
and Pier Luigi Maffei. This one is the most influential
and enduring theoretical and operational model on urban
studies produced in Italy, and it considers the city as
an organism with a layered structure.
The second model interprets the city as a system of
dynamic relationships, as a communicative flow
of networks. The city is considered here more than a
physical fact, a pure projection of information and events,
a chaotic and metamorphic simulacrum, a collage
suspended between the city of Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter
and the generic city of Rem Koolhaas. What appears to be
essential to this point of view is the immateriality of the city.
The landscape is the keyword to the third model. Assuming
the landscape paradigm, the city lost not only its physical
identity but also the immaterial one: a neo-naturalistic vision,
blurring the microcosm into the macrocosm, took the place
of identity.
Giuseppe Strappa is one of the most prominent members of
the structuralist line, attentive and creative interpreter of the
Caniggian lesson (continued with remarkable originality);
he has succeeded in creating an actual School, based on
the notion of architectural and urban organism, within
the Faculty of Architecture in Rome. His conception
of architecture is based on the relationship between
unity and parts, plasticity and elasticity, uniqueness
and seriality, design and construction, and between
many other dialectical dyads. The project proceeds
not only in an analytical way, but also following
indirect and unpredictable paths where memory and
emotion make the invisible visible. His theoretical and
architectural work is anyway open to a constant critical
review, comparing his beliefs with what emerged from
disciplinary alternatives.
One of the last works of Giuseppe Strappa, the
redevelopment of an area of the historical center
of Carezzano Maggiore in Piemonte, is a kind of
exemplar manifesto where the coincidence between
an admirable theoretical accuracy and a recognizable
architectural writing maturity produced a more
than significant result. This project, first prize winner of a
competition, was elaborated by a design group directed
by Giuseppe Strappa, with Alessandro Camiz, Paolo
Carlotti, Giancarlo Galassi, Martina Longo, and by the
collaborators Marco Maretto, Nicolò Boggio, Pina Ciotoli.
It is the outcome of three intentions: the accurate
reconstruction of the formation phases of Carezzano
Maggiore, the contribution of that part to a new identity, the
definition of a spatial warping which, through a careful and
inspired decodification of the metrics of the urban tissues,
reorganizes the existing settlement enrolling it into a
new set of urban relationships.
The buildings were recasted into a new facility enclosing a
new civic center, following the palazzo type evolution. For the
variety of content and the way in which it is composed into a
coherent system, the project gives a convincing answer to
the new paradigm of urban regeneration.
The project of Giuseppe Strappa is the result of listening
to the formation phases of the city and to the urban
imagination. An imagination which, by incorporating the
built memory, resulted in a complete and definitive form,
always rational, but, in its very nature, unspeakable. There a
also emerges from the project a sense of duration and at the
same time the representation of how, conversely, the
circumstances that produced it must be transcended to be
seen as something suprahistorical.
Finally, this work shows how the structuralist line on the
interpretation of the city is able to promote innovative
responses to more complex urban problems. It points out
that the city can not help but design ideas that move from
its collective identity.

La ricerca di morfologia urbana in Italia. Tradizione e futuro. Giornata di studio


Esistono oggi scuole di morfologia urbana? La tradizione italiana è stata rivolta, almeno in parte, all’uso operativo degli studi sulla forma urbana. Ma è ancora possibile proporre, oggi, ricerche in chiave progettuale e didattica, oltre che interpretativa?  Qual è il lascito “aggiornato” dei maestri che hanno contribuito alla nascita di una scuola di morfologia urbana?



manifesto giornata di studio 14 gennaio 2021 (1)

Nello sforzo di rinnovare gli strumenti di partecipazione alla costruzione dei numeri della rivista, la redazione di U+D – Urbanform and Design intende organizzare l’issue number 15/2021 sul tema La ricerca di morfologia urbana in Italia. Tradizione e futuro, chiamando a collaborare gli autori fin dalla sua impostazione, che sarà discussa in una Giornata di Studio in programma per il 14 gennaio 2021.

L’iniziativa ha due finalità correlate tra loro.

Si tratta di sperimentare un nuovo metodo di progettare la pubblicazione pensandola come processo e definendone la struttura in forma partecipata.

L’iniziativa ha, poi, lo scopo di contribuire a rilanciare il dibattito sui temi della forma urbana riguardata nei sui esiti tangibili e indagata secondo metodi razionali e trasmissibili. Pur in un’accezione ampia e aperta del termine “morfologia urbana”, l’interesse dell’incontro sarà rivolto alle ricerche basate sullo studio concreto dei fenomeni urbani e sul loro esito progettuale.

Tema importante sarà anche il ruolo fondamentale che scuole e maestri hanno avuto, in Italia, nel costruire un pensiero originale sugli studi urbani, oggetto di una nuova attenzione in campo internazionale. Il dibattito dovrebbe essere incentrato, secondo le intenzioni degli organizzatori, non su uno sguardo storico e retrospettivo, ma sull’attualità del loro lascito che va confrontato con le questioni più urgenti che la crisi della città contemporanea pone.

Proponendo una riflessione rivolta al futuro ma basata sui temi della condizione contemporanea, sembra utile porre, allora, i seguenti interrogativi:

cosa si intenda oggi per morfologia urbana;

come essa venga studiata e proposta nella didattica delle scuole italiane;

come venga studiata e proposta nel progetto di architettura;

quali nuove prospettive di ricerca si possano avanzare per interpretare la fenomenica attuale.

Le differenti posizioni che emergeranno nella giornata di studio, strutturata in forma di tavoli di discussione,  contribuiranno a formare un quadro sintetico delle attività teoriche, progettuali e didattiche praticate nelle diverse scuole.

Senza avere la pretesa di esaurire il quadro delle ricerche sul tema in corso in Italia, alla giornata sono invitati studiosi delle sedi in cui sono presenti Corsi di Laurea in Architettura che operano su questo stesso orizzonte di sperimentazione con metodi e fini diversi ma, riteniamo, spesso complementari.

L’evento è aperto all’intera comunità di studiosi e architetti che operano in questo settore e che potranno partecipare come uditori mediante la piattaforma on line.

link: https://meet.google.com/fvb-wjkv-uze