Davide Macullo. Reflections
Architecture is born from the gestures of children. I am picturing a child who lifts his arms high up and then turns them downwards with a theatrical movement to represent his home, as in a primordial dance; he uses his body to cut out a mood from the landscape, define a territory and build his enclosure. This child has created an architectural structure. I love Mikhail Baryshnikov’s answer to the question: what do you do?: “I occupy space”.
The time is always right for architecture, because it is timeless. The important thing about architecture is not who created it but the emotions it manages to convey. When you walk towards the prayer hall of the Temple of Paradise in Beijing (XV C) you realise that a simple concept like a path leading to a building, laid in grey stone without any fancy technologies, can give the impression of lightness. You feel you are flying on a curtain of air. It’s a unique sensation, you lose the sense of gravity. You realise that the sophisticated use of simple manipulations of scale can transform an intention and an idea into a deeply moving experience, making man feel he is at the centre of the world. Which is very symbolic, since this pathway was only used by the Emperor. Another amazing example of the universality of architecture is the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae (XIIIC BCC.). It’s like taking a peep into your own grave. The stunning evocative strength of the transition from life to death is expressed with concise refinement by a clear idea, executed with great precision. The building’s solid beauty calls forth all the primeval emotional tug of a return to the womb.
Architecture relates to both the cosmos and people, and like emotions it has no sell-by date. The same applies to art and music. Franz Gertsch (a Swiss contemporary artist) takes more than a year to produce a painting of a forest. As he paints it, this forest becomes a world where one may discover profound motivation for reformation of life. It is like listening to Nemanja Radulovich (a young Serbian violinist) playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, composed in the early 18 C.
We might also ask ourselves what time means in architecture. Time in architecture means giving ourselves time. In my experience, an architectural space may last for a moment or inspire an infinite emotional response that we remember all our lives. In our work we attempt to reveal the mysteries of a location by creating spaces that open out simultaneously towards both seductive horizons and natural details. It is a way of stimulating an intimate, introspective reaction. The appeal of the far-away can be enjoyed when a piece of it is next to us. It reassures and calms desire. We need to build not spaces to look at but spaces which reveal how different we are from the way we usually see ourselves. If the spaces we live in “fit” us well, we will feel in harmony with our environment. Thus our everyday lives are a source of precious time, and we have the impression of living longer. Spaces embrace life. When someone leaves their space for ever, what they have given remains. Those left behind receive what they have given to the person who has gone. The space they occupied will house new lives. This simplicity of spirit is reassuring. If objects, nature and buildings survive us, people occupy their living spaces and then disappear without trace. The brevity of life teaches us what our priorities should be, and to accept our responsibility to build well. “A civilised people lives in the midst of its art”. (Bruno Munari).
The challenge for an architect is the pleasure of managing to compete with yourself in order to help other people to share their needs, common to us all, and transform them into built space. It is a major achievement. I like to think of space not as a venture into temptation but as a journey into emotion. I think of all the hard work and competition people’s lives involve as they try to earn even a little land to farm. The plot we tend is that of creativity. When you think of a space to be built, you always think of the great paradox of the human condition: people are ambitious and yet so fragile and open to influence. The quality of a building depends on the quality of life it offers its occupants. Quality lies not so much in being attractive or ugly but rather in the extent to which the building is conceived for the people who live in it and not for an ideology.
Today, mobility is greater than in the past, due to the immediacy of communication. I believe that mobility has been key to every era, since people have always travelled, both physically and mentally. I seem still to be able to taste the cosmopolitan flavours of the narrow streets of the great European Renaissance port cities, which placed Europe at the centre of the world. A world of great travellers and founders of cities. Cultures have mixed more and more, and so have stereotypes and prejudices. Perhaps today’s age is one of greater lightness, of free spirits, because speed has overcome the sense of separation and everything and everyone has been brought close together. You need to feel at home anywhere at least four languages are being spoken at once; otherwise, you are an outsider.
People are nomadic and sedentary at the same time; living is an amazing journey and we travel more than we live. When we stop, we fit into spaces that offer respites, which break up and structure our journeys. Spaces open out to the real world but welcome us when we are travelling through our own intimate, virtual worlds or are cultivating love. We do not lose the habit of occupying defined spaces, but we live on branches from which we can take flight towards our dreams. The idea that architecture must deal with the notion of nearness springs from this very duality in the human character (nomadic-sedentary). The closer we come to something, the more it is transformed, revealing its secret worlds.
Our attitude to our work springs from the need to give ourselves as much time as possible to express a condition of humanity. Every one of our projects represents us.
Our work always starts from the pencil drawing. Even today, sketches still give us the freedom to savour ignorance. Ignorance has an intrinsic creative force that leads to the revelation of new emotions. The book “Seeing is Forgetting” (Robert Irwin, 1982) is very good on this. You can see that a tree is beautiful even if you do not know what it is called, and then you may learn its correct name in a foreign language you are unable to pronounce. This generates a very simple, intimate association, which is then explained in other, invented words. Or in a drawing. Sketching is an intuitive practice. Drawing without thinking allows you to discover amazing things that could never be described in words with the immediacy of the sketch. Every time you draw, you reveal who you are and how much you change.
Just as for children before adults step in, it is a pleasure to start something without knowing what you are doing or where you will be taken to. For an architect, it is a healthy expression of power to feel that something can be built, as soon as you intuit it. It is at this point that you start to understand the meaning of those sketches, created with sophisticated ingenuity. It is a sort of secret written code. The lines that define spaces are like the constellations in the sky; they never look the same. They have different depths and a different degree of definition. You discover new constellations every time, because some parts become brighter than others. But with the stars we focus on the lines; here, what seduces us is what lies between them. The landscape within which we live and move. What occupies space is life itself.