Questo articolo è in relazione al Vol. 3 di Edge Condition, che ha come tema conduttore l'Arte e l'Architettura. L'articolo non è pubblicato sulla rivista.
Today architecture seems to be on everyone's mouth. The number of web sites specialized in this matter keeps growing as much as the interest of people in the discipline or in the related disciplines such as product and interior design.
At least when for 'architecture' we mean houses or, to say it better, our home. And at least when the word 'architecture' can be easily accompanied with such words as 'fancy', 'cool', 'luxury' and so on. Maybe most people have stopped asking themselves if architecture is still a kind of art.
It's been more than a century since Adolf Loos stated that architecture as an art is limited to the tomb and the monument, as "The house has to please everyone, contrary to the work of art which does not. The work is a private matter for the artist. The house is not."
Dandy, intellectual and really snob he's probably not been completely understood to date, due to his sometimes criptic and contradictory writings and behaviour. He's long been considered a proto-modernist or even a father of modernism. At the same time in his late years he rejected modernism (Corbu's one, just to be clear) as 'just another language among others' and he never really abandoned classical architecture, using with abundance cornices or basements and designing his Chicago Tribune building proposal as a giant doric column.
But what was he really saying regarding art and architecture? Is there a relationship between his new way of seeing architecture and the almost contemporary birth of psychology in Vienna, where he lived and worked? What was for him architecture then, if not an art?
Maybe the real innovation of Loos was his real attempt to avoid a language, that is to avoid to conceive architecture as a means to transmit a message. A message is precisely what all art is instead created for, so maybe it's actually since Loos that architecture can be something different. He said that "Architecture arouses sentiments in man. The architect's task, therefore, is to make those sentiments more precise". Making a sentiment more precise can also be giving it a home. An apt and different place for each sentiment.
He gave counsels, he helped his clients, but he let them choose the furniture and the pieces of art they liked, in clear opposition to his Viennese colleagues of the Secession, who instead preached the total work of art.
The Germans know it all. They have always the right word: gesamtkunstwerk. An architecture that is completely fused with sculpture, paintings and even furniture to give a single unified and complete impression. That is to transmit a message. As a real work of art.
This was the Secession but this had also been gothic cathedrals or Greek temples. Or palladian villas or..maybe all architecture before Adolf Loos? (Fig. 1 and 2)
Thus Loos' was a new way of conceiving architecture: beyond gesamkunswerk. So new that's been misunderstood by his contemporaries and even by modern masters, who instead sometimes were deeply attracted by the fusion of the arts. Think of Le Corbusier and some of his buildings filled with his paintings or murales.
Another reason for the misunderstanding was Loos' insistence with the use of classical details, for which he has never been considered really modern. We can now, after modernism, understand that that was due to his desire to avoid a new language, so classical devices were just his way to use something everyone was used to.
What kind of art can then architecture be? What does it mean "to make sentiments more precise"? To give an apt and proper place for each sentiment and activity of the human beings?
I see Adolf Loos thoughts and buildings as an anticipation of some of the theories of phenomenology. As Gaston Bachelard has sublimely evidenced in his 'The poetics of space', the relationship between our feelings and architecture are so vast and deep that architecture can be with no doubt be considered the most influential of the arts for our lives or, to say it with Ernest Dimnet, "Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul".
Peter Zumthor is considered among the greatest architects that today explicitly refer to phenomenology. I find a strong correspondence between his concept of architecture as an art and what Loos stated architecture had to be. Zumthor says, above all in his 'Thinking Architecture', that architecture is neither message nor sign, but a sensible recipient for the passing of life. A recipient that has to be differently sensible to the different activities of men. He also says that maybe art is the unexpected truth and the role of architecture should be that of revealing to us something that we never previously understood in that way.
Could we live or work constantly listening to Beethoven 5th simphony or to Let it be? We all like them but we surely couldn't. Architecture is not music or sculpture, and what it has to reveal to us is a possibility we have to fully live our lives, or to say it again with Loos, to make our sentiments more precise.
Another parallel between Zumthor and Loos is the absence of language, that meant the use of classical details for the Austrian and the use of modernist and minimal details for the Swiss one century later.
The aim of the present article is to introduce an idea trying to see its evolution in history of architecture and trying to develop a discourse around it. The argument is so vast that of course a single and short article can't be exhaustive, but, trying to make it more complete, I add a final line of reasoning that regards buildings when they are conceived as recipients for other arts.
What can beyond gesamtkunstwerk be when we have to display sculpture or contemporary pieces of art? What can be a true and authentic relationship between architecture and other visual arts?
I think the recipe should be the same: a sensible recipient that creates the right atmosphere, the right mood for people to let them fully understand the works of art displayed.
I have recently visited 'La Congiunta', the tiny building in Giornico, Switzerland, designed by Peter Märkli to host the sculptures of Hans Josephsohn (Fig. 3 and 4). The way this building defines 'a world apart' to display art is so exemplar that it seems to me the most proper example as a case study for what I'm saying. The atmosphere is so powerful that the visitor can forget the entire world outside the entrance door but at the same time so unobstrusive that Josephsohn sculpures can be experienced as in a blank space.
And give you feelings you didn't know before.