SCHIZO-INTERVIEWS: Emanuele Von Normann

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From 2000 to 2008 was a contract lecturer at the degree course in Architecture and Landscape Gardens of the Faculty of Architecture in Rome “L. Quaroni”. He is currently professor of landscape and garden architecture at the Faculty of Architecture in Rome “Roma Tre”. He has participated and won numerous national and international de­sign competitions, and his activity is documented in numerous publi­cations. Architect von Normann is specialized in the restoration of historical gardens and architecture, and in the design and construction of archi­tecture, terraces, private gardens and public parks.

V.A.G.: Rome in three words.

E.V.N.: I think I can describe Rome with one word only: puzzle. Rome is a puzzle of unfitting elements.

V.A.G.: With the figure of schizophrenia we wanted to highlight, like those suffering from this disease, a divided city, whose parts do not work all simultaneously and in an integrated way. What it was, in your opinion, the best time for Rome’s urbanity and what are the elements that are missing today in this urbanity?

E.V.N.: I don’t think Rome is schizophrenic, I think that it makes people schizophrenic. Talking about its urbanity, when we search for an answer, we use to look at history as sequence of only great recognizable intervention moments. What I believe, besides the unquestionable success of those moments (Baroque or Fascist ages, for example), is that they were important for because of the clearness in defining some focuses of urban development and solid strategies to manage it. Unlike the past, today’s times of growth and developing are a lot more rapid, so I believe the best period for Rome’s urbanity will be the future. Which is the city of the future? The one that has the elements reconnection between the pieces of the puzzle.

V.A.G.: Rome was the urbe of forums and domus, the baroque scene for the pope’s architects and, more recently, the composition of a rational regime. What is today’s manifesto for the city?

E.V.N.: The future city’s manifesto has to embody a need, then an intention, of integrating parts. As long as we can remember, we’ve always lived in a city overlooking the previous ones: starting from Rome’s forums, overlooked by the renaissance city and so on we can mention several interventions in this same relationship with the past. The future city will keep making an exposition of the past, but its intention should focus on the uses: we shouldn’t let the ancient city become a place only for restaurant and b&b and the city outside the center should not always collect what the historic city expels. I think that INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT could be a manifesto of a real plan of management which recovers all the uses of the city in all its parts. Why don’t I speak about expansion? Or reuse? Because the city can also grow vertically, as soos as it doesn’t lose any relationship with the place. Speaking about Rome’s city center, its only inhabitants occupate the building’s top floors, the others are left to holiday houses, bed and breakfasts, offices, taking awai the mix of uses that, in every place is able to generate the city phenomenon. Is that same mix of uses that would prevent from perceiving a suspended space contemplating itself.

V.A.G.: Sorry if I interrupt you, but the puzzle we’re speaking about, is made of only “material” fragments of the physical city or it has also immaterial ones?

E.V.N.: Interesting question. The pieces I speak about are the “homogeneous” (hystorically or urbanistically) areas which unfortunately don’t have good and structured connection between them. On these fragments of the physical city, in my scheme there’s a second system, made of different cultures, different types of people, different ways of handling. I don’t think this two faces of the city always coincide but I also think that all Rome’s fascination and beauty in the discard between them. A part of a city becomes historically homogeneous when a group or a generation of people develop an identity or contrast towards it, so basically recognising the place and consequently feeling or not a sense of belonging. Going back to urbanity, I think that Rome will always lack something, but is always evolving. About beauty, I suggest to search it between a great intervention and the other, in that urban tissue which is the only element trying to keep material and immaterial things together.

V.A.G.: The hedonistic enfasi portrayed Rome in works such as “La grande Bellezza” “La dolce Vita” and, going back, “Il piacere” of D’annunzio. But what makes and of what it consists this beauty?

E.V.N.: I think hedonism is the exact opposite of beauty. I hated “The Great Beauty”, and I think there isn’t any comparison between it and “La Dolce Vita”, which instead is for me an answer to a sense of desperation. Rome is beautiful because of its being tridimensional, because of its light, because you can discover relationship between the known and the unknown. But I have some difficulties in defining these as elements of its beauty, just because this word, thanks to Sorrentino’s film has gained the power to evocating something a lot more specific and different.

V.A.G.: During times, the academic scenes where often causes of sperimentations that became for us a valuable asset. Today, for You, the response of the university research is still valid to districate the numerous nodes of the roman reality?

E.V.N.: Academic research can certainly be useful in studying Rome’s reality. I’m not speaking only about the faculty of architecture, but also about all the other disciplinary fields that are stimulated by the city’s problems (sociology, botany) and that help not much to unravel the nodes, or at list we’re not sure about this, but to know this nodes and share the with other people.

V.A.G.: After these considerations where made, a spontaneous curiosity is born: what are your models? Those models towards which you are pushed without peace?

E.V.N.: I don’t have any model. I was instead lucky to know some people I referred to, or urbans structures I use to look at…peacefully!! I’m speaking about liveability models, more than esthetic of formal ones. Sometimes Rome make you sick of it, and I have to admit I always thought I could leave anytime for a more “lovely”, “useful”, “satisfying” place tolive, and for some periods I move indeed. But I continue to stay here, realizing that all the problems and lack of satisfaction that this difficult city can give remains able to fulfill us with will to live it as a counterpart. With a basis of dissatisfaction eh! With the frustration of not being able to modify it. I’ve been living in Rome for 50 years, I still feel a strong will to go through it and know it.

V.A.G.: From what we know, you’re very attracted by portuguese and south america context, more than architecture. Can you explain more about this complex relationship and referring?

E.V.N.: There’s a friend of mine, who speaks about Oscar Niemeyer as an architect of the voids. I quite agree with him, because in Nimayer I can appreciate a great lightness…that Brasil has itself, as a fresh born country, not carrying the burden af an eternal history, always overlooking what’s new. As other south America’s countries, Brasil carries other types of burdens, thinking to the difficulties of Rio de Janeiro is should be enough. Nevertheless it shows a great lightness in architectural experimentation, the same of Spain and Portugal in this latest twenty years. As a landscape architect, I don’t look for architecture as an object or sculpture, I search the urban landscape it belongs to, together with its voids and people.

V.A.G.: BULLET TO THE HEAD:

Rome as “the eternal city” or as “the global city” ? ROME.

Ideal architecture or an idea of architecture? A “lived” architecture.

Cappella Sistina or piazzetta Mattei?: Both. They’re pieces of a puzzle.

Anarchist creativity or creative anarchy? Both.

Rome by day or Rome by night? Before I spoke about Rome’s light, but it’s dark is awesome too and it started disappearing when, for the jubilee, the administration started enlighning some monuments, taking away the domesticity of the dark.

Past perfect or simple future? Simple past.

Bernini o Borromini? One can never be without the other. Never.

Totality or detail? Totality in the first time, but I enjoy detail a lot.

Matriciana or cacio e pepe? Cacio e pepe.

Thanks Emanuele Von Normann , it was a pleasure! V.A.G.

Author: Rotating Editor Rome