SCHIZO-INTERVIEWS: Luca Montuori

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Luca Montuori (1965), degree in Architecture, La Sapienza Rome (1993), postgraduate scholarshipsin Madrid (ETSAM), and Delft (TU Delft). Ph.D. in Architectural Composition, Florence (2000).Invited guest in Cornell University (Rome programme), Berlage Institute (Rotterdam), ESA (Paris)and other international institutions. From 2004 to 2008 as consultant for the Town Planning Officeof the Municipality of Rome, worked on several projects of Urban Design. From the 2009 isResearcher in Architecture and Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture Università degli studiRoma Tre, Dipartimento di Progettazione e Studio dell’Architettura (DIPSA).He conducts research mainly in the field of urban design, in particular, the specific topics of interestare related to different thematic areas:- the intermediate scale in the design of the Italian landscape, (research programme developed by anéquipe from the DIPSA);- new forms of public spaces in rural-urban fringe areas.Responsible for the Master ASP, course of study OPEN for landscape and public spaces design.Member of the Scientific Committee of the House of Architecture of Rome.He is founding member of 2tr architecture office, which practice specializes in architecture andurban planning, realizing projects, obtaining prizes in international architectural competitions.The office participated in exhibitions and conferences, among which in 2011 the PiranesiInternational prize (special mention of the Jury) with the project for the urban renovation and new public spaces in Santa Fiora (Grosseto).

V.A.G: Rome in three words.

L.M.: Beautiful, problematic and uncomfortable, using the last word not to highlight the mundane aspects of traffic, public transportation and much more, but expressing, with this adjective, a condition linked to the city. A discomfort that goes along with the lack of clarity, affects our perception of the places that we live in the city and makes us confused, for example, in understanding whether we are inside or outside. It is a palpable feeling that is well emphasized by the title of this schizo-interview. It’s a feeling, of course, of the cities, from the origin to the modern times and onwards. Therefore, to the two words, beautiful and problematic, i will add this adjective culturally more difficult. Uncomfortable is a complex word that holds a number of important issues. It is no coincidence that all the cities, in my opinion, are uncomfortable. An easy city, without conflict, without any problems, it’s usually inhabited by old people. This strange sensation of never feeling fully at home is a positive quality of the city, those that are closed in neighborhoods of Rome thinking to regain that identity of their grandparents, and their fathers, reject the contemporary city, living in a condition unrelated to reality.

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?

L.M.: Reading this question the first thing that came to mind is a disk: Quadrophenia, a cd that represented a generation. This said, i am very favorable to the process of schizophrenia, i actually agree with what Quadrophenia admits: multiple divisions of the personality in spite of the classical double division. There is a clear reference to the discomfort of which we spoke earlier. In this rock opera, the hero admits that, despite that everything seems to be for the best, there is something “in the back of my mind” that tells me otherwise. Today, the word dystopia, and with it the abuse that architects make of it, in fact, is a source of wealth for the city. Therefore I think that the best time of urbanity, in general, is what it’s happening today, this precise phenomenon. Rome has never had really had a resolved urbanity. As i make many critcs noticed it’s the only city founded by the Romans that did not apply any canonical rules of foundation established historically by the empire. It does not have a cardus or a decumanus, a regular grid and is a chaos of overlapping elements. The urban plan has always lived in crisis. Recently I happened to re-read a beautiful essay by Manfredo Tafuri called “Via Giulia”, an urban utopia of the ‘500 in which he describes the difficulties of urban design through the story of the events of the project of Via Giulia. A project, in his view, that failed miserably, so much so that today is considerable an abandoned stump of utopia. Perhaps the last time that the urbanity of Rome was really interesting was the one of INA Casa, when the thought was of conquering a periphery in a truly heroic way. A time when it was understood that the true size of the city was in those places where it was impossible to ignore and abandon the growth. At the time, there was the will to try to work between these houses, surrounded by the landscape of Pasolini, that had the mission to capture a real hardship and that admitted a very strong relationship with the existing elements, designed as landscape. In the end we can say that every moment of Rome has had its own very clear and very interesting identity, that there is a project that has prevailed over all others and that is precisely this mix that has generated a Quadrophenia capable of conferring in Rome an appeal that everyone is talking about. Every era has had a project in which the urban horizon has always been crucial. The projects that are proposed as large foreign objects to the reality of Rome, generally, have failed. On the contrary, the projects that have assimilated the urban thinking and the characteristics of the city, designed as urban issues, identified themselves as projects of crisis, the backbone of urbanity. The crisis is inseparable from modernity, and every moment of crisis demands exceeded, and these projects can be defined projects of crisis. The project of crisis is what marks the transition between one era and the other. When a crisis becomes structural, as in this period of history, we no longer speak of a crisis but a social condition. What we are experiencing now, is probably not a crisis but, rather, the beginning of a new world; and that’s why architecture becomes Quadrophenica and not schizophrenic.

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?

L.M.: Given everything we’ve said so far, there is not a manifesto! If it is true that the city takes the form of a policy, in fact you brought up the era of emperors, the popes and the latest Mussolini’s dictatorial policies, times in which the policy could prevail, today the powers and decisions pass through all other channels and there is not a figure who could embody a policy in the architecture world that can be called urban. The shape of the event prevails over everything else, replacing the power to rule a city, and imposing itself as the only condition and strategy to implement an urban intervention. What we can afford, for example, is the Expo and sporting events like the World Cup. We are in a phase in which the powers go less in the states but rather in the sponsors. I believe that the task of this moment, which saw already the finish line, with the end of the Chinese olympics, of the hangovers of the big objects, of the spectacle architecture, of the swimming pools in the shape of a bubble {…} is the one that takes into consideration the citizens and truly understands what kind of resource they are for the contemporary city, without closing eyes and trying to find fast solutions, but being aware that these new economic powers try to get us through illegal practices as if they were under the law. We have to expose this scam; for example it’s necessary to erase this common thinking that pubic space is a place where you sit and wait to dye, instead of saying that is a place where conflicts needs to be created, where you stand and protest. The manifesto of the future is understating what is happening in order to develop an adequate way of thinking, all intellectual, all because it’s clear more than ever that neither the university nor the architects have the strength, today, to influence these policies. All society needs to move! The last visions that have been interesting for Rome where the ones that understood the qualities of the single places, working as fragments without searching for an organic vision of the city, a plan. I’m referring to the Rome of Carlo Aymonino, to the Nicoliniano’s ephemeral, someone who tried to built trough architecture a narration of some places of Rome and that these places could be taken by the people. The one of Carlo Aymonino is a vision made by architectures and places that he tied together thought a very cohesive urban vision. There was, after, the period of Rutelli in which architects thought they could say something about the city, also trough the program 100 piazze, with the only issue that there were no opportunities to apply that auspicable utopistic organic image, like in Barcelona. Rome is made by autonomous fragments that could not be part of one system. Rome is an archipelagos while Barcelona is a floating sea. Some things are insesplicably coming back, the studio asse, for example, or the big dimension intended not as a study between the single parts but as a big object. The fascination that internationals have for Corviale, worries me! Corviale was born in a precise historical moment, it’s a utopy and it’s a beautiful project; maybe the only problem is that there are 20 similar ones surrounding the city. Today we take it back to the exclusive fascination as if to prove that it is possible to condense all within a single object, this resurgence of modernism, disturbs me ! It is a return to some vintage theoretical positions important in the 70s and 80s like the ones of Aldo Rossi and Giorgio Grassi. It is a fascination that comes from abroad and that we Italians are accepting proudily as part of our identity. Specifically, when it was built, Corviale was greeted enthusiastically as the last word in modernity, and only then it began the so-called “degradation of Corviale”. In 1977, with the Brigate Rosse, the was fear to go out on the street, it was a very difficult moment and we, children, we discussed it in the evening while the grownups were questioning what it meant be democratic. The major innovation implemented by Nicolini was that, through the ephemeral, to bring people into the city, to reconstruct a link between citizens and the city that was completely broken. There was confidence poured into the outskirts of the city and into the historical abandoned centre. It arrived that moment to truly understand that historical period, read, study without senza chasing the uniformed euphoria that, lately, spreads out, even tough it is clear for us, a project that came from a strong narrative of the future world, it is not understandable.

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?

L.M.: Rome’s beauty is in its archipelago-like unfinished shape. What I like of the films you mentioned is the uneasiness expressed by their characters. My friends often envy my possibility to look at Jep Gambardella’s same spots but personally the spots are the only things that I could envy him because, cycling along the Tiber and looking at st. Peter’s dome or having other visual experiences in Rome, I felt, like Jep, a little uncomfortable. And that’s why I say that Rome’s beauty is made wonderful and dreadful parts, of landscape and extremely built areas, contradictions all at the same time. This contradiction makes also Rome safer than other cities, but, pay attention, has to be controlled by some kind of an idea, even one that accepts this type of contemporary architecture, otherwise we might assist to worse situations. The basic elements to be able to imagine and design anything are understanding the commingling parts, look for a new representation, finding a new interpretation starting from assuming that the uneasiness coming from Rome’s contrasts is what makes Rome beautiful.

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?

L.M.: There’s been a moment, between the 70’s and the 80’s in which a group of intellectuals refused any relationship with the economic and political power, closed itself inside university and started experimenting. In that same moment, other people had refused university itself, promoting absolute freedom in producing new ideas and discover things. Even if I’m not sure of the daily academic research’s goods and bads, I’m sure that university is the place where it’s still possible to experiment. On the other hand, a lot of autonomous research centers, magazines and student’s initiatives are arising. That said, and going deeply into your question, I’m not sure if research can unravel the thousand nodes of today’s reality because, even if it allows us to understand some things better, we still have to see how politcs are able to take advantage of this research and prevent it from becoming a sterile utopia, instead of the utopia which pushes your heart over the limit. We should also take into account that this age of crisis is an age of individualism too. Sharing knowledge, in the high-tech era, becomes a primary asset just like water. When I started working at university with the title of young researcher, at the age of 46, I had a solid activity as an architect too. Since then, competition was touchable and has turn eccessive with the latest reforms.

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?

L.M.: An architect, who I am very close to, once said: “I have a fault, I almost like everything I see and everything I read”. I don’t have a positive model, but I have a lot of negative ones: inaccuracy, carelessness, univocal solutions […]. A model can exist only if you’re able to contradict it. I’d generally beware of those who represent a model, because it over simplify reality and, even worse, are sectorial!! Looking at the city with one point of view only is a dangerous method, and it’s different from the ideal, that we can vaguely assume as methods but still remain complex thought. Last ideal of history was Mao Tse Tung’s. everybody knows why it’s finished.

V.A.G: BULLET TO THE HEAD

Rome as “the eternal city” or as “the global city” ? Eternal and global Rome. We need a project that allows eternity to become global.

Ideal architecture or an idea of architecture? That’s easy! An idea of architecture, obviously. Ideal architectures tragically ended in the renaissance thanks to the architect who designed them. Nobady has never thought they could be possible, neither Le Corbusier.

Cappella Sistina or piazzetta Mattei? No doubt, Cappella Sistina. Why deprive ourselves of one of the biggest pleasures in the world? You enter the chapel and suddenly lose in the thousand meanings and in that enormous beauty which sometimes it’s better to underline.

Anarchist creativity or creative anarchy? I’d tend for creative anarchy.

Rome by day or Rome by night? I like the moment when day turns into night, at 5 pm. more or less, in October, when it’s not too hot outside. You get out for drinking something, and remain around until late night. Besides this image, there some plces that are better during the day, some during the night of course. In general I choose my idea of turning light in Rome.

Past perfect or simple future? I thougt a lot of a phrase that could keep this two tenses together, but, obliged to choose, I prefer simple future, but, since it cannot walk alone, I would put a little bit of past next to it.

Bernini o Borromini? When we were students, we were all Borromini supporters. Growing older, I started to be interested in Bernni. So, if I would choose Borromini by heart, I’d choose Bernini per the wonder and awe I feel everytime I see the church of S. Andrea al Quirinale.

Totality or detail?

Matriciana or cacio e pepe?

Is it possible to make an architecture of totality if you don’t pay attention to details? “God is in detail” Mies use to say, but in the end, his architectures were wonderful all in all. That’s why I think that totality or detil is like matriciana or cacao e pepe: today matriciana, tomorrow cacao e pepe!!

 

Thanks Luca Montuori, it was a pleasure! V.A.G.

 

Author: Rotating Editor Rome