Author: Filippo Foschi
“But with ‘The New Classic,’ I want younger generations to look back on what we’re doing now and say, ‘I wish I was a teenager in 2014.’ I come from an era of kids who are always being told that what we make is not classic. But my album says to people my age, ‘Don’t devalue that we can be culturally significant because we can be.’ ”
Iggy Azalea. Born in the Nineties. Our generation. She is explaining a common feeling: growing up with the awareness to come after something. After the Avantgarde which made a tabula rasa. After the Modernism which sanctioned a new strong code. After the Post-Modernism which has dragged architecture in formalist tendencies that are visible to everyone. The world where we are going to work is a completely new, unexplored and unpredictable context. If the 1900’ is considered the short century since it was the scene of unprecedented wars and scientific discoveries that have altered the meaning of duration, the digital era in which we are living is redefined through two fundamental dimensions for men and for architecture: space and time.
In order to fully understand this big change, we should consider the most important reforms which involved the artistic field- thanks to which we perceive and visualize the world- over the centuries. Classic art stricto sensu conceived the artistic reality as it was not only in a visible but also in a tangible way or rather it conceived a reality quantitatively full or empty. The few representations arrived to us, are indeed composed by disproportionate scattered in a muted background. With the invention of the fifteen-century perspective, as Panofsky said, the void entered in the painting: for the first time men were able to build, through a geometric structure, a virtual world which conceived the space between things. Solid and void were organized by a rule, but space was still deemed as discontinuous and the painting was just a frame: time was suspended, the drama was tension. The revolutionary impact of perspective can be comparable with the seventh-century Cartesian coordinate system: every point of the space is linked with a coordinate of numbers. And since the numeric system is continuos, the space becomes continuos, qualitatively solid, everything is full. The concept of spatial continuity has had an epochal consequence: if before we read the reality as made of solid and void, now everything is substance(material) and it can be managed. Today this management is an incredible tool used by architects every day and night: Autocad. Not only the space mutates, but according to Cassier there is another important passage as a result of the theory of relativity: time and space are combined, they squeeze. Therefore Picasso, thanks to Cubism, has introduced the concept of time in the painting which articulated itself through the body movement around another body. Space has become a continuum: different points of view compose simultaneously figures.
Nowadays these two categories have been redefined again. For two millenniums if you wanted to experience a building or a city, the conditio sine qua non would require a physical movement which could require a very long time to carry out: the great Italian migration at the beginning of the 1900 represents a good example. People who left the country knew already that they would have never be able to come back. You were considered dead and women were mourning for the loss of their relatives. Today due to the technology we are able to have lunch in Paris and dinner in New York. The available displacement speed is faster and faster so that the distances decrease therefore the time. Not only, Internet is making the need of the movement itself useless. We live connected to a virtual world, in other words connected to an horizontal context where different times and spaces coexist in a byte. Information and images get amassed. Everything is always alive, everything flows faster and faster. Virilio highlights that the first big event, which left a mark and revealed our century, was the terroristic attack to the Twin Towers in 2001: for the first time the entire world watches the event in the exact moment of the disaster. Thereby the attack had become a powerful aesthetic experience: something like an artifactual sublime. We are entering a kind of Expressionism sui generis where the calculated accident is becoming a worldwide aesthetic experience. In this world 2.0, in which the virtual universe is absorbed by itself and in which time and space are squeezing, we can ask ourself: How long will a nowadays building exist? If we think about the Colosseum and his two-thousand years of history, which architecture will we leave since our projects have already their expire date (LCA)? How will we be remembered?
If we look to the Milan panorama, we will see an interesting answer to those questions: just few months ago the Fondazione Prada, designed by OMA studio, has been completed. In this particular realization Koolhaas hasn’t made something completely new, viceversa he has rethought a city block in the south of Milan. Indeed the main interventions are structural consolidation of the existing fabric and the construction of three new buildings: the Podium, the Cinema and the Torre. As he said:“The Fondazione is not a preservation project and not a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction–offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others. New, old, horizontal, vertical, wide, narrow, white, black, open, enclosed–all these contrasts establish the range of oppositions that define the new Fondazione. By introducing so many spatial variables, the complexity of the architecture will promote an unstable, open programming, where art and architecture will benefit from each other’s challenges”.
Summing up his words: Koolhaas wanted to build an image. A powerful image. An image that is thought to last. And to do so, he worked by contrast and through details: every single element collaborates to create a strong figure, iconic. Ergo if we think the Fondazione in that way, we can understand the reason why the Haunted House is made with gold and the Bar Luce is designed by Wes Anderson: Architecture has become a big set where different episodes start to develop. So elements of different nature and age are processed in a way to build a new icon. Each fragments become stratified to create a fabric that should be experienced from the outside. So like every movie set, the Fondazione Prada is almost a façade. An architecture of the front. As it could be a temple. A greek temple. Set produces a copy reality, an unreal reality that is more real than the reality itself.
Will this image be enough strong to survive? Maybe. As it existed a sixteenth-century Classicism, a seventeenth-century one and the Neoclassicism, it also existed a twentieth-century Classicism, uncompleted and fragmented: it is called Ritorno all’ordine which was invoked by artists as Giorgio De Chirico, architects as Giovanni Muzio and writers as Margherita Sarfatti between the two World Wars. Could something similar exist now? Something new and at the same time classic, something that is made to last for a long time, something through which we will be remembered. The New Classic is a challenge and only Time will uphold the winners.