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The project: An essential means of dialogue

5+1AA Alfonso Femia Gianluca Peluffo

The project: An essential means of dialogue
By Alfonso Femia -

GENEROSITY
We work by means of “operative sentiments”. For us, the primary operative sentiment underpinning our idea of Architecture is “Generosity”. We are convinced that every architectural endeavour bears public significance, and that the purpose of every client and architecture, whatever the project or programme, is to offer a gift. The generosity we feel in giving concrete form to a concept lies at the very heart of what architecture is all about. All architecture is in some sense a public thing, an act of generosity allowing beauty and pleasure to be shared. Architecture can be the vehicle of “objective co-relatives”, whereby perceptive spatial events give substance to sensations, emotions and sentiments. By the same token, dialogue is the chiasm, or intersection, linking these spatial events and shared collective sentiments. As the locus of dialogue, beauty is architecture created with these characteristics of generosity. Beauty is the place where intimate, personal sentiments meet collective emotion. Seen as an act of generosity and shared sentiment, (public) architecture can be thought of as part of a “lay religion”. Of course such generosity need not necessarily only convey positive sentiments. Arousing a sense of awe can also mean sharing dramatic, heart-rending sentiments, as with the monument to the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, the Cretto of Gibellina, the Longarone church, the Vietnam Black Wall Memorial, or the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The archaic brutality of the Fosse Ardeatine monument conveys a sense of oppression countered only by the uplifting force of its geometric simplicity. The place exudes a sense of profound sorrow before such total drama, yet at the same time its very existence and the form this public recognition has taken provide a sense of redemption.

Body
Our bodies are not born for monologue but to encounter differences and otherness. Our bodies are designed for polyphony. Luce Irigaray defines us as “sexed bodies” that determine subjectivity and have the capacity to become the point from which to set out towards “encounter with the other”. Staying true to what is real means accepting all events with one’s physical being. As architects, we pursue the idea of Architecture as a physical, sensual, subjective, unique, pleasure-seeking “Body” able to relate to what is other, and so avoid monologue. In other words, Architecture is the “sexed body” capable of dialogue, encounter, polyphony, vision and reality. If architecture is a body, it is because it is Matter, physicality. We firmly believe that in these obtuse dark days where everything is speed, superficiality, communication and dematerialization, the physical force of matter is the main antidote against truth denied. Body and matter are the foundations of dialogue and knowledge. We also believe that this is bound up with the whole question of rightness: the “right architecture” or the “right city” are those entities that allow desire and ethics to exist and become one. This “fusion of horizons” is the primary goal of architecture, which is to create the sentimental and physical conditions to generate dialogue and relations so that knowledge may be shared. This is why we speak of “public architecture”. Public architecture is the prime driver behind the representation and identification of a given culture. It is a way a culture encounters otherness. If public space and public buildings are to be truly democratic and socially cohesive, they must once more become exceptional moments expressing sentiment and pleasure.

Awe
Awe and marvel are an integral part of the Italian poetic and the country that has generated it. The awe and marvel architecture can arouse has nothing to do with the spectacular, consensus-seeking examples of contemporary production. Awe is a means of achieving an understanding of the real. This is the aim: to return to appreciating reality. Yet however painful and anguished reality in a country, city or individual may be, the duty of architecture is never to relinquish the concept – however romantic – of forging a better future. Contemporary architecture’s outright denial of reality transpires in the blasé, even cynical production we see today. It is an attitude that must be defeated. The ethical and cultural battle to be waged must be through architecture whose inventiveness must be specific to reality; an architecture that springs from the freedom delivered by Context and History. The language of this sort of architecture is free and contemporary. By creating a sense of awe, architecture serves its purpose of bringing together individual and collective sentiments, and so creates identity and knowledge. It melds subjective and objective elements, representation and emotion; it engenders contact, a state of mind and a sharing of horizons. Public Architecture must become an “objective co-relative” capable of touching the intimate feelings of each individual in terms of figuration, symbols, place and memory. It must give proof of unexpected generosity. After all, the only childhood you can have is the one you’ve had. And our generation of architects is imbued with the violence perpetrated on the land and the ensuing oblivion. We cannot believe that Development is tantamount to Progress. We can believe, however, that the only identity possible must be a plural one, which is a rooted feature of Italy itself, where uniformity of language has never been conceivable. We believe this could well be the role carved out for our country in the modern contemporary world. Our work therefore lies in developing plural yet specific identity, in stirring awe to prompt knowledge and sharing by making contemporary Italian architecture both realistic and mythical like a movie by Fellini, Antonioni and Ferreri or the photography of Luigi Ghirri. Architecture must show its specific inventive capability with buildings that are precision machines arousing awe and marvel as instruments of knowledge.

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