The groundbreaking for the Astra Zarina Belvedere which took place in Civita di Bagnoregio on April 8th became a moment of profound remembrance of the woman, architect and professor, who has left a deep mark not only in the memory of her students and others who shared in her professional and private life, but also in the memory of Civita di Bagnoregio citizens, involved with respect, humility and enthusiasm in the courageous project of the hill town’s renaissance, which at that time had been fate to abandon. Among her students, the well-known architect Steven Holl has shared on numerous previous occasions how important encounters with Zarina were during his formative experience.
In Holl’s recent monography book, published by Phaidon, he speaks about “A life-breath of cultural dimensions that cannot be separated from architecture”, furthermore, not forgetting the poetical homage written by the American architect when she passed away in 2007 which was published by an international magazine in 2008. Through fragments of poetical sentences, those words describe his period of studies spent in Italy as a fully immersive experience thanks to Zarina, and he says, “This teacher, her very being seemed to transfer depth of history at the roots of philosophical thought”.
Now that Steven Holl, together with the architect Alessandro Orsini, has been invited to give a shape to the Memorial in her honor, it appears that the spirit of celebration of life and architecture, received from his teacher, can be returned to the Belvedere project. Arriving at the site, which takes its name from Astra Zarina and which is situated in a small space on the northern side of the town connected to the main square through a narrow alley, an immense landscape unfolds before your eyes. The project, made up of removable seating, touches the ground silently and inspires meditation and contemplation. The architect’s words written as homage to his teacher in the abovementioned text are echoed in the mind “Not only Rome, a universal history which connects Eye, Mind and Spirit”. The seating system is designed in local basaltina stone and on one side holds a bronze sculpture of four intersecting spheres, or better, as the architect Steven Holl mentioned during the groundbreaking, “Four spheres of influence of Astra Zarina”, which intersect each other, both in a physical and conceptual sense. Indeed, each of them will have a specific meaning and will consequentially have lettering carved into the material related to the respective sphere of influence which it represents. In order from the first to the fourth, those spheres evoke the concepts of “Architect and Scholar”, the “Inspired Scholar”, the “World Citizen” this one followed by a list of key places of Zarina’s life namely “Latvia, Rome, Berlin, Boston, Seattle”. In closing “Civita, Poetry of Life”. The “Poetry of Life” is what Steven Holl remembers, once again on this occasion, being a concept transmitted by his teacher. With other words he has said previously “The sought for thing – The Soul – was her gift and continuing lesson” and precisely this continuing motion is perceived by another element which is, as the other parts of the Belvedere project, respectfully laid on the ground: the wind wick. Wind, silence, nature, taste, light, colors “are elements which are so universal that they connect all our life together and are as important as many other aspects in teaching architecture” reiterated the American architect in his speech at Palazzo Alemanni in Civita di Bagnoregio on the same day of the groundbreaking. In this state of suspense, intuition is blowing. This fundamental lesson changed his life when he was 22 years old, Steven Holl affirms, something he returns to continually. Other deep memorial words are expressed by her husband Tony Costa Heywood, and by other of her students, researchers, citizens and institutional representatives of Civita di Bagnoregio, different voices which serve to illustrate the complexity of the figure of this woman. “Casting a long shadow of enchantment”, quoting Steven Holl, it is still possible to see this in the eyes of all the people who interacted with her and who attended the Belvedere groundbreaking with the related event in Palazzo Alemanni, wherein the dedication ceremony of the hall of the palace to Astra Zarina took place. “No system can regenerate itself in isolation” Tony Costa Heywood reminds us, and thanks to Zarina’s strength and determination she achieved the aim of transforming a local reality into a global experience. New laboratories will once again open the doors of Civita di Bagnoregio to students, with a program taught by Professor Giovanni Attili at La Sapienza University in Roma, and several cultural events. Furthermore the exhibition “Rome and the Teacher, Astra Zarina” will open at ‘T’-Space, Steven Holl’s gallery in Rhinebeck, New York, from July 14 to August 25, 2019. A tribute to Astra Zarina, Rome and the Teacher features photography, architectural models, historic maps, and theoretical writing reflecting her advocacy for responsible, public-first design. The show, which was curated by Alessandro Orsini, will also feature music by composer David Behrman and a reading by poet Elaine Equi.
Text by Diana Carta