Civic Art as a Mosaic of Cultures, Milan (2010)
by Stefanie Leontiadis
Politecnico di Milano Phd Workshop, Milan – ‘The city as a mosaic of cultures’ (2010) (prof. Cino Zucchi)
The goal of this workshop project is to analyze the surrounding landscape and structure of its composition, while creating the structure of the design on the site of the future EXPO 2015, composed by twelve pavilions, each representing a different country. The program also includes the design of a greater auditorium building, with a great emphasis on the conceptual design of the open public spaces that tie together all elements, meanwhile gathering their structural logic from the existing morphological characteristics and syntactic analysis (i.e. formation of rules) of the surrounding urban analytical approach.
The site, falling on the perimeter of a greater ‘open public ring’, illustrated below, represents for our purposes, the continuation of a mosaic of open public spaces, forming dwellings for the Milanese citizen or visitor. With the majority of the Milan city center being that of more traditional architectural design, the challenge is in composing a modern architectural synthesis of open public spaces, which draw a structural basis from the surrounding morphology and system of urban compositions. Dealing with a synthetic, and yet repetitious structure (which is the consecutive twelve pavilions, each serving the same function as the adjacent one), the goal is to create open public spaces that are based on a unified structural logic, but each forming a variety of perceptual impressions due to the strategic positioning of the surrounding elements. This will hopefully create a directional circulation, continuing the greater circulation establishment of the greater city structure, providing ease of orientation; its key directional components being the climax toward the greater auditorium object, and the vanishing direction toward the potential developments of the other open spaces (on the eastern direction of the site).
The theme and concept (in a sentence), deals with the analysis, design and establishment of rules and definitions of ‘civic art’, in order to bring together, in a structured way, this ‘Mosaic of Cultures’.
Civic Art, mosaic, syntax, orientation, perceptual fields, mental sets, cerebral structure, dwellings, tension, repulsion, emergence, mimesis
The design of the exterior and interior public open urban spaces express a situation of emergence in relationship to the surrounding building masses, and among the spaces within the compositional layout. One space blends into the other, under a common structural orientation that borrows the directional paths of perceptual imagery and memory from the surrounding situation.
Diminishing the scale in relation to the adjacent structures, the environment becomes one of a secured urban dwelling in which one may wander from inside to outside, through transitions of themes and experiences, not only in the horizontal direction, but also in the vertical. The creation of visual layering becomes evident as one wanders on the site. Continuing with this theme, the hosting of a different country within the pavilions captures a tresspassing character, vertically and diagonally continuing upwards, in an effort to overlap the impression of thematic continuity, contrary to the vertical logic. This expresses the differentiation but continuity of a structural whole, where the urban traveler faces perceptual illusions of what might be, and what is. This is a theme often evident in the contemporary city, and is thoroughly expressed in this workshop design.
The image below shows a study of the forms and orientations of the surrounding paths and districts, in order to grasp a better understanding of the field forces (levels of repulsion and attraction) that take place. This supports the studies that Arnheim makes in his book The Dynamics of Architectural Form, where the conceptual building morphologies are used in order to extract directional fields.
Model study of the directional orientations of the environment, derived from a map similar to the figure above:
These images, not only provide a mental map of the environment to support the behavior of the city, but also provide feedback for the understanding of urban activities that come from identifying certain pattern behaviors. In understanding the composition of commonly held urban images, we speculate important variables of the vicinity and grasp the nature of social experience that might take place in the context of our design. The goal is perhaps similar to that of painting, where a kind of illusion is desired with the contemplation between form and content; we borrow from the conceptual forms of the surroundings, in order to create a new kind of content – a more modern one. In the effort to create this type of civic art, where the public open environment starts embodying aspects of fine arts (of compositional tricks and illusionary concepts), one might argue on the purity of design, similarly to how Plato objected upon the sacrifices of illusion, and might have strongly criticized those few artists who discovered new effects to increase illusion and lifelikeness, such as Myron, Phidias, Zeuxis and Apelles (Gombrich, E.H., 2000, op.cit., p.141.)
The design teaches the visitor to particularize, to articulate, and to make distinction where before there was only an undifferentiated mass. It brings forth a questionable level of expectation as to what comes next, as the exterior scenery constantly changes in volume and hierarchy, providing continuing waves of visual fulfillment, right guesses, and wrong moves, as the entry into the second level will bring the anticipating viewer diagonally into the adjacent pavilion of the next nation. There is a constant playfulness of ‘mental sets’.
(above: building circulation, master circulation, structural frame, master plan)
(above: first floor plan, second floor plan)
(above: longitudinal section)