Palazzo del Lavoro. A Forbidden Land

 

palazzo del lavoro
An infinite space

I was walking in the streets of the almost suburban Turin with sweaty hands and sticky clothes. It was one of those 30-degree sultry days: gray sky, blurry shadows and steamy asphalt.

Under the blazing sun, my friends and I were strolling around the 100 x 100 m perimeter of the building: solid in its geometry, but light in its brise-soleil rusted wrapping, which at first glimpse could be mistaken for timber. We were looking for an “entrance”. In other words, we were seeking for a ford, a slightly lower gate, a tip on the lattice frame to simplify the climbing.

It was on the east side of the building that we stumbled across a line of wild, high vegetation. Here the fence lowered lightly: it was the perfect breaking-in setting. Despite the proximity to a park visited by a number of strange Sunday tourists, we attempted to camouflage ourselves with the surrounding environment and embarked the “aerial-crossing” of the steel mesh. It was with a sweet, adrenaline feeling that we entered that forbidden land: that sense of lightness, heaviness, euphoria and hesitation congenital to all prohibited experiences.

The building stood before us imposing and abandoned. A broken glass and multiple graffiti were evidence that many before us had violated its solitude. Right through a smashed window we penetrated into the concrete soul of the building. Here, an infinite space opened in front of us: a basilica of our time, a cathedral of architecture with no god or religion, a modern days’ ruin.

The echo of our footsteps was the only voice to our amazement, so eager as we were to pace up and down the whole edifice. Only the “mushroom-pillars” gave a rhythm to the room in their obstacles’ nature: sixteen Titans ordered in a 4 x 4 formation and forced like Atlas to support the celestial vault. As the only vertical elements in a volume initially perceived in its horizontality, they were sovereigns of space and caught the attention in their detail and uniqueness; every column broke away from the floor and from its cruciform plan to gather in a perfect circle at 24m above the ground. At that height, 20 deep beams blossomed from its rounded head in order to support a square cut-out of the ceiling.

By now just looking up, we were lost in the light and shadow games defining the vault geometry. Thin strips of natural light acted as separating elements among the huge square tiles. Through these cracks, a serious of sparkling rays entered the building, creating a surreal atmosphere of reflections and transparent walls. At the end of their vertical journey, the rays glimpsed on the floor. Here, however, they appeared vague and unsteady, mirror of the ceiling’s intersections.

Oppressed by this infinite height and width, we decided that it was time for us to abandon this abandoned building. We retraced our footsteps and made our way out from the same broken glass opening. Perhaps it was precisely this illegality that had made the whole visit so special.

I climbed over the steel fence. On this side it was even simpler due to a larger mesh pattern. Once on the other side, the so-called “land of the living”, I stopped, by now having the right distance to rethink this experience. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of forgotten buildings, made to be rediscovered and worshiped by those few. Those few who are the architects of tomorrow.

The Barbican Centre. A Quiet Confusion

A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.

Streetfront
Streetfront

The main flow goes from the outside to the ‘inside’. From the street, through the Barbican, to the ‘hidden square’, where the magic of the building can be experienced.

In this fairy-tale place, far from the chaos of London, the Barbican Centre finds its natural extension in the square and in the canal. The building, under a spell, loses its form and consistency: it decomposes into white benches, lowering itself to the human level. This is the beginning of the breakdown process. The building regains firmness in the red bricks of the square and prepares for a last transformation: the dissolution into water, final step of its mutation from mass to fluid. The canal leaves a trace of the building’s origins: a brutalist image struggling in the sinuous water.

Transformation
Transformation

The barbican, in its apparent parallel universe, becomes one of the many types of architecture that surround it. Grey but green, the building stands out but does not dominate the area. It steps back, giving space to the preceding square.

Internal Illumination
Internal Illumination

On the other hand, the interior of the building presents itself as a maze: a disarray of staircases and spaces bathed in neon light. Dark, a bit confusing, it seems designed to disorientate, coxing visitors to wander the premises. Visitors willing to explore will eventually arrive in other gardens, in other solitary courtyards, in other sites of passage on the road back to the starting point.

The barbican is a place of movement, a place of investigation but at the same time a place of reflection. A place to find the quiet in the confusion.

Solitude
Solitude

The Pantheon. Of Greatness And Deception

The Pantheon
Towards The Pantheon

If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.

The fame of the ‘Roman Cyclops’ still lies in its architectural genius, never yet been equalled. Trapped in the narrow streets of Rome, the Pantheon may have lost its power but not its charm and mystery. Legends and taboos together with mathematical and philosophical symbols mingle under the self-supporting concrete dome and beneath the alerted eye.

The Pantheon
Narrow Streets

To receive everlasting fame, a hint of fortune and wit is necessary: qualities that are not lacking in this building. The Pantheon’s almost spontaneous conversion to Catholicism made it receive grace. With a little indulgence, all past sins have been forgiven: a small price to pay to remain intact.

The Pantheon
Roman Cyclops

The interior atmosphere of the church-temple strikes us immediately. We oscillate between light and shadow, astonishment and disbelief, illusion and reality. An intangible light descending from unfathomable heights, invades the space and dazzles us. During sunny days, we are led to confusion: the innate generosity of the sky seems to have given the Cyclops the much-desired second eye.

Too narrow sighted to appreciate the dome in its whole, the only option is to sit down, look up and slowly analyse this space.

A space like no other.

The Pantheon
Look Up And Observe

 

Museum Of The Ara Pacis. Caged Or Freed?

Ara Pacis Museum
Ara Pacis Museum

The Ara Pacis was and is an altar to the greatness of Rome, an altar of ideals and hopes. Forgotten but rediscovered. Rebuilt but eradicated. Idolised but caged. Now it sits imprisoned behind white bars, while the citizens invoke freedom for it. Criticism resonates from every part of the capital, loud and clear not unlike most Italians.

The first disputed element is the appointment of an American architect: Richard Meier. The second – subsequent to the first – is a more modern box that surrounds and over shades the first. The third is the fussy taste of the boot’s inhabitants for everything that is not marked as Italian style or Made in Italy.

Ara Pacis Museum
Behind The White Bars

The result of this senseless equation is that the citizens of Rome do not appreciate the Ara Pacis Museum and do not accept that this is the perfect building to preserve the altar of Augustus. After all, every important gift has an equally beautiful package.

With its sharp edges and pure forms, the Ara Pacis Museum succeeds in its role as a container to something greater. Crisp, regular, functional it is made to enhance its content, also visible from outside through the large rectangular windows. The materials are also in perfect agreement: white and cream dominate among marble, plaster and travertine, allowing the spotlight to be on the ancient roman ruin.

Ara Pacis Museum
Material Palette

The simplicity of its structure resembles that of the altar: as the largest matryoshka protects the smaller one, the modern building protects the old one. The architect simply had the problem of harmonious containment, as the outer parallelepiped is perpendicular to the inner one.

It seems almost impossible that the Ara Pacis Museum is not appreciated given the careful and innovative, but above all respectful design. Using new technologies and materials, the building is an open shell not afraid to make its pearl shine.

Even the ancient Romans would agree: they were always at the forefront!

Ara Pacis Museum
Simple And Functional

Saint Peter’s Basilica. Scale, Power, Wealth

St. Peter's Basilica
Ostentatious Interior

Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man equalled if not surpassed the force of nature.

Behind this marble screen lies a rainbow of colours: all we need is to traverse across the square, the narthex and the bronze entrance doors to finally appreciate it. The tonal contrast between the façade and the inside is solved using a style where everything is allowed: the Baroque. The result is an unexpected harmony and a general revelation.

Inside, lit only by dim lights, hides the true richness of the church. Paintings, sculptures, ornaments. At first sight, we are left wondering why so much ostentation exists in a place where other ideologies are professed, but then we inevitably forget our concerns, too astonished to put one thought after the other.

St. Peter's Basilica
Endless Space

Dwarfed by the many pillars, the smallness of humankind falls upon us. We are merely ants in the middle of secular trees: lost and amazed. With no power but ourselves, smiths of these great heights. In the naves of the basilica, we feel at the mercy of the space, crushed by the eternal fear and search for the infinite.

Perplexed between the precious stones, the marbles and the gold, we do not know where to focus our eyes. A surreal light descends from the dome flooding the nave, a white light that renders the colours more vivid. Dazzling, it leaves us even more lost, even more surprised and speechless.

We always end up looking at the ceiling and the dome: so distant and unreachable like all the things we crave.

St. Peter's Basilica
Distant And Unreachable

Musée du Louvre. An Endless Struggle

The ‘Great’ Pyramid

Modern, provocative, rebellious. The new entrance of the Musée du Louvre is this and much more. Criticism has built its reputation, making it the most talked about pyramid in the world.
Eternal in volume and modern in material, it represents the architecture of two millennia in a single structure: from the pyramids of Giza to new, innovative technologies. From the first, it inherits the proportions and the form. From the second, the lightness and the transparency.

With its 21.60 m of height, it shines like a diamond in the centre of the main court, filling the great void and giving it a purpose. The light bounces on the solid surface giving it depth and consistency but, at same time, it floods into the basement creating a lively space, rich of reflections and soft shadows.

Contrasting Architecture
Contrasting Architecture

Externally, the glass’ immateriality clashes with the thick French Renaissance style, enriching it and depriving it. Here, a fight between different architectures and ideologies is engaged, an endless struggle with no winners or losers: simplicity collides with detail and transparency with the solid mass. A small surface of water separates it from the main bodies of the building, making the pyramid more like a sculpture rather than part of the building. The new architecture becomes the main character on stage and attempts to wrestle the limelight from the old one. All eyes are pointed towards the pyramid.

The question seems to arise spontaneously: will the pyramid succeed?

Boissons, Monsieur?
Boissons, Monsieur?