A cultural oddity, the sense of mysticism surrounding Japan has captivated us for generations; and in it we seek to decipher this elusive quality, of which is believed to somehow offer profound ‘answers’ to life’s toughest questions. This fascination is curiously unusual: with the ever-expanding wealth of knowledge available in the virtual environment, a culture so distant is instantaneously made accessible. The relentless flow of images and anecdotal accounts on mainstream media allows one to transport one’s self into a culture thousands of miles away. A fleeting immersion, which no doubt sows the seeds for preconceived notions and judgments.
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Palazzo del Lavoro. A Forbidden Land
11 June 2017
words & photos: Natalie Donat-Cattin
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.
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Buildings by nature seek to dominate space. At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the experience is wholly different – in this isolated picturesque setting: space dominates building. At first sight, the architecture appears anonymous, sculptural and silent. Lost along the Californian coast, it is situated a stone’s throw away from San Diego in La Jolla. We can imagine it as an untouched gem in a post war scenario: a living ruin, capable of projecting worlds of its own.
The Convent de la Tourette hovers weightlessly on a hill overlooking the nearby town, uncannily reminiscent of a temple atop the Athenian Acropolis. Visitors willing to make the pilgrimage are initially met with a visual field of low intrinsic interest – but the beauty of the architecture slowly reveals itself the more one looks.
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 mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” – René Magritte