Urban Transcripts 2011: Rome, the accidental city international workshop programme (13 – 17 December 2011)

 Photo by Claudia Faraone / drawings by Eugenia Fratzeskou

– WORKSHOP UNIT BRIEF –

Rome City & Urban Superbia: Drawing the Invisible

guest tutor Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou

host tutor Dr Claudia Faraone

intro

The explicit intention of Transcripts (Manhattan Transcripts ndR) was to describe elements usually removed from conventional architectural representation, that is the complex relationship between spaces and their uses, set and script, between typology and program, between objects and events… going beyond the conventional definition of use and program, the Transcripts used their tentative format to explore unlikely confrontations. [1]

Workshop’s participants will be asked to work on the notion of the ‘accidental’ as found in the city, within the thematic framework of Urban Superbia. The “confrontation” occurs between what can be defined as an evolving Superbia, as something that is visible, mappable, known and thus controlled, as something that sometimes emerges as being hierarchical in the urban space and territory, and Interstitiality, as something that characterises our life in contemporary cities with its elusiveness, as always evolving and accidental, as a part of the fragmentary city growth.

This exploration will be carried out through discovering and exploring the previously unseen and unnoticed ‘interfaces’, interactions and exchanges between those city layers that can be connecting or disruptive, at a visual, architectural, experiential and/or conceptual sense. The workshop will enable participants to challenge spatial and disciplinary boundaries alike, by developing their own innovative drawing-based approaches through various media both at ‘macro’ (city-scape/views) and ‘micro’ levels (neighbourhood/building unit/particular location), engaging with the physical and the virtual layers of the city.

Furthermore, this workshop will provide the opportunity to explore the city as a multi-layered composition, deciphering its multiple ‘skins’ through their readings by artists, architects, urbanists, inhabitants, with the use of various interpretative tools and processes.

An interesting array of questions provides a starting point for reflection: how do we deal with an urban space/object that faces the city from another perspective, from another point of view? Towers, for example, offer another kind of habitat and urbanity. Nevertheless, their use as a way of giving a modern atmosphere to the cities, has become extremely wide-spread, as if the skylines would make the cities look “contemporary”. [2] In Rome however, this approach to the city goes hand in hand with the foundation of the city itself, as situated on the hill surrounding the East side of Tiber River. We are presented with a number of challenges e.g. how do we deal with monumental high places in Rome? [3] Furthermore, how do we deal with the opportunity to encounter the city with a broad horizon, while in some places this horizon is ‘cut’ by buildings, walls and fences?

themes to be explored

The growth and construction of the territorial characteristics of Rome have always been integral to certain discourses, in a Foucaultian sense, with regards to the notion of a city that has been the centre of urban architecture and discourse throughout its history. Since its foundation, its construction has been influenced by two powers: the temporal (power of Popes within civil issues) and the civil, with regards not only to the way it has been built, but also, ‘narrated’. The height of the location was fundamental in showing the above-mentioned power. We could say that they (powers) could be demonstrated by the difference in height. The more the height, the more power you hold. [4] In this perspective, the starting question of the workshop is: which are the places and the architectures that would allow us to look at Rome (the larger, contemporary one) from above?

Being the Capital of the country and a beautiful European historical city, Superbia – defined as “unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem (personified as one of the deadly sins)” [5]– applies to the city in a variety of ways and materializations. In this respect, the shades of meaning given to its synonymous “Pride”, help us explore this semiotic interpretation of the city, where Superbia/Pride is “a feeling of honour and self-respect, a sense of personal worth” and  “pride of place, the most important position” [6].

Therefore, more than a typology of space, the vice suggests a point of view and in particular, high views, and the exclusivity of the vision of the city as viewed from privileged places that sometimes may be unknown/unfamiliar to most people. They may include not only the views of the historical part of the city as seen from hills, such as, Aventino and Gianicolo, but also, private terraces in high-rise buildings of social/public housing as Tor Bella Monaca and Corviale.

In this thematic framework, the notion of the accidental can be found within the unexpected overlapping views as seen from different perspectives and places. The accidental emerges through the contrasts and the complexity of urban forms, their contexts and imaginaries. In this respect urban spaces are “acting with and looking at” their surroundings with pride.

Different types of “superbia” can be deciphered within the city:

  1. forms of landscape and territory: hills (usually with parks or important buildings on their tops).
  2. urban constructions: towers, monuments (in conjunction to their design and history).
  3. luxury living: penthouses & attic rooms, shopping malls.

The history of the city, from its creation to its development into a contemporary city, offers several hints as to what places can be identified as superb in Rome.

Firstly, we have “I Sette Colli di Roma” – the seven hills of Rome – that refer to the early city and all of them are located on the eastern side of Tevere river. All hills have some very important buildings, monuments or parks on their top. Aventino (Aventine Hill), Celio (Caelian Hill), and Esquilino (Esquiline Hill) [7] have parks and Villa Celimontana (the Celio). Palatino (Palatine Hill) is where an archaeological site is situated. Finally, the City Municipality House is situated on Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill), while Quirinale (Quirinal Hill) hosts the house of the President of the Italian Republic. The Interior Affairs’ Ministry occupies Viminale (Viminal Hill). Other hills are also ‘entitled’ to their own kind of ‘pride’, as analogies are drawn between them and the “magic seven” for their beauty, position, context, and for what they represent e.g. Gianicolo is very central to the inhabitants’ imaginaries and ideal visions of the city, and has become a very attractive and desirable public space. We also have the Vatican. Panoramic views of Rome are very few and that’s why all the highest spots have begun to play a very central role in inhabitants’ life and imaginaries[8]. Their centrality and importance has been acquired through experience and practising.

Secondly, there is a number of monuments and towers within urban fabric, ranging from the monuments of the Ancient Rome to those of Fascism (Vittoriano). We finally, arrive to the monumentality of the Modern city after the Second World War that was produced in the eighties, namely, some highly intensive social housing projects made up of towers and high places.

There is a shift from the “monumentality” that communicates power through architecture to the “utopia” of the Modern Movement urban planning that aims to satisfy social needs. The latter include welfare and the need for shelter. The huge demand for housing was answered by powerful and very proud/superb architectonic gestures e.g. Torbella Monaca and Corviale (almost a kilometre long building. It is said to be so massive and robust as to break the Ponentino wind).

Finally, in contemporary Rome, the desire for power and exclusivity lingers on inhabiting penthouses and attic rooms. This happens in a ‘molecular’ way, individually and privately, depending on whether it can be financially affordable. Shopping malls have become privately controlled public spaces. Changing from the sacral (Vaticano), the political (Vittoriano) and the social propaganda (Corviale), Superbia has now become individual. It would be interesting therefore, to look at how people live in their attic rooms and how they occupy shopping malls, through analysing what this means, how it feels and at what kind of city they are looking at.

aims and objectives

The core aim of the workshop is to enable a creative and critical exploration of the dynamically changing and unsettling spatial, informational/data, architectural and cultural layers of the city of Rome, through direct observation across its urban fabric. We’ll explore what can be termed para-, non-, or inter- sites e.g. ad-hoc neighbourhoods, nomads, urban voids, the common resources of the city that can be freely accessible, places that lack ownership, the invisible digital cityscapes etc, in contraposition with the science & technology ‘pride’ as reflected in the most daring buildings, the invisible panopticon and surveillance networks, the state buildings across the city and finally, the purism and idealism of certain urban fragments.

The element of the virtual layers of the city and the focus on revealing interstitiality for enabling an exploration of the tensions, dialogues and/or exchanges between the layers of the physical and the virtual spaces of the city, will enable participants to go beyond the physical materiality of place by looking not simply at the ‘horizon’ or at a ‘view’, but at something which is evolving and transitional, ranging from robust urban materiality to its liminal zones (in both physical and immaterial sense).

One of the main goals of this workshop is to expand and transform the notion of the panorama, for achieving an interpretative process of urban research that would function as an “operative drawing”. This will be achieved through the use of “high views” and “panoramas” as a sort of escamotage for linking together diverse (in terms of time, space and typology) places of Rome.

working methods 

In contemporary art, architecture and the related disciplines, the changing relationship of data flows and data matrices inspires new types of spatial research and practice. As a designed environment, built space can be perceived as a fragment of an excessive superimposition of dynamically interacting algorithmic, geometrical, topological and structural grids. A creative exploration of the data flows into, from and within the physical structures of the built environment, challenges our common assumptions about space and our experience of it.

The issue of ‘mapping’ the physical world has been debated extensively in science and has deeply influenced the formulation of scientific paradigms. As we pass from Modernist reduction and mathematical formalism to contemporary complexity, uncertainty and complementarity, our perception and understanding of the relationship between physical and virtual worlds are changing in the most unexpected manner. In particular, the developments in Quantum physics and scientific visualisation have revealed an emerging kind of multi-dimensionality that characterises the fuzzy boundaries between reality and virtuality and probes new relationships between part and whole. As a result, a new understanding of space and reality in general, as well as of the limitations of science, is developing.[9]

Drawing can be described as ‘interstitial’, as it cuts through the stages of the creation process that may include intention, realisation, evaluation etc. and diverse fields, such as, architecture, psychology, philosophy, perception and others. The primary form of drawing is tracing, also defined as indexical imprint i.e. a visual trail left from a particular process. As such, tracing is relational, and although it involves physical processes, it expands beyond them, as it is a means of forming propositions that can be abstract. In some cases, such a basic form of drawing still affects directly or indirectly the ‘workings’ of even the most advanced types and processes of diagramming (that it too, derives from drawing), computer-generated animation as well as the status, operation and aspects of the intended end-product itself e.g. built architecture.[10]

A diagram always involves the purposeful activity of tracing, through which, it ‘un/re-makes’ reality and unlike an architectural plan, it is non-buildable. Diagram contains a kind of virtuality that, as the architect Greg Lynn explains, contains variable potential.[11] Coined by the architect Bernard Tschumi, “operative drawing” may be created in any discipline, through using any medium provided that, it functions as a purposeful activity of critical thinking and positioning.[12]

Operative drawing involves the following categories: “conceptual diagram”, “transcript”, “transformational sequence” and “interchangeable scalar drawing”. Through “transcript” architectural reality can be interpreted, or in other words, ‘read’, often through theoretical and non-realistic scenarios. “Transformational sequence” includes animation that may be applied not only to forms, but also, to spaces and programmes. Process and end-product are of equal importance. A transformational sequence is ‘open’ if it has no endings, as for example, when it contains concurrent or juxtaposed sequences of another order, and ‘closed’ when it has a predictable end due to the exhaustion, circularity or repetition of process. Finally, the “interchangeable scalar drawing” is essentially, the combination of all the aforementioned categories into a “singular heterogeneous transformational concept”. In contemporary architecture and the related spatial practices, the notion of operative drawing, its categories and their relationships have been continuously changing in many challenging and innovative ways.

The notion of urban transcripts gives us the possibility to combine methods and strategies of drawing and layering with the use of observational video-making in the field of urban research, also expanding into other means and processes of visualisation, documentation and output.[13] For instance, space, actions in space, layers of analysis and frameworks of observation would be combined during the exploration process and its outcomes’ transmission.

Through working with layering and perception, it would be possible to explore how perception works as connected to sight and experience, especially in relationship to the processes of drawing, digital media e.g. digital visualisation, 3D architectural modelling and diagramming, interactive installations, photography and video, for capturing both the space and the immateriality of the city, in a variety of creative ways and outcomes.

Phase 1

a. Experiential mapping & data collection:

The experiential reading and transitory mapping of the heterogeneous city-scape commences with an urban exploration of Rome through a city walk. At this stage, participants will be able to collect information through their preferred means (photography, video, mobile devices, drawing, notes and others). New ways of seeing are developed, challenging what we normally take for granted or escapes our attention. The emphasis is placed on identifying and mapping the by- and half- products of architecture and urban planning, or in other words, interstitial spaces. These spaces may be discovered in the accidental and incidental properties of the city found in emergent territories, areas of complexity, ambiguity, ad-hoc development or experimentation, fragments, voids, undeveloped areas, para-sites, including the non-linear ebbs and flows of the evolving informational texture of the city.

b. Group discussion

The exploration of Rome will be followed by a group discussion on what and how the data has been collected, how the city has been experienced, explored and mapped, the challenges and opportunities for taking forward to the second phase of the project.

Phase 2

Developing Drawing-based Methodologies

Participants are invited to explore drawing as a way of ‘decoding’ the city, not only for revealing what is normally invisible, but also, for expanding its definition and interdisciplinary potential. A successful drawing-based approach shows originality, creativity and depth of critical thinking. There is no restriction as to the types of the materials and digital media that can be used. There may be a possibility of forming small groups if the number of the participants is large.

Phase 3

Outcomes & Critical Discussion

The workshop will culminate in a critical discussion not only of the each project outcome but also of the drawing-based approach that has been developed, as process and outcome are of equal importance.

The end-of-workshop Critical Discussion will enable participants to evaluate how their vision of and engagement with the city have changed, to position and evaluate their work both in terms of process and outcome, and most importantly, to carry forward the challenges and possibilities that arose through their participation in the workshop.

references and suggested reading 

on themes

Annunziata, Sandra, Cossu, Mara, Faraone, Claudia, “Living on the edge: in-between spaces and urban performances in Rome”, in I. Aravot (sous la direction de), PLiC. Public Life in the In-Between-city, actes du colloque international (Technion, I.I.T. Haifa, 6-10 juin 2010)

Attili, Giovanni, “Representations of an Unsettled City: Hypermedial Landscapes in Rome”, in Sandercock, Attili (eds.) Multimedia for Urban Planning: an Exploration of the Next Frontier, Springer, 2010

Aureli, Pier Vittorio, Tattara, Martino,  Rome: The Centre(s) Elsewhere, Geneve: Skira editore, 2010

Berdini, Paolo, La città in vendita, Donzelli, Roma, 2008 (City on sale)

Bertelè, Francesco, Faraone, Claudia, “Overcome Territories”, in Fond. Antonio Ratti et Prod. Nero (sous la direction de), Fragmented Book, Rome: Nero publishing, 2006

Damiani, Giovanni (ed.), Bernard Tschumi, Geneve: Skira editore, 2003

Faraone, Claudia, Recording the City. On observational video-making as an urban research practice, comprising stories, traces and metaphors, PhD thesis, tutor Prof. Piccinato G., cotutor Alessia DeBiase, RomaTre, 2011

Faraone, Claudia, « Looking into the city. On observational videomaking in urbanism », in B. De Meulder, M. Ryckewaert et K. Shannon (sous la direction de), Transcending the Discipline. Urbanism & Urbanization as receptors of multiple practices, discourses and realities, actes du cinquième  séminaire doctorale international « Urbanism&Urbanization » (Louvain, 1-3 octobre 2009)

Insolera, Italo, Roma moderna. Da Napoleone I al XXI secolo, Torino: Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, 2011 (Nuova edizione ampliata con la collaborazione di Paolo Berdini)

Marcelloni, Maurizio, Ripensare la città contemporanea, Il nuovo piano regolatore di Roma, Roma: Laterza, 2003. (Rethinking the contemporary city. The new Masterplan of Rome)

Secchi, Bernardo, La città del ventesimo secolo, Laterza: Bari, 2005 (20th Century City)

on working methods

Essays by Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou in Digimag (Digicult)

Eisenman, Peter, Diagram diaries, London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Inventing New Modes of Digital Visualisation in Contemporary Art” in Special Issue “Transactions,” Leonardo 41, No. 4 (2008), p. 422.

Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Unfolding Space”, in ISEA2010 RUHR: Conference Proceedings, http://www.isea2010ruhr.org/files/redaktion/pdf/isea2010_proceedings_p53_fratzeskou.pdf, pp.491-2.

Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Visualising Boolean Set Operations: Real & Virtual Boundaries in Contemporary Site-Specific Art, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009.

Fratzeskou, Eugenia, New Types of Drawing in Fine Art: The Role of Fluidity in the Creation Process, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010

Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Operative Intersections: Between Site-Specific Drawing and Spatial Digital Diagramming, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010.

Haque, Usman in Bakke, Monika ed., Going Aerial. Air, Art, Architecture, Maastricht: Jan Van Eyck Academie, 2006.

Lynn, Greg, Animate Form, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.

Manovich, Lev, 2005, The Poetics of Augmented Space, http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/Augmented_2005.doc.

Tschumi, Bernard, “Operative Drawing”, in De Zegher, Catherine & M. Wigley, eds., The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond, MIT Press, 2001.


[1]  From the introduction to the Manhattan Transcripts in Damiani, Giovanni (ed.), Bernard Tschumi, Geneve: Skira, 2003, page 34

[2] During the last years in Italy, there has been a broad debate about building towers in historical cities in terms of their sustainability. In this respect, is quite useful to refer to a research project developed for Paris “Habiter en hauter à Paris” http://www.laa.archi.fr/spip.php?article158

[3] refer to PhD thesis by Aureli, Pier Vittorio, “La citta arcipelago e il suo progetto”, tutor Elia Zenghelis, coordinator Bernardo Secchi

[4] “Whatever the case, the real city of seven hills (Rome ndR) was much narrower than that of the seven hills. The inhabitants of the mountains, so-called “Montanari”, enjoyed special priviledges, as if they were true “Romans of Rome,” while the Pagans, e.g. the inhabitants of the villages (pagi) located at the periphery, were considered a bit as boors.” http://www.strennadeiromanisti.it/romanisti/strenna-dei-romanisti-1942/monti-veri-e-monti-falsi.html

[6]  Collins English Dictionary entries in http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pride

[7]  For the multicultural life and appropriation of Esquilino park refer to the research work made by Giovanni Attili and described in “Representations of an Unsettled City: Hypermedial Landscapes in Rome”, in Sandercock, Attili (eds.) “Multimedia for Urban Planning: an Exploration of the Next Frontier”, Springer, 2010

[8] The projection of a place in people’s mind, an idea, an image that can be very far from the real space,and  that usually is shared among a certain amount of people (think about Rome for tourists, nice green parks/neighbourhood for inhabitants, the imaginary produced by a movie on a place) and it becomes social if widely spread.

[9] For ‘informationalism’ and ways of visualising and interacting with invisible virtual city-scapes see Manovich, Lev, 2005, The Poetics of Augmented Space, http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/Augmented_2005.doc. and Haque, Usman in Bakke, Monika ed., Going Aerial. Air, Art, Architecture, Maastricht: Jan Van Eyck Academie, 2006.

[10] For an extensive investigation on ‘interstitial space’ see Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou’s postdoctoral research papers published in Digimag (Digicult). Eisenman, Peter, Diagram diaries, London: Thames & Hudson, 1999, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Inventing New Modes of Digital Visualisation in Contemporary Art” in Special Issue “Transactions,” Leonardo 41, No. 4 (2008), p. 422, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Unfolding Space”, in ISEA2010 RUHR: Conference Proceedings, http://www.isea2010ruhr.org/files/redaktion/pdf/isea2010_proceedings_p53_fratzeskou.pdf, pp.491-2, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Visualising Boolean Set Operations: Real & Virtual Boundaries in Contemporary Site-Specific Art, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, New Types of Drawing in Fine Art: The Role of Fluidity in the Creation Process, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Operative Intersections: Between Site-Specific Drawing and Spatial Digital Diagramming, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010.

[11] Lynn, Greg, Animate Form, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.

[12] Tschumi, Bernard, “Operative Drawing”, in De Zegher, Catherine & M. Wigley, eds., The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond, MIT Press, 2001.

[13] Refer to the PhD thesis by Faraone, Claudia, “Recording the City. On observational video-making as an urban research practice, comprising stories, traces and metaphors”, tutor Prof. Piccinato G., co-tutor Alessia DeBiase, RomaTre, 2011

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Rome City & Urban Superbia: Drawing the Invisible workshop unit took place in Rome during 13 – 17 December 2011, as part of the Urban Transcripts 2011: Rome, the accidental city international workshop on the city.

Drawing the Invisible workshop unit was developed and led by Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou (also a Curatorial Committee & Project Review Committee Member) as the guest tutor responsible for the development of the creative methodologies of urban research, exploration, analysis, and design (including the workshop phases planning), together with Dr Claudia Faraone as the host tutor responsible for the thematic framework (Superbia/Pride) of the workshop, and for organising and conducting the one-day urban exploration of Rome.  The workshop was academically accredited by Università degli Studi Roma Tre and took place at its DipSU studios.

Workshop participants included an international group of students with a background in architecture, urban planning, digital media and other fields. The workshop participants were: Gebriel Admassu Askabe (Polytecnico di Milano), Aslihan Ay Güngör (Istanbul Technical University), Sepideh Farjami (Polytecnico di Milano), Kyriaki Goti  (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Surajkumar Nandakumar (Polytecnico di Milano), Zohreh Shaghaghian (Polytecnico di Milano) and Gregory Tsarouhas (Democretian University of Thrace).

Drawing the Invisible is currently expanded further as an independent  initiative and a dedicated blog has been created for this purpose. The Drawing the Invisible Blog functions as a digital platform, promoting the initiative’s series of past and forthcoming international activities and projects, developing an online forum, facilitating the announcements of its members activities, and supporting the dissemination of the relevant resources including research material and publications.

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