Void and traces

Domus - - CONTENTS - Paola Bar­bera

Punta Sot­tile is the south­ern­most point of Italy, an ex­treme strip of the is­land of Lampedusa where the land gently turns to sea. Here, in a fairly dis­tant past, the jagged bank of rock was hewn to sup­ply con­struc­tion stone. The hu­man hand un­know­ingly shaped a mys­ti­cal and ar­chaic place, re­moved from his­toric time. A stone’s throw from the cliff, the earth sinks into a sea of gold-coloured stone that dis­si­pates the clear-cut hori­zon, the wa­ter that Sci­as­cia, and Homer long be­fore him, de­scribed as the colour of wine. Cham­bers ex­ca­vated in the ground with win­dows look­ing only onto the sky. The stone bears the signs left by the work: rhyth­mic, re­peated ver­ti­cal cuts that fur­row the rock walls like wounds. Some­times one gives a home to a seed that, if for­tu­nate, be­comes a flower. It is, per­haps, the only place where the is­land loses sight of its sea: it can be smelt and heard but the eye records its ab­sence, the void and the loss. What other place could bet­ter con­tain the mem­ory of what the is­land has been in our re­cent his­tory: land­ing place, an­chor, dinghy and tomb. Life and death are in­ter­linked in Vincenzo Latina’s de­sign idea and the quarry is asked to con­tain both: to lend a voice to the mem­ory of one of the largest and most des­per­ate mi­gra­tions of our times while, at the same time, do­ing jus­tice to the is­land’s tourist vo­ca­tion, with a space for con­certs and the­atre per­for­mances. The project opts for the path of si­lence, lis­ten­ing but not speak­ing. Just a few rar­efied signs, “la­conic” ones in the ar­chi­tect’s words, guar­an­tee ac­cess, routes and ser­vices. They lead us, where the ex­ca­va­tion is deep­est and the di­men­sion is that of the “buried” ar­chi­tec­ture of Boul­lée, to the place de­signed to of­fer a space to the mem­ory and prayers of all men but not of a religion. Or they take us south, where the ex­ca­va­tion sur­faces, mak­ing a lesser im­pact and you can again see the line of wa­ter di­vid­ing sea and sky, a mag­nif­i­cent back­drop un­touched by hu­man hand for per­for­mances staged at sun­set. Other quarries and an­other sea form the ground and hori­zon of a dif­fer­ent kind of build­ing. Vi­cenzo Latina’s Lampedusa project falls quite rightly within that “tiny part of ar­chi­tec­ture” that – ac­cord­ing to Loos – “comes un­der art: mon­u­ments.” but the house built on the Akrad­ina rock in Syra­cuse, like every­thing that “serves some prac­ti­cal pur­pose, should be ejected from the realm of art.” The words of ar­chi­tec­ture are turned into daily prose, a fa­mil­iar lex­i­con that must find its reg­is­ter in the clam­our of the con­tem­po­rary city. Here once again, the ground nar­rates a story re­con­structed by ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion: the lime­stone was ex­ca­vated, gen­er­at­ing un­der­ground caves and oc­cu­pied quarries with hy­pogean spa­ces that fas­ci­nated gen­er­a­tions of trav­el­ling ar­chi­tects, Karl Friedrich Schinkel among them. Not even the ran­dom, vo­ra­cious and dis­or­derly ex­pan­sion of the city in re­cent years has to­tally hid­den this an­cient ground – although run through by a hy­per­trophic road sys­tem and oc­cu­pied by build­ings of no qual­ity, the ter­rain resur­faces with its cav­i­ties, voids, in­ci­sions and level dif­fer­ences, amongst which Mediter­ranean and salt­wa­ter vegetation con­tin­ues to grow. The new hous­ing rests cau­tiously on this ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ground, seek­ing to es­tab­lish a dis­tance and a rap­port al­ready tested by Vincenzo Latina in the en­trance pav­il­ion to the Artemi­sion ex­ca­va­tions at Or­ti­gia. It is com­pact block, dif­fer­ent from its sur­round­ings in its clear-cut form, raised above the ground and rest­ing at cer­tain points on ground that is some­thing other than the new con­struc­tion. The build­ing’s struc­tural sys­tem, raised on piles equipped with in­su­la­tors and anti-seis­mic sup­ports, is a mu­tant ar­chi­tec­tural “or­der” of con­crete and metal, de­clined at times as a col­umn, oth­ers as a base. The hous­ing con­quers from on high with large log­gias the ex­tra­or­di­nary views of Or­ti­gia and the sea; lower down, it ben­e­fits from small ar­chae­o­log­i­cal gar­dens, seek­ing a qual­ity liv­ing di­men­sion. Given their func­tions and na­ture, Latina’s two projects sit at the op­po­site ex­tremes of the ar­chi­tec­tural world, the for­mer be­ing pure po­etry and the lat­ter a solid and pro­saic pro­fes­sional com­mis­sion. Yet, they share that idea that Mar­guerite Yource­nar at­trib­uted to the Em­peror Hadrian and namely that con­struc­tion re­quires col­lab­o­ra­tion with the ground and, in the case of the me­mo­rial of Lampedusa, we can le­git­i­mately steal the fol­low­ing words as it “was like con­struct­ing more pub­lic gra­naries, amass­ing re­serves against a spir­i­tual win­ter which by cer­tain signs, in spite of my­self, I see ahead.”

Be­low: a large ramp pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the site leads to a ‘mar­itime the­atre’ that ex­ploits the nat­u­ral level dif­fer­ences to cre­ate a parterre fea­tur­ing the ‘African Sea’ as its back­drop

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