He had always felt very ambivalent about architecture shows. All those models and floor plans spread out around spaces disconcerted him, and he doubted architects’ ability to transform all their wonderful ideas into comprehensible yet challenging arrangements. As if architects had some kind of inner hatred of any representation of their work besides the actual construction of the projects in question. No sensitivity to the character of a given space, no imagination to develop things further than a few simplified formats and media – a render, a 3D model, a little paper structure, and all around those immensely annoying panels that shout out: “I don’t give a shit about graphic design”. For him, walking through the architectural biennial was the greatest bore imaginable, and there were never enough beer stands in the vicinity to put his mind at ease.
The only thing he loved and enjoyed every time was the vivid experience of the actual masterplan of the Giardini, layered like pages from a textbook of modern political history. The pavilions resonating with 19th-century national sentiment, reflecting already obsolete political contexts and relations between a group of respected nation states that at the time were glowing with pride in their independence, but were now mostly manifesting the utter failure of numerous utopias. Like a miniature model of the European project and its changing moods. Perhaps even more important than the actual structures, he thought, were all the paths, staircases, canals and bridges, connecting everything, forming a Raumplan of relationships.
The general concept of a park, historically a pleasurable hideout for the aristocracy which later opened its gates to the public, prompted him to reflect on biopower and the social control of any kind of society. Just think of Central Park, a chaotic tangle of representational references formed in the greatest possible contrast to the precise grid structure of the city surrounding it. “You are obliged to work 24/7, yet for little moments of rest we’ve generously decided to grant you the privilege of stepping through the rabbit’s hole and relaxing among reasonably wild vegetation, and perhaps also of observing caged animals and eating ice cream, but no drinks or cigarettes.”
The park is an illusionary urban representation of the idea of tamed nature, a safe haven designed precisely for our modern mindset. Such an approach goes hand in hand with the model of entertainment parks, as if we are talking about Disneyland, a miniature Europe, or some random rollercoaster playground. They all evoke potential dangers, mimicking real ones to activate our emotions – fear, joy and pleasure – while keeping visitors safe. The Wicked Witch is just a wax figurine, and her spells just smoke and mirrors.
How far is all this from ideas of the world as mere projection, the Matrix?
Architectural exhibitions, models and floorplans are entertainment parks for a specific audience, one attuned to a unique form of perception. He knew this, and he felt he had a right to be in sync. Nevertheless, he remained convinced that he was being lied to, and these architects just wanted to trick him into believing there was only one option.
Architecture operates far beyond materials and shapes, he was certain of that, and he was not alone in thinking so. He began imagining an ideal model, expressed as a landscape, keeping the idea of a park in mind. The park as a fundamental manifestation of the human desire to escape the prevailing conditions. Not on any real scale, just representational, although palpable. Almost like a walk-in diorama. His plan was to remain at the level of metaphor, to present real elements in a vicarious form, reaching out to mundane objects and tools for help. To take account of the natural elements – fire, water, air and earth – while keeping in mind Semper’s Four Elements of Architecture: hearth, roof, enclosure and mound. Merging them into one variously interpretable melange.
But he was a man of fleeting ideas, and he never undertook any such project.