More in Less
Minimum scale and maximum intention: such is the guiding thread of the works gathered here. The small scale has always been a good field for architectural experimentation, leaving many masterpieces over the course of history. Each mutation of intentions or language has been tested before with designs of limited size: often with small constructions, but also with ephemeral installations, manifesto-like furniture pieces, programmatic interiors, interventions on the landscape or gardens that are abridged architectures. From the exquisite Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio to the many pavilions of modernity, the tiny work – often also with a diminutive name – is sometimes an excercise for the large scale, but frequently also a piece of intrinsic value. The same-scale comparison of a pillar of Saint Peter’s Basilica, by Bramante and Michelangelo. with the full floor plan of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the church of Borromini that the Romans call San Carlino, shows that limited dimensions are never an obstacle for artistic greatness.
On the other hand, the small scale brings along a more economical use of scarce material and energy resources, so it seems more in tune with the need to intervene lightly in a fragile planet, subjected to the abrasion of excess and squander. The counterculture of the seventies – to which we often look to in search of inspiration, after the devastating experience of several bulimic decades – expressed this attitude adopting the motto of E.F.?Schumacher, ‘small is beautiful’. In the banner of that generation one could hear the echoes of the linguistic reductionism of the avant-garde and of its desire to address the needs of the majority – from ‘less is more’ to ‘existenzminimum’–, but filtered through a new ecological ethic of libertarian flavor, which tried to make the iron law of enthropy compatible with the impulses of a libidinal economy. Then as now, small was beautiful because it gave up the superfluous, but also because it allowed surviving on the edges of a system based on hyperconsumption, to pursue the intimate utopias of the law of desire.
The current economic crisis, which especially affects our country, the younger generation and construction, prompts to map the scenarios that can help us face this perfect storm, undoubtedly the most devastating we have experienced since the birth of this magazine, twenty-five years ago now. With this issue we close our anniversary year, and we have wanted to mark the date with fifty minimal works that may serve as an example and stimulus for the young architects that begin their professional itinerary in an environment of extreme difficulty and uncertainty. The works are presented in ten chapters, and each one of them starts with a small work by a major architect, seeking the help of history to build a story of optimism and hope. Small can be big if material size does not limit the breadth of ambition, the intensity of effort and the height of excellence: these minimal architectures are maximum works, because our discipline is, like?Leonardo famously said of painting, una cosa mentale, and its beauty rests in its intelligence.