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Mare Nostrum

Antonino Saggio

IaN+ (Carmelo Baglivo, Luca Galofaro)
"Digital Odyssey. A New Voyage in the Mediterranean"
(The IT Revolution in Architecture)
Switzerland 2003
pp96, $15,95 $11,17
preface by Antonino Saggio

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[in italiano]


Pagano, Pane, Ponti, Coderch, Cosenza, Rudofsky, Sartoris, and many, many others. Corbu, with Terragni as a stoker, navigating toward Athens, and Goethe or Stendahl traveling through Italy, and Joyce, before and after – always further back into the myth.

When reflecting on the title of this book, it is natural to ask oneself, among the new digital architects of the Mediterranean, who is our Penelope, weaving by day and unraveling by night? Who is the valiant occupier, who is the one-eyed monster (although this one might be easy to answer, just think how our monitors look at us sometimes), who are the traveling companions transformed into swine and later rescued, and who are the sirens with their sweet and deadly songs?

The book leaves this game entirely up to the reader. You try to answer the questions if you want, in a sort of Ballad of the Salt Sea, discovering and changing the characters as though in a story by Hugo Pratt.
But getting down to the work of the architects of IaN+, who are both the narrators of this tale and its main characters, I think it only proper to underline a few points regarding their work.
First of all, this book brings to light a situation that stands apart from the other two cultural and geographic contexts that were examined in the "IT Revolution in Architecture” book series.
Natural Born CAADdesigners looked at the new American generations and their strong link between theorization and digital research as though each studio were a fundamentally autonomous laboratory. The Flying Dutchmen, on the other hand, used research on movement and speed, "from mechanics to diagrammatics," to describe the contemporary scene in Holland and its protagonists. I would say that this Digital Odyssey brings into focus characteristics that are typical of the Mediterranean scene.
First of all, their desire to network, to weave relations between the various types of research conducted in this cultural area. As though the commerce on these seas follows the courses set by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Italian maritime republics or the Venetians. As though these routes still determine common intent and shared feelings. They have many things in common: the landscape, the water, the same linguistic roots. And these similarities are the basis for networks, projects, ideas, buildings.

IaN+, Nuovi territori. Microutopias, seconda Biennale di Valencia.

The second aspect they have in common is that, as opposed to the often cerebral theorization of the Americans and the stringent pragmatism of the Dutch, this cultural environment offers truly broad-ranging themes which tend to merge the various theories of work.
The first is a particularly distinct realization of the relationship between architecture and city. This is deeply rooted in the area's cultural heritage, just remember the Italian School of the 1960's, which viewed architecture like the prefiguration of an idea of a city. Naturally, the metaphysics of pure types of those years has been replaced today by an awareness of the hybrid, complex, and stratified role played by today's cities, with both productive and leisure cycles, diverse social and ethnic components, aperture and connection to the surrounding territory and the continental dimension. Over the last two decades, the most active cities in the Mediterranean basin have woven together the threads that start in Barcelona and touch –sometimes only marginally– Genoa, Salerno, Naples and, on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, a renascent Trieste, Split, Athens and, as this book illustrates, reach all the way to Beirut.

This idea of cities that are luminous and open, active and multi-ethnic, which create new spaces and new functions, which transform abandoned areas and give new life to old town centers, this is the main object of the research and applications of the new Mediterranean architects.
The second theme that many research studies have in common is the concept of territory. In the Mediterranean area, landscape is viewed as a facet of anthropogeography, connecting in one single continuum city, architecture, agricultural areas and major natural events.
This idea of an anthropological territory logically leads to the theme of ecology and a responsible use of natural resources. IaN+ has made this a central theme of its project research and has elaborated a series of guidelines. But, as we know, the neo-ecological way of thinking is connected to digital thought, in fact they are two sides of the same coin. NewScapes, a book dealing with this theme, was recently published in this series. To quote IaN+:

"The concepts behind this type of ecology are to a large degree similar to those which form the structure of digital thought: the concept of dynamic transformation and therefore of temporal evolution; the concept of relationships, therefore of systems as a correlated part of the processes. Architecture plays a fundamental role in new ecology because, besides being an integral part of the planning process, it also contributes to radical urbanistic renewal by adding concepts and planning variables to focused relationships between human settlements, nature and city sections."

R&Sie..., Maison Barak.

The resulting concepts (architecture as intelligent recycling, or as interference or as territorial transformation) span many of the works presented in this book. Like ACTAR's idea of a continuous band which can be cut to size, or Arroyo's fuzzy logic, or Roche's on-going search for auto-configurations, Khoury's ribbon territory, D'Ambrosio's focus on poetically functional architecture, ma0's constant interweaving of game images and the web, Cliostraat's experimentation on marginality, and the works of other emerging authors from Negrini to Mari da Soriano to Miller and others not included in the following pages.

The final area which the book highlights is, of course, the linguistic choices. This is slippery and uncertain terrain, but if one can speak of Mediterranean light, if there is a common Latin root in the language of our fathers, if those long-ago myths still envelope us, then it should come as no surprise if, while navigating among these projects, we sense the smells and tastes which, like the misty scent of tamerice near a beach, we suddenly recognize as part of our heritage.

Antonino Saggio


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