Francesco Dal Co on Carlo Scarpa : A Master behind the Times

Subject: Architecture
Author: Nadine Khalil

According to Francesco Dal Co, a prominent architectural historian, Japan is a key word needed in order to understand the late Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906 - 1978). "He is one of the most interesting and least understood architects of the past century," claimed this professor of architectural history at a talk given at the Lebanese American University on March 3. Having studied under Scarpa at the University of Venice, where he has taught since 1981, Dal Co is greatly influenced by Scarpa, who he asserted was "a deep scholar of structure." His museums were masterpieces, thus making him "a Master of the passing of time, which is characteristic of Italian architecture." However, when he graduated, there was in fact no school of architecture, meaning that Scarpa was not a trained architect. Perhaps this is evident from his rough sketches and drawings, which are on view until March 25 in the Sheikh Zayed Hall of the Fine Arts building at LAU, Beirut campus.

Inspired by a scholarly attachment to Japanese architecture, Scarpa is known for his Japanese-style bridges and he was also connected with some well-known architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright. "His career reveals a profound knowledge of the material world," upon which architecture as a practice is based, and Dal Co explained and he was also a glassblower and furniture designer. He created Phoenician glass vases, for instance. "It is difficult to realize sometimes that so much of the past's wealth can be utilized...Architecture becomes a timeless art, a rediscovery of something that is lost, or hidden to our cultural practices. Architecture should offer an experience since it changes natural space in order to provide something new that enrichens our experience of the past," according to Dal Co.

"An architect is the owner of the life of a building," and among the most important buildings Carlo Scarpa designed were the Central Pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale, a remarkable intervention, as well as the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, which Scarpa restored between 1959 and 1973, the Brion tomb and sanctuary at San Vito d'Altivole (1969 - 1978) with the characteristic leitmotif of two beautiful intersecting circles as windows connecting the inside to the outside, and the Olivetti showroom on a diagonal axis in St. Mark's square, Venice (1957 - 8).

In the museum spaces Scarpa meticulously crafted and with a methodical attention to geometry, he would intricately capture the changing of light through windows, corridors, and other open fixtures in order to seemingly bring the sculptures showcased to life. "It is as if they were dancing on stage," Francesco Dal Co remarked. "Scarpa knew how to bring to life that which has no life." And hence the capacity that architecture has "to produce its own time. Architecture gives you the possibility of conceiving all the different layers of a building as a social box, embodying the passage of time, admiring time as a spectacle." Dal Co then showed his audience Scarpa's homage to Wright in a Venetian house on the canal, and other ways in which Scarpa experimented with water in his landscaping of gardens and around statues; "only when one is able to master stone and water can one be a real architect."

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