M. Arch I (‘18)
One weekend several years ago, I was passing by the architecture school and slipped into the gallery. The graduate show was up and the floor looked like a hoarder’s paradise. Amid all the projects, though, my eyes settled on a quiet image of an arcade next to a wheat field. For a moment, I was in that place with its tranquil rhythms and soft shadows. It was from Pier Vittorio Aureli’s first studio here. Since then, renderings in his style have proliferated. I am intrigued by their mass appeal, a strange fate for the drawings of an avowedly anti-capitalist office. What is it about these images that we find so compelling? I suspect that we are reflexively attracted to them not for the way they represent a project, though they may do a fine job of that. Instead, I suspect that we are attracted to these images for the nostalgia they evoke, both in quality and content. We experience nostalgia when we think of a world we think we used to know. This world has ceased to exist except in our minds’ eyes, which fuzz the rough edges and turn everything slightly pink.
With his images, Aureli manages to create this world. Unlike the reality of constant pings and chatter, the Aureli collage creates a pleasant place of solitude. People appear as figures in the distance or turn away. We stand in a field or a courtyard with ample space peeling away from us, far away from anything at all. There is always—always—a frame (or sixteen) to reference, so we are never lost but simply left alone. The buildings are given the same even treatment as the landscape and recede into gentle rhythms of columns and windowpanes. With their muted colors and repetitious textures, the collages evoke the pastoral despite their urban nature. In this way, the images kick up nostalgia for some place and time, known or imagined, when one is alone but not lost. They give us a moment outside of time, a breath before everything tangles up once more.
The objects strewn through the PV collage are evocative of catalogs: grown-up picture books, enjoyable apart from their purpose. With their insistent frames and standalone objects, these drawings are a catalog of a sort, the world within them ordered, knowable. Though the images are soft, the borders between things are precise. The frames separate the lives of others from our own; the careful cropping makes even the clutter immaculate. Again, a moment steps out of the continuum, discernable from the status quo. It’s not only the content of these collages that we covet, but the images themselves. In recent years, collages like this have become common, particularly in online image forums, but also in firms and studios. These images have become a commodity, complete with knock-offs.
Despite their popularity, PV’s images remain just that: a representation of something yet to be built. However, the buildings within the image—the communal, transparent superstructures—have been built before. Though these designs are posed as speculative containers rather than imposing blocks, the forms and floor plans are remarkably similar to things we have seen built (among others, Robin Hood gardens comes quickly to mind). The fact that they have not been built again, not even by this office who conjectures them on paper, makes me wonder. Is it possible that PV is comforted by his own images? Is it possible that we are?
I’ll end by adding another question to the mix: do we need these images? We are in the business of becoming architects, and we are in a school that prefers architects who build. The unromance of building is quickly laid bare to us as we try our undexterous best to build a house in our first year. The ups and downs of a building’s life is trickier to teach, but Rudolph Hall is a good teacher—sometimes perfect and sometimes maddening, often both at once. In the midst of the struggle, PV’s collages are like Magritte’s sky—a square of pure blue. They are pictures of the moments when everything is still and right. When the light falls just so and the flowers are finally in bloom. They transport me to these moments that I long for and in doing so, they do what an evolving, built space cannot, or can only do every now and then. PV has built on paper what no one can ever build—a world where everything is a-ok. The architect of austerity has figured out how to light me a quick hit of lushness. We wouldn’t want this world; it is missing the spikes and spills and and lovely surprises of our real, evolving world. And yet, as we deal in real buildings and their inevitable disappointments, it’s nice to be able to look into the blue. When we look at a Pier Vittorio Aureli drawing, we look at that time in a project when the building is still conjecture, perfect conjecture. And we are nostalgic for it.