Evan Sale traveled with the Summer seminar in Rome: Continuity and Change and researched in Italy and Switzerland with funding from
the Ike Kligerman Barkley Traveling Fellowship.
Unlike images on a page, stops on an architectural tour are fixed in their sequence. Distance and the friction of soles and machines prohibit cutting from one place to another, cropping out the in-between or the unremarkable. The only curation is the choice of where, and for how long. Every destination, every church or palazzo, comes with a host of places for passing through. These are the bus stops and train stations, the shoulderless highways and roaring underpasses. They are hotels, cafes, bodegas, smoke shops, subway mouths, and gathering places in the yellow coronas of streetlights. We treat them as accessory, leave them out of our reports and social media feeds. We are occupied enough rushing between “Significant Works of Architecture,” making daily pilgrimages to places that we try hard to appreciate for reasons we cannot quite remember. We have to limit our field of vision.
After YSoA’s Rome program, I spent time studying a handful of Italian architects from the 20th century. Their work shares formal rigor and rhetorical restraint though decades and ideological gulfs lie between them. Of the buildings on my itinerary, those built prewar were usually in city centers and easy to reach. One might not find them by following the signs marking the “tourist itinerary,” but they perform roles within living neighborhoods, areas one might have visited anyway. The postwar buildings do not. This is because of sprawl – apart from tile roofs, some suburbs looked like they could have been in America – and because the later architects received few commissions for national institutions and turned to municipal projects like schools and housing. Reaching these meant changing trains and then baking in the sun as I wandered towns closed for siesta.
Because I already knew many of the buildings I set out to find from images, context provided most of the surprises. Not just in the way of lending “local color,” but in revealing how much the images had been manicured. Too often, those I captured fell short of the ones already in circulation. In such photographs, there were no weather stains, no weeds, and no signs of habitation but the most charming. Trying to replicate them from the same vantage points made more obvious all that separated the places from their best representations.
We arrive with lists of things to see, but we would be disappointed if they were all we found. What we remember has little to do with intention,
and the scraps we retain of the in-betweens may be more vivid than anything from our destinations. We rarely anoint them as new destinations or add them to any lists. The exclusion is pragmatic, like the decision to skip McDonalds while in Italy. If the point of travel is to experience things beyond our usual bounds, we need to ration our time. In retrospect
different cropping occurs when we imagine our own projects, planned for whatever tiny corner of the built environment, occupying an outsized place in a landscape too vast to see. We like to think that good architecture will be found and that the places we design will be destinations. More often, they draw no tourists. They become places for passing through, unnoticed unless they malfunction. But unexceptional is not insignificant. We often take the exceptional as consolation for the poor quality of most built space. We design, if not pilgrimage sites, stopping places for pilgrims we cannot know. The architecture still operates, affecting what surprises may come and what memories they seed, if in the shallowest sense it remains outside the frame.