Postcard from Rome, Italy: Coppede spun a magical web entangling architectural styles

There appears no name for it, the architectural jumble of styles combined in every building for several blocks surrounding a plaza with a frog fountain at its center. The Mister’s research unearthed this unexpected neighborhood for us in the upscale Parioli section of Rome.

Entrance into Quartiere Coppede is through a weighty arch, a massive wrought-iron chandelier at its center, linking two distinctive palatial towers. The frog-fountained Piazza Mincio is bounded by a cluster of structures combining elements of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Baroque, Greco-Roman and Tuscan architecture, to name a view, along with frescos, mosaics, tile and sculptural details based on themes drawn from mythology, views of Florence, fairy tales, the animal kingdom and a fantasy land of gargoyles, again, to name a view.

Florence-born architect Gino Coppede (1866-1927) received a dream commission from a building association to design a planned community with a mixture of palaces and apartments that would appeal to professionals on the eve of World War I. The neighborhood was his architectural playground from 1913 until his death in 1927, and he let his imagination and love of fine craftsmanship intermarry with few defined restrictions.

Which led to his creation of residences earning monikers such as the Palace of the Fairies and the Palace of the Spider. His work must have appeared an outright assault against the stern, stark dictates for design taking root in Italy along with the post-war rise of fascism.

Well respected in his lifetime, Coppede taught architecture at several universities in Italy. The young proteges he influenced must have chafed to work within the fascist confines demanded for construction, rules that would prevent others from copying his work.

Although the “nouveau” Coppede neighborhood still commands high rents in Rome, the impact of his design was minimalized by waves of political storms. The distinctive decorative style appears to have remained his alone, ending with his death.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Another day at work on high

I have tried to close the frontier between architecture and sculpture and to understand architecture as an art.

Santiago Calatrava

First we noticed window-washers dangling to clean midlevel glass on the enormous humpbacked Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Not a job meant for us. Then we spied another pair perched much higher, balancing on the peak of one of the topmost ridges of the opera house. Made the window-washer position appear a cakewalk.

We approached the opera house from below, walking along the pathways of a linear park stretching five miles through the heart of Valencia – Jardines del Turia. Wide enough to easily accommodate soccer fields and numerous tree-shaded bicycle and pedestrian trails, the park is sunken below street level in the former bed of the Turia River.

After more than 80 people lost their lives when the river sent floodwaters rushing through the city streets in 1957, engineers diverted the river Turin away from the center of town. What to do with the bed was debated for many years. Some wanted to pave it over to provide a quick route to the beach. Fortunately, those who wanted a park held the asphalt-lovers at bay (Does this sound familiar San Antonio?).

In the 1970s, the park was completed. Three decades later, the ample width of the riverbed provided a major opportunity for a massive economic development project on the east side of city. A Valencia-born architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, was selected by the city to design a string of contemporary public buildings on 90 acres of the river bed.

On an architect’s dream playground, Calatrava completed numerous monumental landmarks between 2005 and 2009, redefining the city of Valencia. These descriptions are from his website.

In recognition of the civic importance of the Opera House, Calatrava gave the building the iconographic character of a monumental sculpture. In form, the building is a series of apparently random volumes, which become unified through their enclosure within two symmetrical, cut-away concrete shells. These forms are crowned by a sweeping steel sheath, which projects axially from the entrance concourse out over the uppermost contours of the curvilinear envelope. The structure that results defines the identity of the Opera House, dramatically enhancing its symbolic and dynamic effect within the landscape, while offering protection to the terraces and facilities beneath.

http://calatrava.com/projects/palau-de-las-artes-valencia.html

The Opera House, Planetarium/IMAX Theater (Hemispheric Theater) and Príncipe Felipe Science Museum form a linear sequence from west to east. A fifth structure, known as L’Umbracle, is a promenade and parking garage, built within an open arcade that is a contemporary reinvention of the winter garden. A raised, axial walkway, offering views to the sea, serves as an ordering element, with gardens and reflecting pools on either side.

The Science Museum is a spatial tour de force, 104-meter wide and 241-meter long. Like the grand exhibition pavilions of the past, it is a longitudinal building, created from the modular development of transverse sections that repeat along the length of the site. Five concrete ‘trees,’ organized in a row, branch out to support the connection between roof and façade, on a scale that permits the integration of service cores and elevators….

The Planetarium/IMAX theater resembles a human eye, set within a 24,000 square meters pool. The ‘pupil’ is the hemispherical dome of the IMAX theater, which is transformed into a globe through its reflection in the pool. The concrete socket of the eye incorporates an ‘eyelid’ of vertical, articulated metal slats, which can be raised to permit views across the pool.

http://calatrava.com/projects/ciudad-de-las-artes-y-de-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Of course, those structures were not enough. Internationally known for his bridges, Calatrava added his second to the river – the Serreria Bridge. Almost 400 feet high, a curved pylon extends its harp-like “strings” across the former riverbed.

And wait, there’s more:

As Calatrava’s immense City of Arts and Sciences has taken shape, it became evident that the complex needs a multi-functional space, capable of accommodating large amount of audience and versatile enough to host various different types of events and activities. Calatrava therefore proposed the construction of a Agora on a site between the Sawmill Bridge and the City of Arts and Sciences’ Oceanographic building.

A diaphanous large hall, built of steel arches and a roof with glass will be crowned with a movable structure that controls the natural light and endows the otherwise horizontal building with a vertical component. This large hall will be raised slightly above the ground level. Underneath the large hall will be a lower level with seats of up to 6000 audiences as well as space for VIP rooms, dressing rooms, toilets, shops and in-house office facilities.

http://calatrava.com/projects/agora-ciudad-de-las-artes-y-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Sinful as this seems, we did not enter any of these structures. We were blocked from one or two undergoing repairs, and the higher-than-a-pyramid stairways mounting the sides of the science museum were closed (Darn?).

Instead, we skirted around and through the row of projects, soaking in their sculptural interactions with each other, the land, the cityscape and the sky.

What’s up top counts

Went to a reunion of the three sisters over the holidays in Plano. As we drove places, I rudely kept remarking about the amount of rooftops. The mountaintops of shingles jut over the high privacy fences abutting most thoroughfares, one after another, all looking the same and periodically punctuated by strip retail on corners that all look the same as well.

Roofing must be less expensive than masonry because it appears the second floors were mainly shingled surfaces. After the violent hailstorms this past year, I would think a company such as USAA would offer major insurance rate discounts for the reverse.

Perhaps the rooftops were so noticeable to me because new subdivisions lack mature trees to break up the sea of roofs. How in the world can Santa tell the houses apart?

My observations of this unwelcome repetition is not meant as a criticism of Plano. It applies equally to the unimaginative architecture in developments ringing all major cities and every growing community in Texas.

Of course, I certainly would not want to see our flat rooftop replicated throughout a neighborhood. We live in a loft reclaimed from a small inartistic factory, but it is tucked in the middle of a rooftop-rich neighborhood. I’m spoiled by the total lack of cookie-cutter uniformity in the King William Historic District.

I snapped a few photos the other morning of views you would see if privacy fences ringed these structures. Fortunately, the facades are not blocked by fences, but I wanted to focus on rooftops. With the pecans and oak trees standing naked, this is one of the few seasons you can see most of these. Retaining their leaves, live oaks conceal some rooflines. As much as I wanted to include treetops silhouetted against the blue sky, I decapitated most of the palms to concentrate on what is on top of the structures.

The diverse attention paid to the design of roofs and their underpinnings is not restricted to Victorian mansions; builders of modest cottages demonstrated elevated aesthetic concerns as well.

So sorry I did not pass by my favorite onion-top roof, but knew I already had taken way more photos than necessary to make my point. Neighborhoods are more interesting when attention is paid to individualizing architectural design, and adding jewels to the crowns of buildings makes a walkable neighborhood even more so.

Apologies to my sister in Plano for my rooftop criticism, but I’m totally spoiled. What’s up top matters a lot to both Santa and me.