A Call to Arms

Post World War II Italy found itself in a state of shambles. The combination of physical devastation and social severance presented a stage for significant cultural and reshaping. One facet of said reshaping came in the form of housing and urban planing. Together these two elements were forged to give a sense of place, community, and residence to some 350,000 Italian workers’ and their respective families. Providing for the weary citizens of the time was an intelligent and tangible step in the direction towards healing and reconciliation. The initiative to thank for this positive movement is known as the Ina-Casa Project.

A bit after midway through the semester our group learned about this effort and important layer of Italian history more by way of lecture and site visit. After experiencing both and gaining a fair amount of information I began to form my own opinion on the architectural and urban implications of these sites. For a number of reason, I eventually came to the conclusion that this post-war housing plan was pretty spectacular. In the States we hear about low income housing built in areas of cities in order to provide a better standard of living for the less fortunate, but I don’t think that any of those instances, especially not in recent time, could be considered architecturally significant. It is pretty amazing that the Ina-Casa Project believed that just because the houses being planned for construction were for the poor did not mean that they had to poor in concept, quality, or urban intent.  What’s more, the fact that the ICP took the time, effort, and initiative to insert thought and logic into each design, thus creating housing that not only promoted basic human values but also communicated a specific Roman identity in its form.

One of the many things architecture school, if not college in general, teaches a student is how to think to draw comparisons to each individuals specific geographical location and social upbringing/background. Because of this I tried to apply the success that I had seen from Ina-Casa to my home town, Norman. While Norman is not a particularly wealthy town it is not a particularly poor town either, and because of this variable and others it might seem like like a stretch to tie what I’ve learned back to the city. However, it does make me think of the Home Creations company that builds less-than-savory houses around town. Pre-college I worked a handful of home contracting jobs and became familiar with their reputation for quantity of quality and lack of architectural panache. I would like to know how much extra money and thought it would cost to make each Home Creation house/neighborhood more architecturally and culturally significant. Rather than just off-white siding and generic, cheap brick, find some alternative materials and create a variety of forms to create an identity.

The fact that the ICP allowed architects to design with craft, quality, and imagination is so telling of the difference in both time period and culture. I don’t feel like you would ever find such experiential intent behind the design of today’s suburbs. It’s all about time, money, and moving on to the next one. Perhaps this realization can be viewed as a challenge to accept for the future as my peers and I began the transition into the real world of architecture; a world where our designs don’t just affect our GPA but have a much more important social impact on both the micro and macro level.

Full Circle

Franco Albini was an Italian architect and designer in the mid 20th century known largely for his forward thinking furniture and interior design, as well as culturally responsive structures that are still today read as uncannily intelligent. Our class received a brief but thorough introduction to Albini via a guest lecturer, Professor Kay Bea Jones (Ohio State University) and some informative readings. In the midst of these things, in order to pair images with descriptions, I did a simple Google image search for Albini. The search yielded a selection of pictures that predominantly showed his furniture, which might lead one to believe that this is what the architect was most known for. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that said furniture is quite excellent. I’m no furnishings connoisseur but I do know a thing or two about architecture, and Albini’s tastes and attention to architectural detail is prevalent in all of his designs. Seemingly simple bookshelves look like suspension bridges, armchairs like scissor lifts, and staircases with lines only a true draftsman could conjure. Just looking at furniture alone, it’s clear to see Albini’s attention to craft was no joke.

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www.aboutitaliandesign.info/franco-albini.html
Moving along with my Albini image search, I came across his staircase in Palazzo Rosso. The images I riffled though rang true with the words from the readings, making obvious Albini’s ability to convert ideas and conceptual thoughts into tangible, physical things. The material choices, visible vertical lines created by structure, attractive angles, and overall structurally sensual composition all reenforced this. Judging only from a picture, it’s clear that Albini had a knack for presenting his conceptual ideas in the most excellent of ways.

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http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Albini_a_Palazzo_Rosso.JPG

Lastly, my search provided to me an image of the La Rinascente department store in Roma. Finding multiple views of the building were unnecessary in determining if the structure was in fact Albini’s. His design fingerprints were already visibly seen all over the structure from just one view. The push and pull with layers and the celebration of connections and materials tied this one found example of Albini’s architecture back to his furnishings and other design jaunts.

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http://www.archdaily.com/14522/refurbishing-the-60s-masterpieces-la-rinascente-and-corviale-rome/

After all of these things, the readings, image search, and the lecture, I started to wonder why Albini was not as well known worldwide as some other architects who looked to Albini for inspiration while still personally blooming as a designer. It seems that if one man had such an impact on multiple fields (architecture, furniture design, interior design) why was he not as well known as others like Louis Kahn or Frank Loyd Wright, who all worked roughly around the same time. It made me wonder if dabbling in a number of things rather than focusing all your energy into just one could be considered spreading yourself too thin as a designer. But those thoughts led me to think about the fact that Albini didn’t simply dabble, he was a master in all of his trades. This fact ruled out the possibility of him spreading himself too thin and that being the reason for his lack of notoriety.

Eventually I realized that all of my thinking was based on this idea of fame. Who ever said Albini wanted that? Is that what all famous architects of that time strove for? What generates fame? Does it matter? Why should it matter? Why am I asking myself so many questions? I know that my drive and motivation to get through architecture school has absolutely nothing to do with the hopes of eventually being an architectural rockstar that transcends the community and become world renown. With this I arrived at my conclusion: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why Albini was what he was. Who cares why he wasn’t what he wasn’t? I think Franco Albini was concerned with one thing, and that was to do what he loved to do everyday. He seemed to be an honest man who desired to what he loved for a living and his design positively impacted those around him. Forget about the fame, that is something I will use as motivation moving forward in my career.

Political Landscapes: Backdrop For The Rise Of Facism

To gain a better understanding of Italian Fascism in Rome it is beneficial to have had a crash course in the multifaceted definition of the term “political landscape.” Two articles help to draw parallels between this difficult term and the black eye of a country once in a crisis of identity. Author Adam T. Smith lays the groundwork for examination with his introduction section of The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities while Dr. Pilat’s “La Parola al Piccone” helps to deconstruct the concepts further by building upon that groundwork with an investigation of Mussolinis plan for a new type of Rome starting in the 1920’s.1  Together the writings work in tandem to cast light onto a seemingly dark and dubious time of this ancient country.

The introduction section in Smith’s The Political Landscape examines numerous applications for the term “political landscape.”  He starts with an example of political authority by noting a set of images reconstructed in the 1920’s to show the events that took place at the death pit of Queen Puabi of Ur in the mid-third millennium B.C., where the lives of both animals and humans were sacrificed as to usher their ruler into her afterlife. Additionally Smith uses Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair series to further demonstrate examples of societies realization of the power political bodies wield, noting the similarities between both subjects but highlighting the difference in authoritative omnipresence of Warhol’s modernist version.  The girth of Smith’s writing continue to break down the meaning of landscapes in political life, eventually reducing the term down to three absolutes which are further discussed later in the book.

Dr. Pilat’s La Parola al Piccone is a helpful guide through the time of Mussolini and his radicals and their oxymoronic rise to power. Using Smith as an occasional source, Dr. Pilat constructs a timeline for the regime that points out and contrasts the differences between political agenda and public perception. Giving tangible example of Smith’s writings, she calls attention to the way the Fascists seemingly used Rome and the destruction of its history as a political stage to perform, promoting their ideas worldwide with strategic imagery that manipulated and subdued the destruction of a city and its history, promoting instead ideals of civil progression and international clout. Transitioning from one urban design concept to another, by 1932 major demolition work was completed at the Imperial Fora (the site on many ancient Roman ruins), thus solidifying and advertising the Fascists’ assessment of their past and making their historical preferences evident.

It is easy to deem the authorities who have historically abused the shaping of landscapes as more or less fallen, but perhaps as Americans our bliss comes shrouded in ignorance. The political landscape can be manipulated in order to extract a specific response from us, the people, without us even being aware. Smith puts it well when he gives this example – “Indeed, in a pedestrian sense we might consider how each time a red light halts our progress, we are interpolated as subjects of a mechanized authority codified by the instrumentality of the political landscape.”

I can not help but compare the Fascists to the Communists in postwar east Berlin. While in Germany last summer I learned that during the postwar years Communists“renovated” existing German concentration camps from WWII to tailor a different story. Sites that once bore the scares of wounds felt worldwide were now sites as propaganda, projecting a distorted view of history onto those unfortunate enough to remain in the East. These are just two historic examples of regimes turning their once solid nation into a malleable tool for the benefit of a minority. The manipulation of our surroundings, both physically and politically, can transform land, people, history, and resources into a stage for ulterior motives. As seen in both instances and as both Smith’s and Pilat’s writing spotlight, authorities can influence our physical landscape to portray anything they want. The result in the forging a powerful instrument whose implementation as a tool or a weapon is left to be determined by those who wield it.

1. Adam T. Smith, “Introduction”  The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities (University of California Press, 2007). Stephanie Pilat  “La Parola al Piccone: Demonstrations of Fascism at the Imperial Fora and the Mausoleum of Augustus: in The Political Landscapes of Capitals, edited by Jessica Christie and Jelena Bogdanović (University of Colorado Press, forthcoming).

The Trastev-Way

Searching out concert times and venue locations has proved to be a more difficult task than I had originally imagined. Funny how not being able to read can really set you back. Simple google searches have turned into a hour long Italian lessons, pushing my iPhone’s translation app to its limits. What’s more, apparently living in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the World does not equate to incredible jazz clubs and smokey rock ‘n roll hole-in-the-walls around every corner. This truth was solidified this weekend in my biweekly hunt for audible excellence.

I’ll start my story with some honesty: First – we students are really pretty busy here in Rome. Fourteen credit hours is a girthy load in any country. Second – I am a world class procrastinator. This trip has furthered my suspicions that my slothful ways are not limited to or generated from longitude or latitude.

Now, with that being said, rewind to Thursday afternoon. The amount of loitering indicates that studio is drawing to a close. People are discussing weekend plans – where they are going, what they’ll be doing, how long they’re staying, and how it’s all probably a terrible idea because we have so much due and to do next week. Meanwhile I sit at my desk, riffling through pages and pages of internet, waiting for Caty to cast light upon my unpreparedness. From across the room she turns to me and out of my periphery I see that the jig is up. “Where are we going this weekend?” A simple enough question, but I had no real answer. I play it cool, “Oh, I figured we could just like, walk around, or something.” Smooth. My response buys me time, allowing me to continue on my web-based quest for entertainment for a few more hours. Friday night rolls around and, surprise, I’ve done nothing. My ploy to deceive had in fact become my Friday night plans.

As a handful of us gather at the corner down the street from my apartment I can feel that all eyes are on me. I am their leader. Their Italian/American Moses. Tasked with rescuing them from the repressive rule of homework and leading them through the urban desert to the promised land. Little did they know the 40 years of wandering would be included. I knew that there was a large portion of Trastevere (our neighborhood) that had yet to be explored. We generally stick to the main road on our trip to and from school, rarely venturing off the beaten path. But tonight, exploration was the name of the game. So (sans staff) we set off to the unknown regions of the north.

After ten minutes of walking we begin to see signs of nightlife. Laughter and music echo through the narrow streets as we blindly make our way towards the source. Eventually we’re engulfed by people. The streets and piazzas are crowded with locals and tourists alike, buying chocolate covered roasted nuts from street venders and watching a belly dancer get down to Flashdance’s She’s A Maniac while her crony used a stick and some rope to create bubbles as big as an 80’s hairdo. I pressed on, perusing each storefront in search of “musica dal vivo.” The sights and sounds of life were a breath of fresh air after being in my apartment all day. The feel and smell of the night was thick as we wove in and out of the crowds.

After forty fives minutes of this two members of my following informed me that it was time for them to turn back. Dustin and Erik had an early wake up call in the morning and could no longer take part in my excursion. I apologized to them for the lack of music they had experienced but they seemed not to mind one bit. As they departed something dawned on me, I had been so concerned with finding a venue for live music and getting good material to write about that I had lost sight of the larger, more important objective of the assignment. I am to write about entertainment in Rome, not just music. And while I had my nose to the ground, trying to sniff out any clue that would lead us to greatness, I had almost completely missed out on the entertainment that my whole group had been experiencing for the past hour. Friends, camaraderie, amazing city, culture, night life…THESE things are truly entertaining.

We did eventually make our way to a venue. We knew “Big Mama” was a staple in Roman clubs but we had avoided it in the past because of the high door charge. It was crowded and the drinks were over priced and worst of all we had apparently stumbled into a Bruce Springsteen tribute night. Ugh. But as I sat in the corner and faced the opposite direction of the stage (Yay.) I found myself feeling already entertained. The streets of Trastevere had provided an array of free amusement and I was satisfied. Aside from paying too much money to Big Mama, I walked home happy, knowing that my friends and I had had a good night but not because of anything I had planned. Entertainment is everywhere in Rome and the difficulty is not in finding it, but in realizing that it’s all around you.

– Nathan Harwell

Sooners in Harmony

A glimpse into our daily Italian class. Our professor, Claudia, has various methods to teach us the language while we’re here. On this day we were listening to Lucio Battisti’s “Penso A Te” and trying to pick out all the verbs we could. Needless to say, we got into it.

Walkin’ Blues, Sonic Gold

Over the weekend the Sooners in Rome briefly became the Sooners in Florence, spending four days and three nights studying the ways of Renaissance greats, skirting up and along the circumference of an architectural/engineering marvel, and buying clothes that can be filed under the “fabulous” tab in both the price and looks category (I am now distinguished by a new sweater that makes me recognizable in any crowd). While all of this is swell, my blog job, blob, is to write about the cultural happenings that Caty and I think might be of interest to you, the reader. This week we thought it would be good to share with you a free source of historic entertainment that comes in the form of Gregorian chant.

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I can’t NOT see a baby chicken with a hat on when I look at this building.

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South of the heart of the city and the Arno river, resting atop the Monte hill, the abbey of San Miniato looks out across the endless sea of terracotta that is Florence. Open free to the public daily, visitors can wander the church with little restrictions and enjoy the Romanesque styling of the beautiful marble interior and vast vertical expanses capped by a highly ornate wooden roof structure. In the early evening after a brief mass, the monks assemble themselves in the sub regions of the church and began their celebratory Gregorian chants, filling the large resonating volume of the church with the full gamut of vocal timbre. The twenty minute chant was concluded with the ringing of the church’s bells.

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It was amazing to finally hear a space of that kind working to its maker’s design. I can’t count the number of naves and aisles I’ve strolled through, being able to only imagine how it would respond sonically. Making things more acoustically interesting, the chanting also took place within the lower, subset region at the back of the church (the crypt). During the chant I walked around a bit to hear how my perception of sound changed with position, ultimately leading me to a ledge one level above the singing, closer to the middle of the church. It’s from this spot that I sat, sketched, listened, and recorded.

Here’s a crookedly drawn sketch to help visualize:

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It was a lot of fun to just sit. Partly because I had been walking all day and my feet felt like they might have been reduced to nubs in my boots, but mainly because of the chants. The sound filled the space all around me in a way no set of speakers or headphones could ever do. It was warm, it was calming, it was a perfect way to spend my last evening in Florence.

If you are ever in the area, put the monks of San Miniato on your “To Listen To” list. The hike, the view, the church…everything is completely worth your time, even though your legs might say otherwise.

Here’s an edited clip of the recording:

Attenzione, per favore!

Ciao, y’all.

In a recent post pertaining to a concert performed by local band “Mistake,” I completely botched both the band and lead singer’s name. My B’.

Fortunately, said singer found our blog and kindly posted the correct info in the comments!

So, to set the record straight:

Band name – Mis(S)Take
Singer’s name – Alessia
Website – https://www.facebook.com/pages/MisSTake/250803711625407?ref=hl

The act of supporting quality local music is not limited to geography. Check them out! I found at least one song posted on their page! Give them a “Like” and let them know what you think!

Being in a band myself (insert shameless plug here –> http://www.facebook.com/ivymikerock), I know how much of a morale boost a like or two can be.

So, for real, check them out…and if you feel like it, my band as well.

-Nathan

Honest Mistake

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It’s becoming apparent that the journey to find live music in Rome is a short one. The high density of life and culture offers exciting sights and sounds with every turn, echoing nightly an almost audible buzz throughout the cobble stone streets. Saturday night Caty and I, along with a handful of fellow Sooners, took a brisk jaunt north up Viale di Trastevere to the Lettere Caffe. Known throughout the week for their local art exhibitions, small library, book readings, and slam poetry events, on the weekends Lettere turns into a standing-room-only venue for local musicians of all genres. I had done a light google search pre-jaunt to verify the venue location and to get the skinny on the evenings entertainment, so after we snaked our way to the back of the room, took our seats, and ordered our respective beverages, we comfortably sat under a red neon glow and waited for the band voxX to take the stage.

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One beer later – for some reason it had come as a surprise to me that the band was running late. The web site said 22:00, the waitress said 22:30, but my clock said 22:45.

“Oh yeah, we’re in Italy. A world where there is no translation for the word ‘schedule’.”

Fortunately we were having fun waiting, sipping our drinks, and watching the locals stare at us. After the place had really begun to fill up, a commotion near the stage caught my attention. Band members emerged from the crowd to take up their instruments, an acoustic guitar and upright bass, while the drummer sat atop his cajon. Then, to our surprise, a young red headed gal clad in 1940’s pin-girl style took her place front and center behind a microphone that looked to come from the same era as her garb. This was not voxX. We had no idea who this was.

“Wait, whaaat?” “What’s going on? This isn’t right!” “Oh. Right. Still in Italy.”

Within seconds of the first song I looked over to Caty and she mouthed to me “This. Is. Awesome!” Once again, the rigid Americans had successfully stumbled into greatness. Like so many times before, the mild frustrations with Italy not being America had proven to be better than we could have imagined. Kind of like Gandalf The Grey – Italians are never late, nor are they early. They arrive precisely when they mean to.

The group continued to impress with their broad sound. The dynamic flexibility of the band provided a great foundation for the singer to build on. She easily ramped up and down with both melody and energy, adding an impressive richness and dimension to each song. The group performed an array of tunes that varied in tempo and time signature, which always makes for a more intriguing performance. The set was comprised of a nice blend of covers and what I assume to be originals. Early on we heard an excellent rendition of Blondie’s Heart Of Glass, as well as the Massive Attack song (known widely as the House theme song) Teardrop. It’s always refreshing to hear a band put their own spin on a well known tune and have it work, and these guys continually nailed it. The fun, lighthearted, acoustic tones were at the perfect volume. One could easily focus on the performance and hear the intricacies of each instrument, or turn to their group and have conversation with their friends.

To close out the set the band performed Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over. The intro of the song seemed to be extended due to some confusion on the singer’s part. It looked like maybe she was trying to find the lyrics in her folder but was having trouble locating them. Her eventual decision to wing it was a good one, seeing that she totally killed it. She had little to no trouble hitting the highs and performed a seemingly difficult song without a hitch. The final applause was warm and accepting and carried on as the band began to vacate the stage. Seeing multiple Italians struggle to carry an upright bass over their heads through the crowded room and out the door was equally as entertaining as the performance itself. The band voxX proceeded to set up and begin performing, but we had heard enough within the first minute or two. It was clear at that point that the mystery band had stolen the show and our assignment to find quality entertainment was complete.

As Caty finished paying (thanks for that, btw) we began to make out way out. Fortunately between us and the door stood the plaid-dress-wearing singer from the first act. I awkwardly asked her if we could take a picture with her and if we could get her name. We were successful with the picture but I failed with her name, immediately forgetting after I shook her hand. Classic. Caty later informed me that it was Alicia. Got ’em! I did, however, remember the name of her group. In an almost poetic conclusion to our night, we were informed that her band’s name was Mistake. A name ripe with irony given our experience leading up to that moment. She was kind and sweet and graciously met us on our linguistically challenged level. From the conversation we also learned that this was Mistake’s first time at the Lettere, and from what I gathered, one of their first shows inside of Rome. I gave her my e-mail address (again, awkwardly) and asked her to let me know the next time they were in the area. We walked home filled with a sense of victory after our first true hunt for entertainment yielded success. And as I mulled over the night’s events, I think I slowly began to understand the true beauty of the old adage “When in Rome.”

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P.S. Alicia, if you’re reading this, and if that is actually your name, sorry for my terrible memory. I tried to find information on your band online but was unable to find anything! Feel free to post a link to your site in the comments of this blog! Caty and I would love to know more!

P.P.S. Holla holla to my main man, Minh Tran…my main Minh…for the pictures and for joining us!

I came, I saw, I blogged.

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Nathan Harwell here, gearing up to provide you a weekly dose of envy as Miss Townsend and I tender to you all the amazing entertainment of Rome that you more than likely wont get to experience yourself. : (

But envy not, my amici. As Caty and I walk the entertainment beat of Roma, we will find, record, and blog in such a way that you’ll feel the pulse of the city’s cultural heartbeat right through your web device. The force of our prowess will knock your slippers off and activate the recline feature on your La-Z-Boy. The sheer girth of each and every post will take you on a journalistic journey and leave you feeling as though it were you experiencing the greatest trip of your life.

Live vicariously through us every Sunday as we post the latest happs of this rich and vibrant city.