International magazine of architecture and project design march/april 2017

Small works
Having often alternated between large and small projects over the last few years, we have become convinced that the size of the project tends not to matter in terms of the disciplinary thought and effort it requires, and above all in terms of its outcome and success, that is, ultimately, its worth. In fact, small works that force us to grapple with size constraints introduce a level and type of complexity and difficulty that rarely exists in larger projects. In terms of architectural theory we have often attempted to investigate the theme of small-scale design. We have devoted, over the years, several issues of this magazine (see Area 98 titled “Small works”) in a quest to define the specific qualities that architecture must achieve in constrained environments. Without pretending to put together any sort of manifesto, we can convincingly argue that architecture, as a practical art, must measure itself against three scales: the human scale, the urban scale, and the scale of the landscape. Taking these systems to their extreme, we substantially end up with only two scales, because the fundamental value of the urban scale becomes apparent when the city, to use a term that has fallen into disuse, demonstrates its “adaptability” to the human scale. Therefore, if we focus, in our work as architects, on quality of life and hence on the activity of living, the only useful scale becomes the human scale. All the rest belongs to the landscape, be it urban or natural. Without troubling the well-known architectural investigations that characterized the beginning of the last century, with particular reference to the ideas of Le Corbusier, we can assert that the human body, the tasks it executes, and the tasks that are executed around it, constitute, or at least should constitute, the center of all of our design research. Looking at them from this point of view, small projects can become both exemplary and
illuminating.Their very essentiality puts them squarely in the center of interest of the architect’s work. In other words, the smaller the scale, the more skills or qualities emerge without any possibility of misunderstanding. As a form of expression, architecture, as art, enhances the performance of human activities. Paradoxically, when this is not the case, the project is not art, and thus it is not architecture. We must conclude at this point, despite the brevity of this discussion, that a didactic and quasi-divine value must be accorded to this design dimension, a value that is sometimes inversely proportional to the scale of the work. As can be seen on the following pages, there is much to be learned from the microcosm of small works that often characterizes the early phases of an architect’s career. Unfortunately, the freshness of content and ideas demonstrated by these early works is sometimes lost as the years go by and the square meters increase.

Marco Casamonti

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