“What to do with unloved public housing projects is a perennial source of controversy and debate. Those assertive, post-War concrete giants prompt apoplexy throughout much of middle England, with dynamite and wrecking balls often the preferred solution. In the final chapter of a new book, architect and historian Victoria Watson proposes an extraordinary use for the defining feature of a grim Italian estate – fill it with millions of robot beetles.”
Architecture, by virtue of what it is, involves moments of utopia; the architect has an idea, which she must work upon if she wants to express it in material form.
Utopian Adventure: the Corviale Void begins by looking at the projective drawing and speculative writing of early Modern architects Julian-David Le Roy and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The text then leaps to the late 20th century to focus upon a specific constellation of projects from the Italian discourse of the 1950s and 60s. One utopian product of this discourse actually materialised as urban form in the late 1970s, manifesting in the construction of an enormous, one kilometre long housing development in the suburbs of Rome and known as Corviale.
Alongside this narrative from within the History of Architecture, the text simultaneously develops the theme of the Air Grid. Essentially a colour form, Air Grid is pleasant to look at, even compelling, but what is especially interesting about it is that it opens the way for thinking about the interplay of sense and non-sense in human perception of form; in developing the Air Grid theme the text draws upon the ideas of Yves Klein, Gaston Bachelard and Arthur Schopenhauer.
The conclusion of the text draws the two strands of inquiry together in an Air Grid proposition for the void space that lies at the heart of the Corviale development.
‘A flight into the poetics of gossamer, the metaphysics of optics, and the most imaginative reaches of architectural thought, Victoria Watson’s book is indeed a utopian adventure, leading the reader on an exhilarating excursion into a project of late-modern Italian urbanism, on the wings of robot beetles.’ Joan Ockman, Columbia University, USA