Shane Reiner-Roth

Archive for October 2010

Bernini, Borromini, and the Foundation of Opposition

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“…In reality the crisis of architectural culture, which was coming to a head during the 1620’s, consisted in the collapse of the objective criteria of choice typical of recent tradition…[yet] the outcome of this crisis was not the formation of a new, common repertoire, as an alternative to the previous one, but the start of a debate for an indefinite period.”[1]

-Leonado Benevolo

Even without reference to their shared, unique historical setting, the conceptual strategies that both Bernini and Borromini pursued alone are ripe for comparative debate. But when one considers their backdrop, that being the Post-Renaissance, architecturally pluralist climate, the gravity of the debate becomes much more clear. Considering that the current architectural climate favors idiosyncrasy and that which inspires opposition, it is with this predilection that I will judge the two. Therefore, the question for me becomes: which of the two architects was more detached from the singularly-minded Renaissance, and which one developed more from this estrangement?

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

“Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”

-Le Corbusier

In Bernini’s work, we see experimentation (and flawless execution, as seen in his use of light of the side chapels in the Sant’Andrea Al Quirinale), but we also see, as David Erdman writes, “a historical prelude to the pursuit of affect in architecture today.”[2] This pursuit requires the knowledge and mastery of the elements which predicate both the elements outside of the building’s limits and the coherent form of the building itself. In much of Bernini’s architecture, this aspiration lead to a break from ideal symmetry, geometry, and, what had been the goal of all Renaissance theory: visual ekphrasis. ­However, his background as a set designer reveals a neurosis not dissimilar from that of the stringent Renaissance standards preceding his. In this light, Bernini’s most celebrated accomplishments appear only as advancements to the school of Renaissance thought rather than references to its demise in place of another.

Francesco Borromini

“And if you think of Brick, for instance,

and you say to Brick,

‘What do you want Brick?’

And Brick says to you

‘I like an Arch.’

And if you say to Brick

‘Look, arches are expensive,

and I can use a concrete lentil over you.

What do you think of that?’


Brick says:

‘… I like an Arch’”

-Louis Kahn

Where we saw a set of coherent and unifying rules in Bernini’s architecture, in Borromini’s work we recognize a leniency and a preference towards forms and applications of ornament which had not yet previously been seen and could most politely at the time be called “experimental” (the façade of the Oratorio dei Filipini, beyond its deceitful architectonics, is jarringly asymmetrical, in keeping with the site and desired processional strategy). As Leland Roth wrote, “he manipulated space and the traditional Classical orders far more sculpturally than did Bernini.” Borromini’s work, in his own time, was received with little recognition and general opposition. By creating his own unique strategy of “bas[ing] the entire composition, both plan and in section…on a complex union of the symbolic equilagteral triangle and also on multiples of circles and ovals,”[3] his work got the immediate attention of visitors to Rome, and many even considered it incomparable in terms of “artistic merit,”[4] a common trait of the contemporary confrontationalist.

In reverence of a contemporary architectural preference, it is clear that while Borromini follows fewer rules and indeed produces stranger, much more idiosyncratic results, his work sparked what one could consider the first architectural visit, not based on respect of his times current state of architectural affairs, but his own in a confident and adamant opposition.


[1] Benevolo, Leonardo. Renaissance Architecture, pg. 320

[2] Erdman, David, Glow(ing), Log 17, pg. 50

[3] Roth, Leland. Understanding Architecture. 2007, pg. 411

[4] Ibid

Written by differance

October 27, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Posted in architecture

The Architecture of Alternatives

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“A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent?…This is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing.”

-Søren Kierkegaard

We have seen in enough interior design magazines that rooms are introverted in their malleability: in a room, one can put any type of furniture (or no furniture at all), create any flow of circulation, and partake of any sort of function. While the plurality of options possible for one room is nothing to shake a stick at, the transition between is certainly singular. Circulation is established in a building as though it is the ultimate and most logical solution. While they generally do often construct an elegant or efficient circulation strategy, there are, of course, potential alternatives.

A solution to this problem has already been published by Cedric Price with his proposal, the Fun Palace. In his proposal, the participant is given the abilioty and indeed the authority to alter the transitional spaces any way he pleases. While I intend a construct in the same spirit as that of Price’s, my proposal is in formal opposition to his, in part because dynamism is rarely an efficient of buildable solution, but more importantly because people really do look for authoritative guidance, and they naturally get frustrated with a forest without a path. Therefore, my proposal can generally be described as the static alternative aside.

Since individual spaces are self-structural, their consideration can generally be acknowledged. But transitions can be awkward, and their singular physicalities can alone be burdensome (if not the scene of social anxiety). Alternative spaces purely dedicated to the absolution of this fixedness would illustrate Kierkegaard’s admiration for choice.  I believe that choice can only be perceived if the options can be put alongside one another (static), as opposed to something presents each option within the same space sequentially (dynamic). It is for this reason that I would present each choice unobstructed and unchanging. While the main, most visually present option might still be most frequently chosen, the recognition of one’s alternative is, at the very least, a veneration of Kierkegaard’s reflection on choice, as well as a long-forgotten human necessity.


Written by differance

October 2, 2010 at 5:24 AM