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Can beauty be objective?

Palestra di Losone, 1995-1997, Livio Vacchini, Marco Azzola

D a n   M a r i n 

We arrived at Livio Vacchini's studio - a small group of students and assistants from EPFL. It was April 1993. He sat at the work table, focused on some drawings - several sheets of paper each printed with a rectangular interrupted contour, an constant rhythm of small, black rectangles and free spaces: it was the plan of the Palestra di Losone, actually of its punctual structure, with various takes, possibilities of the bay’s dimension; at play was the relationship between the void and the built. He displayed all the drawings and asked us what we think of them.


We were taken by surprise and we had been trying to evaluate the imperceptible, the almost  indistinguishable variations of proportions, we remained, for a few seconds, speechless. Enough though for him to gather away all his drawings, perhaps disappointed by our silence.


-I see... you don't like it.


The important part wasn't the choice of one of the alternatives - the differences between them were too subtle to give a prompt answer; essential was the fundamental will they expressed – an indepth exploration of the form in which the theme of its structure and its optical-space effects intersect with a classical ideal, beyond history, centered on tectonic veracity, on clarity and harmonic order.

Starting with the idea of the ambiguity of the structure - serial support or perforated wall - Vacchini's research was placed in a dual and complementary horizon: as he affirmed, the work on proportions was not only about the sensitive quality but also on the intellectual purity of the form.


Vacchini hadn't been looking for ”the beautiful” form itself, but the absolute form of an idea.


In the classical tradition, architecture was considered an art of construction, defined by the Vitruvian Triad and by an ideal of perfection derived from Plato's cosmogony. Modernity, in its successive phases, abolished this unifying and symbolic vision and relativised Beauty by deforming it ideologically or displacing it to the area of individual projection.


Beauty is both subjective and objective. It is subjective because, although the mechanisms of visual perception are invariable, the interpretation of the result differs: the perceptive comfort, "the good", is not the same for all. At the same time, the beautiful is objective because it is related to "the truth", the correspondence between idea and form, between the internal principle and its visible expression. And, as long as the architecture can affirm its disciplinary identity - and implicitly, its autonomy - the references of the two plans, conceptualization and formalization, can not be found in the subject itself and in the urgency of the moment, but beyond them ...

Dan Marin is a Romanian architect, based in Bucharest, currently teaching architectural design at UAUIM (Bucharest). He is also member of the Built Heritage commission in Bucharest and of the Urban Technical commission of the City Hall Bucharest. Among his realizations, stands the extension and rehabilitation of the Paucescu house (initially the headquarters of the Union of Architects in Romania), together with Zeno Bogdanescu, in 2002.

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