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Architecture, a shared language

Radu Tîrcă

A great deal of thought could be given to describing the subtleness of the work of Tony Fretton and Jonathan Sergison. I soon realised that my thoughts about these two professionals could not take the form of a flowing text, but rather a sequence of fragments (Note 1, Note 2, Note 3) about personal experience around their work. Thus, I might have a chance to piece together the way I see the plurality of their professional activity - from the complexity of the world in which built architecture is produced, to the world in which the idea of architecture emerges, all related to the act of teaching that feeds both.

Considering their contribution to the architectural ground, I think that a great number of recurring themes can be assessed. Each is present in their writings, teaching and design approaches. From a general but sensitive issue such as facing the European city, from the issue of housing to public spaces and buildings, they all take into account the notion of scale, the pressure of density, evolving typologies and sustainability in the sense of finding and reusing. And perhaps, the central point of all, or at least the most appealing, seems to be the relationship between heritage and reuse in contemporary cities.

The curatorial thought for this Mazzocchioo was an attemp to address these issues, seeking a glimpse of debate. I'm grateful to MZCH editorial team for the invitation to develop deeper discussions based on our guests' contributions, especially as my thoughts about architecture have passed through their sieve since my student days. And with the mind of a 3rd year student, I recognise that this is a dream come true. On that note, I would like to thank Jonathan Sergison and Tony Fretton.


Fragment of 3rd year design studio study: the central room
(2015 - students Radu and Ștefania Tîrcă)


The powerful presence of a central room in a historical reference
Oprea Soare Villa, Bucharest, 1914,
architect Petre Antonescu

The beauty of a plan

The depth of it

The clarity and the robustness of a facade

The strong presence of their context

The layout of public space as common ground of negotiations

The critical acceptance of the historical references

The importance of heritage in relation to reuse and the thoughtful way in which architects and urban planners imagined the european city

The short enumeration above underlines for me, as a young practitioner and researcher, that some notions, ideas and concepts will never lose their strength and relevance. On the contrary. Such themes are also addressed by the main guests of this issue: Jonathan Sergison and Tony Fretton.

My first encounter with the works of Sergison Bates was in 2014-2015. As a student, working on what seemed to be a very cryptical and complex design studio theme, I think it always will be, - inserting collective housing in a specific low-rise historical fabric of Bucharest. The questions I asked myself led me constantly to repetitive moments of crisis whenever I tried to outline a clear idea: "How do I operate in the already constituted equilibrium of the historical fabric?", "How can historical reference be interpreted in order to contribute to the project?”, "How could anything which implied a large-scale intervention be inserted into a particular fabric with a strong identity?" "Could historical reference, in a more specific sense, constitute a valid instrument for an architectural process?" and then "How could I apply it?". I enjoyed the task and somehow sensed a lot of of problems might emerge in such a context. I was seeking for something beyond conventional urban analysis, but I wasn’t able to name it. I was trying to figure out how all the values I admired at last centuries built spaces could be continued in nowadays architecture. It was an intense searching and exploration for an answer.

I came across Sergison Bates' lectures, and I think it was “On continuity”, which unfolded for me a new way of looking at things. I discovered the world of Tony Fretton, Florian Beigel, Caruso St John, Mark Pimlott, Vittorio Lapugnani, Miroslav Sik, along the works of Luigi Caccia Do18
minioni, Asnago Vender, Fernand Pouillon and so on. The long nights of reading and listening to recorded lectures taught me that historical reference can critically produce never ending possibilities and that working with historical context requires an ongoing process of introspection and interrogation, that is beside hard work.

Their architecture, writing and teaching remained a sanitary line for me. I immediately resonated with the mode of problematization on approaching the city and its heritage. From that moment onwards, I have sought out all the information and publications about their work, followed the ongoing activities at their architectural design studios (at Accademia di Mendrisio, ETH Zurich) and constantly enlarged the understanding upon their work.

Even from afar, I became close to a new kind of idiom (doctrine) regarding the architectural thought, that I wanted to be part of. I felt that there was a second school to which I could try to respond with my studio works. And I guided myself in that direction ever since.

I believe that the following text could anticipate and address the specificity and atmosphere of current architectural and urban concerns, to which architects such as Tony Fretton and Jonathan Sergision provide powerful and contextual responses. It is quoted from Bryony Roberts’ text of Tabula plena. As soon as I read it, I found it straightforward and meaningful for this kind of mindset, where architecture should be about measure and discretion in continuity with urban traditions.


The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History,
independent filmmaker Chad Friedrichs


Corso V. Emanuele, Napoli, photography of Thomas Struth

A familiar term in both architecture and urbanism, tabula rasa evokes not only its ethimological origins in ancient wax tablets melted clean, but also more recently the clearing of urban sites for late modernist urban renewal. In contrast, tabula plena connotes urban sites full of existing buildings from different time periods. The phrase literally means a full tablet; a space where a density of previous markings remains.
Nowadays, strategies for responding to tabula plena conditions are becoming increasingly urgent. The accumulation of existing building stock and the importance of sustainability have intensified the need for reuse and preservation projects. What is needed - in discourse, education and practice - is an exploration of the architectural and political ramifications of transforming sites dense with existing structures. While earlier discourses on preservation and contextualism provide important reference points, they fall short of offering guidance for modifying contemporary urban sites. Despite the long history of altering existing structures around the world, the current discourse focuses on notions as protection and transformation of urban structures.

How could we respond to them, not taking into account the process of tabula rasa? Dealing with the existing seems to be at the heart of problems in architecture and urbanism today more than any other time.

An inspiring example is Professor Jonathan Sergison's work, not only at the Mendrisio Academy design studio, but also at the Institute of Urban and Landscape Studies (ISUP). In my opinion, multidirectional activities are an appropriate manner in which professionals should be addressing the current circumstances and the main issues i.e. heritage and urban strategies.

I am particularly fascinated with how different approaches, from the architecture school to the practice itself, transfer the process of analysing, understanding and interpreting the city as a central theme. It's a process that doesn't overlook any scale, be it territory, landscape or the intimacy of a single room. Complicated as it may seem, they seem to have found a valid way to comprehend the tools for establishing a common framework.

Is reference a way to legitimize an architect's work?


Specificity versus ordinariness
Badia Fiesolana, San Domenico

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