Monday, June 8, 2009

Architecture and Macaroni

Architects, never eat your maccheroni without a proper sauce!

A gentle manifesto in two stages expanding a macaronic and alchemic meditation on the anti-Cartesian nature of architectural imagination

By Marco Frascari

Sed prius altorium vestrum chiamare bisognat, o macaronaeam Musae quae funditis artem.
Teofilo Folengo, Baldus 1:5-6

"You are what you eat." American proverb

When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gatherings, no social harmony. --Maire-Antoine Careme

Life is a combination of magic and pasta. --Federico Fellini

The sensual nature of architectural imagination

It is common knowledge that Monsieur Descartes did not accept as true what his senses communicated to his mind since he had a total mistrust in sensorial information. Nevertheless, when sitting at his dinner table, being a good Frenchman, he had to make up his mind about his cook's gastronomic efforts. Thus, during his breakfast, Monsieur Descartes had to put aside his philosophical thinking. He considered the Trencher Bread and the omelet he was eating by a sensorial assessment resulting from the savoring of the meal carefully prepared for him. Monsieur Descartes knew that good cooks prepare food anticipating the multiple sensorial effects and causes of the meal by cooking for a combination of different sensory phenomena and evaluations. Listening to the sizzling and cracking of fats, paying attention to the fizzing, murmuring, and gurgling of cold and hot liquids and monitoring the change in color shade during browning, glazing and clarifying are the resource for cooks to make decisions conjecturing the final taste and effect of their work.

In all probability, on a daily basis, Monsieur Descartes, was facing a dilemma, the products of the process of cooking, a process that could be easily recognized as a rational activity as described in recipes and cookbooks, were always subjected to the irrational judgments of a mingling of sensory activities taking place before, during, and after each meal. His solution to this contradiction was the creation of a cloven world: on the one hand, there is the trustable mental reality of res cogitans and on the other hand the dreamlike physical reality of res extensa. Res cogitans cannot be eaten, but res extensa can be discerningly prepared, appreciated, and assimilated. Consequently, Monsieur Descartes, who indeed was a very intelligent individual, hired and fired his chef of cuisine on the finding generated by an appreciation and estimation of res extensa as embodied in the dish presented on the table rather than on the arid logic of the res cogitans computed and explicated in cooking instructions and formulas. He knew the two domains intertwine on a laid table and his cautious philosophy could not be practiced at repast time.

The world of senses begins in the periphery of our bodies and moves to inner and higher levels of perception and from there, in analogical manner, senses rule the way we wittily act in our world. The individuals working in the subject of Artificial Intelligence are aware of this weird and wonderful contradiction of the Cartesian cloven world. They know that is easier to develop a computer processing system that can easily substitute for engineers, lawyers, and physicians, but it is an impossible task, plainly a Sisyphean effort, to develop systems able to substitute for draftspersons, cooks, gardeners, and architects. In other words, since the act of transformation of drawing-stuff into drawings mirrors the transformation of architectural-stuff into architecture and both are analogous to the transformation of foodstuff into food, they can be considered as events based on the non-rational sensorial procedures ruling the human orders of res extensa.

The uneasy cloven arrangement governing the correlation between res cogitans and res extensa was the supporting subject of a reoccurring debate taking place between Professore Carlo Scarpa and the court of his assistants at a table of the Trattoria del Gaffaro.(1) This was a restaurant not far away from the IUAV (istituto universitario architettura venezia) at the Tolentini in Venice, where, during the days devoted to the review of student work for Scarpa's design courses, the Professore and his assistants enjoyed their lunch.(2) During the meal, the never missed opportunity for a discussion delving into the problems of a view of architecture as a cloven world bounded by design and construction was generated by some comment or recollection caused by the tasting or the making of the dish selected for that day for everybody by the Professore. The ensuing move was always a reconstruction of an aphorism coined by the French architect Auguste Perret. (3) Nobody could ever remember it exactly; it was always necessary to launch a laborious process of reconstruction of the original lines of the aphorism by reminiscence and reasoning. The rebuilding of the phrase turned up something sounding like: "You can become an engineer, but you are born architect." The main step in the reconstruction was the recalling that Perreti's aphorism was an acknowledged paraphrase of another well-known adage coined by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French Politician. Brillat-Savarin's adage states: "you can become a cook but you are born a rostissier" (a chef specialized in roasting meat) and it was published in his collection of gastronomical ruminations, titled Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, written at the end of the first quarter of the19th century.(4)

Having reached the restatement of the two aphorisms, Scarpa's discussion with his assistants lingered in a distillation of the idea embodied in the aphorisms. The wrapping up was a condemning of the reliance of cook-engineers on formulas and recipes belonging to the dry disciplined realm of the res cogitans. In contrast, rostissier-architects were eulogized because their design-way of thinking based on the sensuous surrounding of crucial procedures for recognizing when a piece of meat is properly cooked or a building has been properly conceived was becoming altogether too rare.

Scarpa's and his cohort's debate attacks the foundations of an artificially transcendental and an impossible unbiased objectivity within a construction of a continual teleological pursuit for subjectivity. They have summoned by their dealing with the res extensa unto themselves the entire spectrum of personal experiences of the empirical self based on humor, including the comic ridiculousness derived from the bathetic collision of high and low registers. During dessert, a conclusion was reached by stating that architects who cannot be aware of the sensual and transcendental relationship between gastronomic provisions and gourmet food consumption cannot value and be aware of the quintessential sensual and rational correlations which characterizes the undisciplined discipline of architecture. Non-gourmet architects would never be sympathetic to the Epicurean and non-Cartesian connection existing between the arts of living and eating well with the arts of cooking and building well. Destabilizing the false sublimity of objective finitude within the framework of a continual teleological quest for subjective infinity Scarpa and assistants were natural macaronic thinkers jovially eating maccheroni saltati in padella and mercurially utilizing the tripartite nature of the macaronic art to develop a palatable theory of architecture. They were practicing a labor of macaronic ostention implying what they meant by ''x'' by saying "x'' when pointing to 'n' ingredients, and "not x" when pointing to 'm' ingredients.(5)

Presupposing a simultaneous and ostensive comprehension of three ingredients: Virgilian Latin, Italian cultivated literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and Lower-Po Valley dialect of everyday life, macaronic ostention was and is an intellectual practice creating an extraordinary way of thinking.(6) Scarpa and his assistants playing between Italian, Venetian dialect, and architectural theory were following it not only as a technique for a pleasant conversation, but also as a way of reflecting on the makeup of architecture since the macaronic thinker's task is a vigilant identification and extirpation of fraud into the bowels of thought.

Dismissal of food as a proper subject for architectural theory is well rooted in the history of thought. Ben Jonson, a play writer who earnestly disliked architects, used the power of this analogy, in one of his Masques, to craftily criticize passionate belief in the cultural predominance of architects of one of England's first great architects Inigo Jones1573-1652. In the Masques (1624) Jonson satirically describes a master-builder as a preposterous master-cook.(7) Food, food preparation, and the desire that drives them have been thought to be too caught up in the low corporality to be of any intellectual interest. Locating taste, touch and smell below sight and hearing is part of a pattern of dichotomies that includes the ruling of mind over body; of reason over sense; of man over beast and culture over nature. It also lines up with another pair of concepts the authority of male over female and with 'masculine' persona over the 'feminine'.

The problem with this denigration of the physical is not simply that the fundamental relationship bonding food and eating with architecture and living fail to get the attention that it deserves; rather it is that architecture itself goes astray. Detached from their bodies, many theoreticians of architecture have become a class of remote thinkers who can only speak to each other, preoccupied with extraordinary problems that have no relevance to the infraordinary of life. By contrast, stomach-affirming architects pay more attention to ordinary experiences and seek to articulate built environments devoted to artful living. Stomachs based designs do not waste time with universals. They begin with inherited cultural wisdom that they seek to further. Bodies and stomachs immerse us in the world, engage us in all sorts of interactions, and blur rigid boundaries between our surroundings and ourselves.

To further understand the nature of macaronic thinking in architecture, a crucial corollary to append to the fundamental analogy between cooking and designing elaborated by Scarpa and his entourage is that, in traveling to see architecture in other places outside of their own region, architects cannot visit buildings without tasting local dishes and wines. If Kenneth Frampton is correct, in advocating critical regionalism in architecture, a supreme circumstance for architects to develop such intelligence is to understand fully the relationship between regional foods and regional buildings. Eating a hamburger in front of Leon Battista Alberti's Sant Andrea in Mantua precludes the grow this quintessential intelligence. They are experiencing the wrong synesthesia.(8) In front of such an architecturally rich edifice, architects or future architects who would like to increase their appreciation of the power of res extensa in architecture should have a dish of homemade tagliatelle al sugo.(9) Having had such a delectable dish, only then can they fully appreciate the concinnitas controlling Alberti's masterpiece, because now they finally have their "eyes in the belly," the proper eyes to understand the makeup of res extensa.(10)

The notion of concinnitas is one of the most powerful concepts elaborated by Alberti in his treatise on the art of cooking -sorry -building. Concinnitas is a powerful tool that architects have for bringing the sensual power of the res estensa within the re aedificatoria. Concinnitas usually has been limited to the realm of res cogitans, in particular by some scholars' they cannot help it: euphemistically speaking, they probably live in a country where the local cuisine is not very savory. These researchers have not yet discovered that Alberti, in transferring the concept of concinnitas to architecture, has carried on with it the ontological essence of its Latin etymological origin. Concinnitas is a quality embodied in the harmony of taste that results in a properly cooked dish in which the different components are carefully calibrated.(11) In his treatise, in defying the power of this architectural quality, Alberti states that concinnitas is ì vim et quasi succumî (energy and roughly a sauce). Concinnitas is the sauce in the tagliatelle al sugo. Plain cooked pasta is in itself a meaningless gluey construct; it always needs a good sauce (succum) to put on the force necessary to enter the realm of the sensuous where architecture and cuisine are at their best.

When in Venice, a traveling architect should not fail to visit Scarpa's Olivetti Store, in Saint Mark's Square, and he or she should not miss the occasion of tasting the riso col nero de sepa (a rice dish where the sauce is prepared with squid ink) resulting from the combination of sepe in tecia (sauté squids) with risotto alla parmigiana. The critical synesthetic imagination, the magic beyond the harmonic resolution of adding the squid ink to the rice, is the same by which Scarpa selected to replace the little stones cast in a mortar paste of the classical Venetian terrazzo floor of the shop with monochromatic murrine. Murrine are sliced pieces of candle-layered Murano-glass used to make the internal ornamentation of millefiori glass-paperweights.

Culinary and architectural materialities are not (and were never) sub-disciplines. Architects' and cooks' critical concerns aim at the concinnitas of matter(s), i.e., they focus on material substances or material beings and their transformations and transubstantiations. In cooking and designing, vital differences exist between what food and buildings are in themselves (their substance) and the perceptible qualities or characteristics (their accidents). The food and building substances underlie all their visible, tangible, measurable qualities. However these substances are in themselves not evident, materially quantifiable, or measurable because they have no extension in space. The appearances of the cuisine and architecture include all those outward characteristics that can be perceived by the senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. They are referred to as "accidents," not to be confused with the common meaning of that word. For Aristotle things naturally fall into ten categories. They are one Substance, and nine Accidents: Quantity, Quality, Relation, Action, Passion, Time, Place, Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and Habituation. Architects and cooks through devising construction and cookery make something out of unrelated ingredients. In other words, they are capable of converting what already exists into something that it was not before. They perform a metabolic transubstantiation: foodstuffs and building materials are metabolized into the substances of cuisine and architecture and the "accidents" of the materials and stuff of construction and cooking transmogrify by formal and sensuous blends.(12) On the one hand, three basic types of accidental rules control these transmogrifications. They are alteration (change with respect to quality), augmentation and diminution (change with respect to quantity), and motion (change with respect to place). All changes with respect to other categories can be traced back to these three rules. On the other hand, four causes--Material, Formal, Efficient, and Finaló direct the transmutations. The Material Cause determines the form of the substance incorporated in the building or in the dish, i.e., clay or semolina dough determine the form of a brick building or pasta dish. The Formal Cause, according to which the building and dish are made, is the perceived idea generated by the cook and the architect as intrinsic, determining cause, embodied in the matter. The Efficient Causes are the agents, i.e., the builders or the chief staff. The Final Cause is that for the sake of which (as, the desire to satisfy a patron, to become famous and rich etc.) the building and dish are made.

The union of dream and solid stuff in tectonic events rises to an expression of pleasure, a subjective presence rather than an objective procedure with which both user and architect must be engaged. The details and the fabricated devices become playful demonstrations of cosmologically constructed events in an edifice. Rejecting the pseudo-completeness and cacothecnics of many contemporary design techniques that cannot perform the fundamental act of establishing the indispensable cosmological relationship between material order and cultural order, macaronic procedures are the essential verve to make these inaugurations successful. This macaronic vision is launched by the intuition of sensations combined with the predilections embodied in our cooking up of the world. Architectural and culinary thinking makes macaronic thinking alive by shaping and regulating conceptual development by considering the necessary and positive interchanges that take place between impressions of subjective and objective qualities. The functioning of an architectural mind can and must be conceived in bodily terms analogously related to those of proper thought about cooking. The macaronic interchange between the impressions of body behaviors together with the sensuous nature of subjective qualities and the measure of objective qualities such as size, shape, temperature and weight is essential for any ending artifact to be successful in terms of a plurality of approaches which challenges authoritative categories.

To end this meditation, I should recall an epigram by Francois La Rochefoucauld: "to eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." (13) To it, I would add a remark put forward by Filarete in his treatise, an architectural storytelling that begins with a discussion around a dinner table: "it is obligation of man to eat and to build."(14)

Remembering how Claude Levi-Strauss used cooking as a metaphor for the way the 'raw' images of nature are 'cooked' in culture so that they may be used as part of a symbolic system I've here made a biscuit (cooked twice) using two aphorisms. Consequently, to build and to cook are a necessity but to build and to cook intelligently is the chief obligation of architecture and cuisine.

1. Carlo Scarpa (1906-1975), a Venetian architect, was a controversial master of modern architectural design. His departure from traditional modern design is evident in the idiosyncratic yet powerful presence of his architectural works. He is perhaps best known for his works such as the Brion Cemetery in Vito d'Altivole and the Museum of Castelvecchio and the Banca Popolare in Verona which illustrate his unique ability to weave built fragments of the past, into contemporary expressions of architecture and design. He taught architectural design studios at IUAV, of which he was also the director for several years.

2. I was at the lowest level in Scarpa's cohort; I was merely an addetto alle esercitazioni and the delightfully educative lunches at the Gaffaro took up a substantial amount of my meager salary.

3. A French engineer, Auguste Perret, 1874-1954, was a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete, notably in the church of Le Raincy, near Paris (1922-23). Perret ran a very innovative contracting and engineering practice, specializing in reinforced concrete, with a belief in the permanent value of "classical" principles. He built warehouses, factories, residences, and theaters. He saw gothic cathedrals as models of rational building from his study of Notre Dame, recorded in a surviving notebook, which is exclusively concerned with the visual effects of construction details and stained glass.

4. An influential French politician and a highly refined dilettante of the gastronomical art, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, (1755-1826), held office under the Directory and the Consulate. Brillat-Savarin wrote works on political economy, law, and dueling, but his acknowledged masterpiece is Physiologie du goût, ou Mèditation de gastronomie transcendante, ouvrage thèorique, historique et l'ordre du jour, 8 vol. ("The Physiology of Taste, or Meditation on Transcendent Gastronomy, a Work Theoretical, Historical, and Today") (1825). The book is less an exposition on cuisine or culinary arts and more a witty compendium of considerations, precepts, anecdotes and observations of every kind that might enhance the pleasures of the table--with only an occasional recipe being offered. The book went through several editions during the 19th century and it was translated into English in 1884.

5. Ostention is one of four categories of physical labor necessary to produce signification, namely: recognition, ostention, replica and invention. Umberto Eco (1976).

6. Macaronic derives from the Italian word macaroni (from which macaroon also comes). According to Teofilo Folengo: "This poetic art is called 'macaronic' from macarones, which are a certain dough made up of flour, cheese, and butter, thick, coarse, and rustic. Thus, macaronic poems must have nothing but fat, coarseness, and gross words in them. The macaronic in its purest form is a northern Italian creation with its precedents in medieval burlesque, goliardic verse and sacred parodies, and with extra-Italian continuators and resonance in various European countries and in Rabelais. Its origins lie in the late fifteenth-century Benedictine athenaeum of Padua and specifically in the linguistic experimentalism of Tifi Odasi, whose poem Macaronea defines the genre. Its fame was assured in the first half of the following century by Odasi's Mantuan pupil and emulator Teofilo Folengo (pseudonym Merlin Cocai). Folengoís Baldus (four editions: 1517, 1521, 1534-35, and posthumously in 1552) is a mock-epic poem of giants and farfetched chivalric adventures including the discovery of the mouth of the Nile and a final descent into Hell. Baldus is the genre's acknowledged masterpiece, and it enjoyed a notable popularity in the 1500s with over a dozen editions and reprints. It was not without influence on Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, in which it is cited more than once. Such was the perceived connection that the first French translation of Folengo's works in 1606 bore the title Histoire maccaronique de Merlin Coccaie, prototype de Rablais. See: C. Cordiè (ed.), Opere di Teofilo Folengo (Milan: Ricciardi, 1977), xii-xiii; M. Tetel, Rabelais and Folengo, Comparative Literature, 15 (Fall 1963): 357-64; I. Paccagnella, Plurilinguismo letterario: lingue, dialetti, linguaggi, in Letteratura italiana. II. Produzione e consumo,. Roberto Antonelli ed. (Turin: Einaudi, 1983), 103-67 (141).

7. Gordon, D. J. ‘Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’, in Stephen Orgel, ed., The Renaissance Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975: 77-101.

8. A medical expression, synesthesia (Greek, syn = together + aisthesis = perception) labels involuntary physical experiences of cross-modal associations. There are synesthetic combinations involving combination among vision, hearing taste, touch, scent, and other modalities. Theoretically, synesthesia could occur from associations between any two or any number of the physical senses. The first references to synesthesia can be found in manuscripts of Pythagoras (6th century B.C.) and Aristotle (4th century B.C.). Surprisingly, medicine has known synesthesia for more than 300 years. In the late 1800ís, synesthesia generated a wave of scientific and popular interest especially in art circles. Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, a synesthete, featured an organ that produced multihued light beams in his symphony Prometheus, the Poem of Fire. To many fin de siëcle Romantics, synesthetes appeared to be humanity's spiritual vanguard, closer to God than the sense-segregated masses. "Such highly sensitive people," wrote Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian abstract artist, "are like good, much-played violins, which vibrate in all their parts and fibers at every touch of the bow." The fascination soon peaked, however, stymied by synesthesia's sheer impenetrability. The problem: No one could crawl into synesthetes' heads to understand or share their unique perceptions. After interest peaked between 1860 and 1930, it was forgotten, remaining unexplained not for lack of trying, but simply because psychology and neurology were premature sciences. Synesthetes such as Vladimir Nabokov, Olivier Messiaen, David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky, Nikolai Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Scriabin are famous because of their art rather than their synesthesia. Lack of obvious agreement among synesthetes compounds the apparent difficulty. In fact, this rather glaring problem - that two individuals with the same sensory pairings do not report identical, or even similar, synesthetic responses - has sometimes been taken as "proof" that synesthesia is not "real." Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov, for example, disagreed on the color of given notes and musical keys. "Researchers" from earlier centuries did little more than make lists of stimuli and synesthetic responses, followed by dismay that a pattern of correspondence was not obvious. Similarity was not apparent because they were looking at the terminal stage of a conscious perception itself, instead of some earlier process that led to that perception.

9. Tagliatelle are homemade noodles and in Mantova, they are called fojade (predictably I must give the recipe in Italian). FOJADE ALLA MANTOVANA: 400 gr di farina; 4 uova; 300 gr di carne macinata di vitello; 50 gr di pancetta in una sola fetta; 50 gr di burro; 1 carota; 1 costa di sedano; 1 cipolla; 1/2 bicchiere di vino bianco secco; 500 gr di pomodori pelati; 50 gr di funghi secchi; un pizzico di cannella in polvere; 2 foglie di alloro; 50 gr di grana grattugiato; sale, pepe.--* Versa la farina a fontana sulla spianatoia, sguscia al centro le uova e impasta con cura, fino ad ottenere una pasta liscia e omogenea; forma una palla, coprila con un telo e lasciala riposare mezz'ora. Dopodichë tendila in una sfoglia sottile , lasciala asciugare , arrotola e tagliala in modo da ricavare delle tagliatelle di 1/2 cm circa di larghezza. Srotola le spirali così ottenute, sistema le tagliatelle su un telo infrinato, allargandole bene, e falle asciugare leggermente. Lascia ammorbidire i funghi in acqua tiepida, poi strizzali e tagliali a pezzetti. Fai soffriggere in una casseruola il sedano, la carota e la cipolla tritati con 40 gr di burro e la pancetta a dadini; unisci i funghi , la carne macinata, la cannella e l'alloro e bagna col vino bianco; mescola e lascia cuocere a fuoco basso per 10 minuti. Aggiungi i pomodori pelati sgocciolati e spezzetati, sala, pepa e lascia cuocere altri 20 minuti , mescolando; al termine elimina l'alloro. Lessa le tagliatelle in abbondante acqua bollente e salata, scolale al dente e cospargile col grana grattugiato e il rimanente burro. Condisci col ragû e servi subito.

10. An Old Italian adage states: first, you devour the food with the eyes and then with the belly, and mothers forewarn children before a Festive meal not to have eyes bigger than their tummy.

11. Monteil, Pierre. Beau et laid en latin, Ètude de vocabulaire. Paris, C.Klincksieck, 1964.

12. Transubstantiation, known as the doctrine of the real presence, is a Christian theological term indicating the process whereby the bread and wine offered up at the communion service has its substance changed to that of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ while its accidents appear to be that of bread and wine. What looks like, tastes like, etc., bread and wine is actually another substance altogether. How this happens is a central mystery of the Catholic faith. However, the term is defined by the Scholastic Fathers using Aristotelian categories and I am using it in this connection rather than the theological understanding.

13. From the "Maxims" of La Rochefoucauld, Penguin Books, Translated by Leonard Tancock (The original Maximes first appeared in 1665).

14. Filarete, Trattato dí Architettura.