31 maggio 2023

Farewell to Paolo Portoghesi 


Architect Paolo Portoghesi has died at the age of 92 at his home in Calcata, in the province of Viterbo. "Architecture is not only what is seen, but it is also the allusion to something that is not seen but has value, largely hidden." Paolo Portoghesi explained this just a year ago to students at the Politecnico di Bari in one of his last lectio magistralis. And convinced of a human value of architecture always was the theorist and lecturer, who passed away today after a life dedicated to architectural composition.

Architecture is not only what you see, but it is also the allusion to something that is unseen but has value, largely hidden

Just like the suburb where he had chosen to live for many years, Portoghesi seemed distant from the general public but instead had a rich and fervent intellectual life, carried on to the very end. Known to many as one of the leading exponents of the postmodernist current, he had taken his first steps in his native Rome, graduating from La Sapienza University and publishing, while still a student, a number of essays on Francesco Borromini, to whose work he would devote numerous studies over the years.

It was precisely that Baroque Rome that had accompanied him in his early years in the Pigna district, in the shadow of Largo Argentina, that would remain a perennial source of inspiration for Portoghesi, as he himself had repeatedly recalled. It would be with the essay 'The Inhibitions of Modern Architecture,' however, published in 1976, that he would become a reference and advocate of postmodernism in Italy.

Elected director of the Venice Biennale in 1979, the following year he would bring to life the installation Strada Novissima, consisting of twenty contiguous facades of different sizes, created by as many internationally renowned architects. An initiative that was regarded as the Italian manifesto of postmodern architecture. His many works include Casa Baldi in Rome, the Montpellier Gardens in Lattes, France, the palace of the Jordanian royal family in Amman, and the mosques in Rome and Strasbourg.

Considerato una mente vivace e sempre in cerca di nuove intuizioni, seppe anticipare anche i temi naturalistici e legati al recupero del rapporto tra uomo e terra

But above all, Casa Papanice, a Roman civic building designed in 1967 together with engineer Vittorio Gigliotti, considered by historians around the world to be one of the symbols of Italian postmodernism. So much so that, on the occasion of Portoghesi's 90th birthday, the facade was projected onto the buildings of culture on four different continents. Considered a lively mind always seeking new insights, he was also able to anticipate naturalistic themes and related to the recovery of the relationship between man and earth.

Indeed, in the last twenty years he devoted his activity to what he called geoarchitecture, calling it a 'humanistic' architecture, in line with Serge Latouche's degrowth theory. In 2005 he published the essay 'Geoarchitecture. Towards an Architecture of Responsibility', also founding the journal 'Inhabiting the Earth'.

In 2007, the chair of Geoarchitecture was activated at La Sapienza Faculty of Architecture, of which he was professor emeritus. According to Portoghesi's explanation, geoarchitecture would have to comply with specific fundamental criteria, including learning from nature, learning from history and protecting natural balances. A subject on which, especially today, Portoghesi would still have had much to teach.


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