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Dis-Lodge: Library Gabinetto Vieusseux, Piazza dei Ciompi, Florence

Part 2 Project 2010
Hsiao-Wei Lee
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
My project was developed under the themes of Curating the City: Representation and Seriality. To design for Florence requires a specific sensibility, on one hand, different to the trends in fast-booming megacities, and on the other hand, careful to avoid approaches that assimilate the new to the conventions of old. The project challenges the meanings of historical continuity and conservation in architecture, but it also celebrates the contemporary life of a city. My proposal does not intend to curate a retrospective for the city of Florence; it is critical of ‘museumification;’ it investigates how the City and its (ordinary and extraordinary) buildings evolve over time and how architecture might be an experiential celebration of a now, then and a yet to be.

It takes inspiration from specific physical displacements of buildings caused by historical political intrigues and urban renaissances, from Medici’s Florence through to the present time (for example, the displacement of the fish-market from the Ponte Vecchio, to the Mercato Vecchio and on to Piazza dei Ciompi – a story that is still active 400 years on). Such stories have been translated and embedded in my project through varying representational techniques – for example, through successive ‘skeuomorphic’ procedures in digital and hand craft model making (skeuomorph is derivative of a form desired for a new reason than its original function, e.g. details in Greek stone temples drop the technical role of their wooden progenitors).

My staged design process serially interiorised and exteriorised specific narratives of displacement and disjunction eventually to produce a project that acts as an assemblage, suspension and complex of ideological and material architectural gestures. The process led to the architecture of a Periodicals Library, involving a further displacement of the Gabinetto Vieusseux, on the Piazza Ciompi adjacent to Vasari’s Loggia dei Pesce. Not only may literal stories be read. In the figuration of the architecture, stories of Florence’s displacements may also be read, apprehended indirectly, continuously re-written and re-read, through series of experiences where sensations of familiarity and estrangement are successively interchanged in the movement through formal, material and spatial compositions.

Hsiao-Wei Lee

By describing something of Hsiao-Wei’s beautiful and finely materially and intellectually crafted project may open up something of its historical awareness, depth of care and material sensitivity. She tackles an everyday architectural problem: new architecture within historically sensitive cities. Her procedures may seem hermetic. Whose are not at some point? However, she uses the human capacity for intellectual “interiority” to open the possibility of a future interpretability for wider audiences and every day users of architecture. Her project is both simple and complex.

For example, by engaging a cartographic shift that superimposes the pre-Risanamento context of Florence’s old-town over the more marginal areas to the East, whilst aligning the historical position of Vasari’s Loggia dei Pesce (north-south on the west edge of the Piazza Mercato Vecchio) with its new location (east-west on the north edge of Piazza dei Ciompi), involves at least three geometric acts: displacement, rotation and mirroring (or inversion). These terms are understood as deeply metaphorical; there is narrative and geometric commensurability in the layout of a city, even, perhaps especially, when the geometry is involved. For example, to follow the various displacements of Vasari’s Loggia is to open the story of how it was first designed on the instruction of the Medici as compensation for displacing the fish-mongers from the Ponte Vecchio so that the Medici could have their protected “corridor” from Palazzo Pitti, via the Uffizi to the Palazzo Vecchio. Therefore, with a deliberate echo of Florence’s historical associations between geometry and rhetoric, Hsiao-Wei asks a series of questions. “What if the displacement of Vasari’s Loggia carried with it literal traces of the material gestures of the old town? How would they be expressed? What other stories intersect through the involved geometry on Piazza dei Ciompi?” Hsiao-Wei’s project literally, but very gently, disturbs the ground of Florence. The wonderful materiality of her Library project sits at the confluence between her own material productions and specific geometric and narrative accounts of Florence. Her project shows great sensitivity and understanding at the scales of body, site and city. No account of it would be sufficient to disclose its depths.

Mr Dorian Wiszniewski
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