Material with a new, natural identity. The snapshot of a metamorphosis.
Calibrating the desired grade of browning, the quantity and arrangement of the rust traces, stains and abrasions, the exceptional colours of the metals are brought to life thanks to the properties of ceramic, used to launch a collection of elegant and modern surface finishes. Representing the material state in which the perfect grade of metallic oxidation is reached, “Metamorfosi” achieves an aesthetic result that the author – appropriately – defines as the visual transfiguration of the “patina of time”.
CRITICAL TEXT BY SERGIO RISALITI: ”METAMORFOSI: SPANNIG ART AND ARCHITECTURE”
Together with his studio Archea Associati, Marco Casamonti set out to fix the surface effects created on a series of porcelain stoneware slabs which, through an alchemy made possible thanks to modern technology, manages to create large natural, treated or patinated metallic surfaces. It is not so much a design, as a carefully studied process of metamorphosis of the material, teetering between the metallisation of ceramics and the transformation of the latter into metals with various effects; a process that offers the stimulating opportunity to stop time in its tracks, preventing the elements responsible for weathering and oxidation from changing a surface that has already been altered and treated to reflect the architect’s express intentions. The effect of constant pictorial flux achieved through sophisticated patination is stopped at a precise moment in its development, surrendering to something stable and immutable, a beauty that stops and is consolidated without permitting further evolutionary changes. It could be described as a fight against time, a battle to swim against the tide, not to succumb to time’s winged chariot. But there is more to it: a pursuit of material quality that is superior, almost metaphysical in its attempt to transcend the future, the idea that the artistic act can surpass nature, overcoming entropy. Something that, in a certain way, belongs to the Renaissance.
The interest in metal as a pictorial surface can be traced back in particular to Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, after which it was also embraced by exponents of the Arte Povera movement, in particular Jannis Kounellis. In these cases, however, the interest was directed at the transformation of metal which over time changed and developed iridescent effects as a result of oxidation and other chemical reactions; as the surface changed, the pictorial quality changed too. Burri deftly disfigured his sheets of metal with a blowtorch, while Fontana made holes or cuts in them to shatter the illusory space of the paintings. But it is perhaps Melotti, with his study in ceramics, who is the artist that can be most closely identified with this new project by Marco Casamonti focusing entirely on the material. The architect shifts the natural quality of surfaces once more towards the realm of perpetuation of the changeable, enhancing surface effects as if they were metaphysical landscapes and shapeless paintings devoid of figures. In the world of architecture, the use of heterogeneous materials developed alongside or in contrast to more classic products in stone, marble and wood. While nowadays the surfaces of buildings, just like certain structural components, can be created using materials that are eco-friendly, energy-efficient, flexible for safety purposes, or even for “interactive” reasons, it is worth noting that a range of solutions came to the fore as early as the nineteenth century, when exterior facades were sometimes decorated with unconventional materials that shunned tradition, while in other cases the choice of materials had a positive influence on the load-bearing structures or architectural designs. Take, for example, buildings constructed in iron like markets and bridges, the renowned Parisian passages, metal and glass structures that celebrated industrial modernity with lightness, transparency and brightness, through to the ultimate apotheosis, the Eiffel Tower.
There was also the modernist architecture known as Art Nouveau, with its various national expressions (for example Jugendstil in Austria, Liberty in Italy) one of the pioneers of which was the architect and designer Henry van de Velde. In Vienna, the cradle of Secessionist art, one of the greatest exponents of which was Gustav Klimt, the architects Wagner, Hoffmann and Olbrich were among the first to employ metals as they sought to create innovative decorative features, as can be seen in the Secession building itself (1898), where the overabundance of gold denoted the structure’s metaphysical dimension, resurrecting the symbolic value of the precious metal. Ceramics too had become a popular choice throughout Europe for adorning the exterior of upper class villas and mansions, but also shops and stores, with linear and floral motifs and brilliant glazed colours. Meanwhile, Hector Guimard was bending metal into organic, flower-like designs to create the “édicules”, or entrances to the Paris underground. The use of a wide array of materials then triggered experimentation towards a more abstract form of architecture. Surfaces had to be stripped of the superfluous and all symbolic expression in pursuit of heightened contrast between minimalist volumes and surfaces, starting anew from a geometric notion of building rooted in the Renaissance, as espoused by Brunelleschi.
Another significant example is the work of Antonio Gaudí, the Catalan architect hailed by Le Corbusier as “the shaper of stone, brick and iron”, whose notable achievements include the Sagrada Familia and the magnificent Parco Güell, which combine metals, brickwork and stone along with glass and ceramics. Through to the modern day, where a shortlist of the most important recent architectural triumphs might include Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, whose metallic facade evokes the language and decorative ideals of the Middle East, or even the shiny metallic surfaces, this time in titanium, used by Frank Gehry to cover the hallowed Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and, why not, the stunning architecture of the Antinori winery, a recent invention of Archea Associati and so of Marco Casamonti, who experimented with surfaces in Corten steel to merge with the quality of the surrounding landscape and the local production tradition. New materials certainly seem to represent the frontier of experimentation for architects in an age when science, technology, environmental concerns and the rediscovery of age-old traditions are contributing to what can rightly be labelled as a new Renaissance.
Marco Casamonti (Florence, 1965), architect and designer, is a full professor at the Genoa Faculty of Architecture. He is a dedicated researcher and critic who works on various aspects of contemporary architecture, publishing studies, participating in congresses and giving lectures as a theoretician, academic and architect. He has been Editor in Chief of Area international Architecture and Design Arts magazine since 1997 and has been joint managing editor - with Paolo Portoghesi - of Materia magazine since 1999. In 1988 he joined forces with Laura Andreini and Giovanni Polazzi to found Archea Associati, in which Silvia Fabi also became a partner in 1999; the firm, with about a hundred architects working at six different locations - Florence, Milan, Rome, Beijing, Dubai and Sao Paulo - works mainly in the areas of architecture and design, taking the landscape, city and building as its starting-points to find an additional dimension of cultural expression in projects ranging from graphic design to publishing through to the curation of events and exhibitions.