Narrative Environment: Brion Vega - Currently no debate
Brion Vega Tombs: Architect Carlo Scarpa
Scarpa uses a combination of views, sometimes truncated, sometime including ‘borrowed landscapes’, of architectural forms and elements, of textures and surfaces, of changes in density and perspective, to create a poetic, non-verbal narrative that is made up not just of visual architectural form and material, but of sound and touch as well. Below is an account of a visit by the architect and sound artist Thomas Lindner:
A visit to Brion Vega cemetery.
Entering the gate of the original village cemetery I follow a path covered with interlocking concrete blocks. As I will find out later, the pavement leading from the entry to Scarpa’s porch was changed long after the completion of the project. The original layout shows a simple pebble layer, which can be imagined as a much more stimulating experience. The crunching gravel would have dissolved the harsh, dumb clicking of the hard road surface into a softened wider spectrum of prickling frequencies.
At this T-crossing the way is split in two and my first route takes me into the private part of the Cemetery called un pavilion pour la méditation.
The cloister is paved with big concrete plates framed by steel, which are loosely positioned on their supports. When I step on them they resonate, tilt and clunk, further enhancing the feeling of narrowness. The impression of increasing claustrophobia comes to a halt in front of a type of door I have never seen before. It is made of a rectangular sheet of glass that is attached at the top to a stainless steel tube. The ends of the tube, which are fixed to steel cables leading upwards, guide the tube along a vertical indentation in the concrete wall. As the custodian explains, the glass flap must be pushed downwards to give access to the continuing path behind the glass screen. When opening it the squeaking mechanics of the counterweights, the scratching of the ends of the steel tube along the concrete groove in unison with the ephemeral sound of the glass plate first dipping, subsequently bubbling, into a shaft filled with water, transformed my perception of the gateway. Once over this threshold, the counterweights on the outside of the facade pull the door back into its original position. As Scarpa’s genius cut the sheet of glass 10 centimetres short at the bottom, the water on the glass accumulates at the bottom rim, trickles back into the slit of the floor and accompanies my further journey like a gentle xylophone playing for a little while.
I leave the cloister and step onto a footbridge, which seems to hover over a water surface under the open sky. Here to my surprise the concrete planks are fixed and do not tilt. The pond is flanked by three tall surrounding walls, which open up in the direction of the village.
The general architecture and the smooth water surface allows the tiniest sound to travel easily over long distances. The slightest utterance, generated either by myself, the drain, or little animals living in the pool is bounced over the smooth water surface like a flat pebble, thrown back by the smooth, upright walls and is gathered under the wooden hat of the pavilion, which covers the platform on which I sit. In this architectural setting even a single passing fly causes a sonic sensation.
The garden reveals itself with its central arcosolium, a bridge covering two family tombs.
In the other direction it flows rowards the tombs.
Apart from this all sounds are muffled by the grassy meadow, which does not allow much sound to travel.
Unlike with the walls enclosing the pond, all the sounds in the garden, which are conducted through the air, are not reflected back on these leaning structures but straight into the ground, adding to the hush of the space.
While stepping down I discover the inversion of a major chord. The unusually proportioned steps and odd arrangement suggest that Scarpa might have tuned his architecture.
I reach the door into the Chapel across the water on some stepping stones. Turning the shrieking door handle, still outside, its reverberation suggests a vast internal cathedral space.
The holy-water font is covered with a movable lid. To open it I move a little lever.
The incredible screeching noise fills the space again. The response of the space is extraordinary given its small dimensions.
Easier but no less impressive is the process of opening the two tall side doors, which are constructed of a steel frame filled with plaster blocks – an ancient Venetian technique rediscovered by Scarpa. The noise of the door hitting the stopper allows a further assessment of the spatial response. The sound is sonorous but brief and introduces the outside area, which is filled with cypresses.
I would like to experience a funeral in this space because it was planned for communal use.
Leaving the chapel and finally approaching the second entrance I encounter a movable wall, made not of glass but of concrete, six centimetres in width, mounted on bearings. This gate stands open most of the time as the effort needed to open it is considerable. I open and close it about eight times before I leave the cemetery because the pleasure from its sound is mind-boggling and resists comparison with any other sound. It makes me imagine the sound that must have occurred when Jesus was resurrected and pushed the stone away from his tomb.
associated term: Framing Narrative related practice: narrative environment design
related practice (general): Architecture
related practice (general): sound art
Unusually for an architect, Scarpa was very sensitive to sound and how it informs and changes our apprehension of space.
associated pictorial content (general): Brion Vega 11
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