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The Exercise of Detail and Technique in Scarpa’s Works

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Detail is an exercise connected with the representation of the act of construction.

To Gregotti[1], this exercise gives a form to the final architecture object, reveal the properties of the materials, the laws of construction and make the project decisions intelligible. However, he also says that our contemporary architecture has abandoned the exercise of detail to quote commercial and industrialized items, like windows, doors and structural elements. For Gregotti, every detail is a small communicative part of a building. A way to put meaning in an architectural project. To him, without the work on details, the connection between the whole and the small parts will be broken and, therefore, the message of the architecture can be compromised.

Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian architect of the Renaissance, says, in his ten books on the De Re Aedificatoria[2], that a good exercise in detail takes into account three concepts: Numerus, Finitio e Collocatio. Numerus is the use of repetition of certain elements so that those elements acquire a certain meaning or purpose, like the use of three doors make the middle door a focus point. Finitio is the use of proportion do define the relation between the detail and the whole or between two details, like a relation in size between that same middle door and the others side doors. The middle door can be made bigger to convey the message that it’s the central entrance. To finish, Collocatio is a functional way of setting details in order to show the history of the detail, how it was made, what it is made of or to make rational divisions on the building.

Santa Maria Novella Florence faade
Facade of Santa Maria Novella [3]
We can see this exercise in detail on the Alberti’s facade of Santa Maria Novella church. We can see the application of Numerus by repetition of openings and decorative elements. We can also see the use of Finitio in the relation between the bigger middle door and the two side doors, emphasizing the central position of the middle door. At last, there is the use of Collocatio in the rational use of the detail to divide the building in two, with a large line between these two parts, and in the way we can feel the natural pattern of the material just by looking at it. Despite the example of the façade of Alberti’s work, we are left with the question of how we can use the exercise of detail in a contemporary work, without appealing to the use of historical anachronism.

Carlos Scarpa and Veritti’s Tomb

Carlos Scarpa was also an Italian architect as Alberti was. However, Scarpa was a modern architect that didn’t use historical elements without a connection to his time. He was born in Venice, 1906, and was heavily influenced by the Italian materials, by other modernist architects, especially Frank Lloyd Wright, and by Japanese culture. Besides being an architect, he also was a good craftsman, knowing how to work with glass and wood, designing glass vessels and other furniture. According to Barba and Quintana[4], Scarpa career always aimed for the perfection in architectural detail.

One of Scarpa’s works that shows his attention to detail is the Veritti’s Tomb or Tomba Veritti (1951), located in the cemetery of S. Vito, Udine, Italy. This project is a tomb made of botticino marble, an Italian marble, with a table and a seat made of stone made as the Veritti’s family tomb. The tomb occupies an area of 22 m² or 236 ft². We enter the tomb passing through a short metal gate in a circular opening. The gate open in a circular motion, as seen in the images 2 and 3, forming a gateway/portal between the outside world of the living and the inside world of the dead[5]. The connection between the place of work and the place of thinking. On the side of this gate there is a semicircular vessel with cropped flowers inside of it.

Facade of Veritti’s Tomb [6]

Facade of Veritti’s Tomb [7]
On the inside we the the Verritti’s pit in front of the seat and table. Behind the pit there is a stone wall made of various sizes of rectangular stone covering. Above it, there is a circular metal roof. This roof is divided in three parts by two segments of line. In one of these lines we can read the word Pax, the Latin for peace, and on one of the roof quadrants we can see an opening in the form of a cross.

Inside of Veritti’s Tomb [8]
Inside of Veritti’s Tomb [9]
The details that we see in the inside and outside of the tomb makes the connection between the concepts that guided the whole of the project and the small parts of the building. Everything in this building was thought to be there, having a connection with a central idea. Part of the meaning of this building only make sense because of the details made especially for this project.

[1] GREGOTTI, Vittorio. 1996. The Exercise of Detail (1983). In: NESBITT, Kate. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965 – 1995. New York, USA: Princeton Architectural Press.

[2] ALBERTI, Leon Battista. 1986. The Tem Books of Architecture: The 1755 Leoni Edition. USA: Dover Publications.

[3] FLORENCE FOR FREE. “The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://florenceforfree.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/basilica-of-santa-maria-novella/).

[4] BARBA, José Juan; QUINTANA, Paloma de La. “The Architecture of Details: Palazzo Querini Stampalia by Carlos Scarpa”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://www.metalocus.es/en/news/architecture-details-palazzo-querini-stampalia-carlo-scarpa).

[5] REGIONE AUTONOMA FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA COMUNE DI UDINE. “Catalogazione Delle Eclettico-Storicista ai Giorni Nostri e del Patrimonio Edilizio rurale Spontaneo e Proposte di Norme da Introdurre nel PRGC: Opere Cimiteriali Monumentali”. Retrieved July 12, 2018 (https://turistipersbaglio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Cimitero-Monumentale-San-Vito-Udine.pdf).

[6] TRIPADVISOR. “Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g187814-d12188841-i313794311-Tomba_Veritti-Udine_Province_of_Udine_Friuli_Venezia_Giulia.html).

[7] FLICK. “Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7137/7813918750_16922387f3_o.jpg).

[8] CISA A. PALLADIO. “Udine, Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://mediateca.palladiomuseum.org/scarpa/web/foto_scheda.php?valo=i_6_408#).

[9] CISA A. PALLADIO. “Udine, Tomba Veritti, Copertura”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://mediateca.palladiomuseum.org/scarpa/web/foto_scheda.php?valo=i_6_409).


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