Yale School of Architecture professor and students reinvent Rome for Venice Biennale

Yale School of Architecture (YSoA)— represented by Dean Robert A.M. Stern, professor Peter Eisenman, critic Matthew Roman and 14 of their students — will be prominent at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, which opens on Aug. 29.

Stern has been chosen to chair the prize jury for the exhibition (see story), while Eisenman, the Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice at Yale, and students from his second-year spring seminar, are exhibiting a project that provides a new dimension, literally, to a landmark work by 18th--century engraver, mapmaker, and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778).

A native of Venice, Piranesi spent much of his adult life in Rome, a city that captured his imagination and contributed to his most influential work. Ever since its publication 250 years ago, his Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma, a folio of six etchings depicting his own time-bending and often fanciful rendition of the Eternal City, has been a source of speculation, inspiration, and contention for architects, urban designers, and scholars.

 Piranesi's view of the Eternal City, from his Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma; an aerial view of modern Rome (right).Piranesi drew on his extensive archaeological and architectural knowledge of the city, and on his own fantasies of what the imperial capital might look like, to create a world of the “possible” out of elements of the past, according to Roman, a critic at YSoA, who co-taught the seminar on Piranesi with Eisenman.

“For him, ruins weren’t part of history, but of a present that he could recombine and reconfigure,” said Roman, noting that in Piranesi’s reinterpretation of the ancient city, only the Pantheon remains at its original site. In repositioning familiar Roman landmarks, the engraver was “turning the ‘truth’ of mapmaking on its head,” he adds.

Piranesi also defied time, creating an image of the Eternal City out of disparate ruins of Roman civilization, from its Etruscan origins to its outposts in Greece and Egypt.

Altogether, the architect’s unique vision of Rome from three perspectives “is a perfect critique of presuppositions and conventions of the field of architecture,” comments Roman.

The director of the Biennale, Sir David Chipperfield, invited the internationally renowned architect and theorist Eisenman to propose a project for the Central Pavilion at the Venice exhibition, which this year is organized around the theme “Common Ground.” Eisenman, in turn, invited his Yale students to contribute the historical analysis produced in the seminar as a platform for three contemporary interpretations of Piranesi’s drawing—one from Eisenman’s own New York office, Eisenman Architects; a second from the architecture critic Jeffrey Kipnis of  Ohio State University; and a third from architect Pier Vittorio Aureli of the Belgian office DOGMA, who will be joining the YSoA faculty in spring 2013.

With access to Piranesi’s original folio, housed in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Eisenman’s students “re-invented” Piranesi’s Rome as a detailed gold-painted 3D-printed model at the scale of the original etching — the first of its kind. Accompanied by their study of Piranesi’s architectural inventions, the work will be on display in the Central Pavilion of the Giardini in Venice, Italy, from Aug. 29 to Nov. 25. 

The participating students are Daisy Ames, Adrienne Brown, Aaron Dresben, Caitlin Gucker-Kanter, Nicholas Kehagias, Amy Kessler, Ollie Nieuwland-Zlotnicki, Talia Pinto-Handler, Otilia Pupezeanu, Teo Quintana, Aaron Schiller, and Melissa Shin — all M.Arch ’13. Additionally, Gucker-Kanter, Quintana, and recent YSOA graduates David Bench (M.Arch ’12) and Can Bui (M.Arch ’12) helped prepare the exhibit for presentation in Venice.