Friday, April 12, 2013

Clorindo's City

Dessau, April 12, 2013

People like to say that Clorindo Testa--the great Argentinean architect that died yesterday only a few months shy of his 90th birthday--remained a child for his whole life.  When it came to the city, his brand of childishness was expressed in his refusal to accept the well known English proverb admonishing that "you can't have your cake and eat it too."

His two most important buildings for Buenos Aires--the National Library and the Bank of London--display, in Clorindo's both heroic and mischievous way, the kind of architecture that results from having it both ways.

The competition brief for the library required the construction of an enormous building on a small, bucolic park along one of the edges of the city (hardly an innocent choice of site, as it had been the location of Evita and Juan Domingo Perón's residence, and Perón had been deposed only a few years earlier.)  In one of his legendary sketches, Clorindo showed how he intended to both deploy a muscular building and keep the park uninterrupted: book stacks below ground, reading areas way up above, and the park rolling in between, framed by the four elephantine legs of the structure.

If the library's mechanism to have its cake and eat it too is the section, the bank's is the façade.  Again, Clorindo's sketches show how he does it: the monumental and highly expressive concrete piers of the bank not at all shy in their confrontation of the tall Ionic columns across the street while at the same time allowing the life of the city to permeate the public areas of his building.  Then the intermediate structures either cantilever from below or hung from above, allowing the overall interior space to develop a truly urban dimension.

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