The invitation finds me unprepared. To speak of “masterpieces” in the 21st Century – the century stating that “the next big thing will be a lot of small things” – is an embarrassing task. I immediately thought of writing about one of those many magnificent projects, perhaps a Japanese one, in which architecture expands itself and becomes something else, leaving space and room for air, nature, and the indeterminate. On the other hand, though, the invitation made me think and ask myself: what is a masterpiece, today?
I clearly feel that architecture is shifting further and further away from the real world. Niche projects that are more and more exclusive, major architectural interventions that are more and more intolerable, deep as a fake news, and have the environmental impact of all post-war reconstruction… here’s what! I like to think that architecture is useful. Not that a beautiful and impeccably proportioned but functionless shed is useless; of course it is useful. Nonetheless, I wanted to find something big, relevant, and impactful; something that wasn’t clearly located on either side of the divide between architects and “people”…
My masterpiece is the new bridge by Renzo Piano for Genoa.
Many have said that the previous Morandi Bridge was a masterpiece, and indeed it was in its own way, a masterpiece of its time: technique, innovation, the iconic and monumental strength of concrete, the gateway to the city, etc… All these features were perfectly embodied in that “object of wonder”.
Piano’s bridge is moderate, somber, minimal. The space between the pillars is as small as possible, the pillar surface touching the ground is as small as possible, elongated in ellipse shape so as to visually slip away. Its wonder was that of its construction time, as it was halved by splitting the construction sites between prefabricated naval-type steelwork – transported to site by sea – and actual concrete work made on site. However, the bridge, physically, apart from a certain harmony in proportions, is no particular wonder. It is made not to be looked at, but as something to look from.
While crossing the bridge by car, reaching toward the valley, your gaze moves past the glass partitions, freely following the Polcevera river toward the sea and the Apennines.
Below the bridge, while walking along the rough edges of the Polcevera or along the river of train tracks and uncultivated land that stand on the other side, beyond the Certosa district, you begin to feel a grounding and rooting reconciliation with the earth. The bridge communicates with the soil and serves as a prelude to a park: one of those moderately iconic and very symbiotic parks, a slice of restored scenery, a third combed landscape or portion of the countryside.
This is what the bridge tells us.
When I visited the construction site, the people from Genoa were still shaken by the August 2018 collapse. I was looking down from the Coronata district and a lady started to tell me about the tragedy. Then she looked on together with me. Down south, the sea sparkled under the rays of the sun, and in front of us the Fort-filled hills outlined e heroic profile, marked by Modern daring urbanizations. Beneath us, the construction site developed, quietly, in its first hoisted, slender, white, and sharp scaffoldings. The lady looked on beside me, took a break, and then said: “You know what? I’ll lower my voice because it scares me a little to say it, but after the bridge collapsed we realized that there is a valley down there”.
Authors: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Place: Genoa, Italy
Photographs: Nina Bassoli
Nina Bassoli is an architect and curator, graduated at Politecnico di Milano, PhD at Architecture University of Venice IUAV, she holds the research grant (AR) Architecture in the Age of Display and teaches Interior and Exhibit Design at the Free University of Bolzano. She published articles and essays in several international magazines and catalogues and the book “STEM procedure. Post Earthquake Regeneration Strategies” with Franco Tagliabue. Since 2008 she is member of the editorial staff of “Lotus international”.