Spaces, Poetics and Voids


Simone Pizzagalli

Pier Paolo Pasolini gives his own precise reading to the idea of framing in cinematography, extending it to include a more general interpretation of reality as a language. For Pasolini, the act of framing[13] 13 - Among other things, ‘framing’ means to form or make by fitting and uniting parts together; to construct; to conceive or imagine as an idea; a structure for admitting or enclosing something. is an intentional ordering of the parts that constitute reality in order to communicate a specific meaning. The film director and poet associated reality and cinematography with language and writing, whereby reality represents the ‘oral’ equivalent of what cinema formalises into a normative, ‘written’ language. Therefore one could say that reality shares its roots with spoken language since both are determined by factors such as place, time, history, traditions, habits, regionalism, etc. Cinema, understood as a written language formalised into syntactical structures, notational compositions of elements and a grammar, selects and organises elements that are spontaneous and unfiltered in the real world. Selecting specific elements in order to film them is already an interpretative representation of reality. The film frame is the boundary within which the selected object and spaces are organised in a delimited field of existence, either included or excluded from the image. Pasolini states that we cannot disregard the fact that reality hosts a multiplicity of objects present in countless compositions and relationships to one another. This fact renders the task of selecting and composing objects within a frame ambiguous and delicate since the corpus of their relationships will always transcend the boundary.

Every composition of objects within a film frame assumes a specific meaning engendered by the combination of selected elements and their associative relationships. An important aspect of this interpretation is that reality is already considered as a non-formalised language in whose infinite variety of compositions and forms the content of cinema is rooted. The role of the ‘individual’ within this constellation is not only that of ‘actor’, an ‘object’ that affects reality in combination with other objects and forces, but also that of ‘spectator’: an external and independent viewer. The elements selected in the framing process are subsequently involved in a further composition, that of sequencing[14] 14 - Sequence: from Latin sequi, a ’thing that follows’; list of objects (or events) arranged in a ‘linear’ fashion, either finite or infinite. all the single frames in an ordered linear structure, connecting them to each other according to syntactical and grammatical rules. The composition of cinematographic language is therefore articulated on two levels: first, the single frame, and then the sequence achieved by the technique of montage.

The specifics of Pasolini’s linguistic interpretation will not be considered here, but two further concepts are important in clarifying a narrative interpretation of architectural composition. Firstly, the act of sequencing not only enables a linear composition of elements, but also the formulation of complex and unexpected meanings and formal statements. Secondly, the film frames remain incomplete and insignificant when separate and unrelated, whereas they acquire a new narrative dimension and sense when arranged in a composition.[15] 15 - What is intended here is a composition of elements within a frame, one that combines the most basic fragmented pieces of reality into a recognisable part-object, defined by specific and autonomous characteristics and forms. In his essay ‘Nuovo e moderno in architettura’, Ezio Bonfanti writes an extensive analysis and interpretation of Aldo Rossi’s work, focusing in particular on the concepts of ‘pieces and parts’. According to Bonfanti, Aldo Rossi uses a simple vocabulary of already formalised architectural forms (parts and pieces: the staircase, the corridor, the wall, etc.) composed and recomposed every time according to implicit and different logics spanning memory, rationality and biography. Framing, editing and arranging the framed material in a sequence is a synthetic process that affects the language of reality, and transforms it into something that Rossi has defined as ‘analogous’ to reality itself; namely, a meaningful representation that has the same characteristics and qualities as reality but produces completely new formal results.

Given this interpretation of the concepts of framing and editing, it is possible to relate the idea of space to Pasolini’s theory about the cinematographic representation of the language of reality. Space can be considered as a narrative composition of elements: by definition, the three-dimensional repository of objects, events, memories, people and their reciprocal relationships. Space constitutes the inhabited realm wherein these elements, objects, relationships and memories exist. The city is where spaces of different types and qualities are organised according to a given logic and in a syntactical manner, namely through a process of selection and the creation of clearly defined boundaries within which the formal composition of the parts and their sequencing is possible. This in turn leads to the narration of forms that express a specific meaning.

The construction of a basic alphabet of forms and relationships, arrived at through an analysis of the urban context, allows for the composition of complex formal sentences, which can then be organised and sequenced into spatial narratives. The city can be imagined as a written text with the characteristics and nuances of an oral language expressed through the transformation and composition of spaces by human actions. According to this interpretation, Pasolini argued that one of the primary languages of man is constituted by the impulse to transform reality, an act that both reconstructs the world and represents to other people the inclinations of the ‘individual’ acting on reality. Political, physical and economic actions therefore include shaping spaces and creating relationships between objects, forms and meanings in the city. This transformation unfolds over time within a process of addition, substitution and overlapping, and in doing so produces discrepancies, fragments and erasures within an existing urban fabric, thus obstructing the formulation of one unique, absolute and indisputable spatial narrative that can encompass the totality of the urban form.

The language of the city is established by spaces that express only partial and inconclusive meanings, and are constituted by indefinable fragments, voids, and more complex formal compositions. The architectural project is the point of synthesis for this raw language, it is the discipline that presupposes the existence of these elements and composes them into a readable representation, namely, a formalised ‘written’ interpretation of reality. Just as Pasolini interpreted the synthesis of cinematographic language as a representation of reality capable of expressing some of the latter’s otherwise undecipherable meanings, so, in the same way, the architectural project provides a normative, readable construction of the indeterminate realm of parts and fragments that make up the city. This process of formal composition is articulated on two levels, similar to the way Pasolini describes it in his interpretation of cinematographic language. The first level is the one in which materials, objects, forms and spaces are selected from within the realm of the city. Then, as in the ‘framing’ described above, boundaries are traced in a process that encloses the chosen spaces and objects with the aim of expressing partial, though meaningful formal compositions. Subsequently, these compositions are arranged into sequences, characterised by their ability to express unexpected meanings that unfold in new and more complex spatial narratives. On the basis of this interpretation, the evolution of the city form can be understood in reverse. As I previously mentioned, social, economical and political forces continually stimulate the evolution and transformation of the urban fabric. The composition of completely new spatial narratives, derived from what Pasolini described as the twofold process of interpretation and reconstruction of the raw language of reality, interacts with this evolutionary process and constitutes one of the main factors in the transformation of urban form. In fact, the autonomous architectural object that results from a process of spatial narration can be regarded as both the consequence and the cause of the transformation of the socio-political and economical premises at the base of the actual construction of the city. Architecture that is the result of a clear syntactical composition of parts rooted in reality is able to restore the urban fabric and its inner logic, and at the same time influence social, political and economical changes.


TU Delft / Faculty of Architecture