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Scarpa in Montreal.

'Intervening with History', the first major North American exhibition of Scarpa's work currently at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, explores the idea of architecture as a record of cultural continuity.

The work of Carlo Scarpa, deeply rooted in the craft tradition and redolent of the particular qualities of Venice, must be regarded as something of an anomaly in the culture of computerization and globalization which dominates current architectural discourse. Yet, far from marginalizing the work, Scarpa's idiosyncrasy continues to inspire architects who, in their own cultures and contexts, are swimming against the tide of homogenized industrial production which has dominated the twentieth century.

Scarpa's preoccupation with history and the fact that many of his projects were of long duration is a reminder of the luxury of time, both as a conceptual tool and as a way of working. The exhibition focuses on eight projects from 1953 until Scarpa's death, with special emphasis upon the Castelvecchio and the Brion family tomb. A selection of 150 Scarpa drawings brought together from the family archives and from museums in Venice, Verona and Palermo is supported by work specially commissioned by the CCA including a series of photographs by Guido Guidi and four analytical models from the studio of George Ranalli.

The drawings, done by hand and largely in pencil, are sumptuous reminders of the sensory pleasures of thinking and designing without computers. Scarpa condenses conventional categories -- sketch, working, shop and presentation drawings -- onto single sheets with meticulously drafted orthographic projections worked and reworked in many freehand layers and surrounded by sketches of perspective views and construction details. Aptly described by Ranalli as 'detailed maps of a mental process', the drawings reveal Scarpa as an artisan whose own skill with graphite mirrors his obsession with detail in the built work.

The Guidi photographs are conceptualized to convey a central quality of Scarpa's work -- the incremental unfolding of architectural experience and narrative detail by detail. Rather than the postcard view, these images focus upon margins, edges, boundaries and intersections. Taken through the seasons and at different times of day, the photos are particularly effective at capturing what Guidi calls the 'alchemy of light' in Scarpa's work. The beautifully crafted models have likewise been carefully conceived, each providing insight into a specific mode of Scarpa's practice: new construction imposed on old, the alteration of the historic amalgam, the extension and the freestanding building in the landscape.

The constellation of drawings, photos and models works well to elucidate Scarpa's preoccupation with craft and materiality and his painstaking attention to the accretion of historic built fabric. The gallery installation, designed by Ranalli, is exquisitely understated, allowing the work to speak for itself. The generously illustrated catalogue combines scholarly insight with anecdote to provide an informative and engaging read. The CGA should be congratulated for this inspired act of patronage. It is unfortunate that the exhibition will not travel to other venues.

Carlo Scarpa, Architect: Intervening with History at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, 26 May - 31 October 1999.
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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