Paolo’s opinion as architect. The Basilica di San Petronio - Bologna
Actually, as architect I would like to propose doing an international competition open to all architects of the world for completing the façade of the Basilica di San Petronio in a contemporary style or anyway in an architectonic style which may have a dialogue with the existing part rising back to Renaissance.
This operation would have the aim of completing an unfinished part of an existing architecture and in the same time it should leave a sign of our contemporary culture in that place for future generations. This is an operation that has been done in every era since the times of ancient Romans when, for example, a new forum was built over the previous existing one to affirm the power of a new emperor placed in authority. François Mitterrand has done a similar operation when he funded the construction of the New Louvre and its highly discussed glass pyramid. In Paris the flux of cultural development in the centuries is clearly marked: who would consider now the Tour Eiffel as a horrible modern thing in the middle of a beautiful ancient urban context?
Anyway my proposal has not found the favour of the administration as current tendency is to maintain unaltered all the remains of the Italian glorious past of the town. Of course this is a sacred point of view but I think the true reason of the conservatism of our contemporary architectural culture is that it stands in awe of the glorious past.
You can also see the exemplary case of the Masieri House, facing the Canal Grande in Venice. In 1952, Frank Lloyd Wright was charged to plan a new building replacing the old one (quite anonymous indeed). An intense debate arose if it is a right thing to build something with a modern appeal along the Canal Grande. At the end, nothing happened and the Wright’s plan remained in a drawer witnessed by dozens of architectural drawings and so Venice had lost the possibility to have a sign of continuity of its glorious past.
I can understand how astonishing would have been a glass and iron piece of architecture aside the marvellous buildings facing Canal Grande but as a matter of fact, future generations will find no traces of our contemporary times. The glory of Venice and all historic centres of Italy, Bologna included, are now held by tourists seeking signs of a cultural heritage they probably have not in their countries. This is great and desirable but will leave no sign in the history. So the wide Bologna historic centre is undisputedly appearing like it was centuries of years ago. In the nineteen century the tendency was already addressed toward the strict conservatism witnessed by the Alfonso Rubbiani’s work.
Now contemporary architecture, when rarely funded, is relegated to the suburban areas of the town. One example for all in Bologna is the New Municipality Office Complex, by Mario Cucinella, which is worth a visit also for the nice restaurants and bars around the ground level (Piazza Liber Paradisus).
Your opinions are welcome.