Studio 6

Studio brief

The House and the City

‘…what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art that preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be altered.’ T.S. Eliot. ‘Tradition and the individual talent’

The diminutive Italian city of Sabbioneta holds a distinct position in the history of urban planning as one of the few realised examples of an ideal Renaissance city. Its highly controlled public realm and material consistency along with its strong borders defined by fortifications makes it intelligible as a singular architectural composition. Its cohesive character and distinctive atmosphere are the consequence of its construction during a single phase between 1555 and 1590. Brought about through the will of a single mind - Vespasiano Gonzaga, the first Duke of Sabbioneta - it was intended as a new capital, a cultured city-state and sanctuary for the arts displaying in its urban form the orderliness sought in all Renaissance arts. Upon his death construction ended, the artists dispersed and his court returned to nearby Mantua. Sabbioneta declined and entered 400 years of stasis, forgotten but preserved.

‘town planning attains its essence in those situations when it can bring a place into order with one house’      Roger Diener

We are interested in urban palaces - the Palazzo and the Townhouse - as models for contemporary urban buildings that sit somewhere between the set piece and the background fabric of a city. Buildings with a generosity and grandeur which allow them to escape narrow functional classification. Through the passage of time these buildings have come to accommodate diverse lives ranging between the private and the public, the commercial and the civic.

We will accept Sabbioneta’s conceit of being a model city and use it as an analogy for more complex contemporary environments. Informed by its richness, its melancholy atmosphere, by its idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, we will develop architectural proposals that consider the character, figure and proportion of urban buildings which have an impact on the city beyond the immediacy of a particular site. Buildings which are retained within the collective memory and imagination of the city and its community.

Our interest lies in the eccentricities encountered between the private interior and the public demeanour of the townhouse. We are not interested in the preservation of monuments. The existing city, its walls and set pieces are not sacrosanct and students will be encouraged to make radical interventions within the city.

Design work will be arranged in suites of short, non-linear exercises with definitive outputs. We will study technique, drawing representation and modelling - understanding the tools available to us to describe our projects succinctly while also allowing the freedom to discover by chance, accidental revelation, consequence and contingency.

In November, we will travel to Italy to visit Sabbioneta. Through detailed surveys and readings we will acquire an intimate understanding of both its material and social constituents. Our surveys will be concerned with both the historical fabric as well as the contemporary detritus of truck stops, light industry and suburban banalities immediately outside its walls.

We will then continue to Milan via Mantua to study the extraordinary legacy of Modernist architecture by Rossi, Scarpa, Dominioni, Asnago e Vender et al. While fiercely modern, these architects were conscious of the role of tradition in architecture and their city buildings display a civic decorum and composure comparable to the monuments of the historical city.

Provisional reading list

  • Tradition And The Individual Talent, T.S. Eliot
  • The History Of The City, Leonardo Benevolo
  • The Architecture Of The City, Aldo Rossi
  • Sabbioneta: Cryptic City, James Madge
  • The House As Path And Place, Josef Frank
  • Figures, Doors And Passages, Robin Evans
Image: a row of buildings


Course Architecture BA (Hons) RIBA Part 1
Tutor Andrew Jackson
David Leech
Martin Nässén