Progetto e Impero: The Critical Project of Contropiano
By Britt Eversole
At the broadest level, this thesis attempts a historical recovery of Contropiano. The project charts the journal’s progression over its four year life span, contextualizes the interrelationship of the politics and theory that influenced the research and criticism published in its pages, charts the turn toward the PCI and the engagement with the IUAV, and details the project of ‘environmental’ criticism beyond the singular building. This thesis is intended for an English speaking audience, and more specifically for architectural academics, who understand the work of this period solely through the lens of the translated writings of Manfredo Tafuri. It is not directed toward an Italian audience: the history is already familiar to them, and appears to be of little interest. In fact, few Italians today read Tafuri’s writings, and even fewer read his theory. Rather, as is often noted, the ongoing fascination with Tafuri and the legacy of the Venetian Marxist critique of architecture is a primarily Anglo phenomenon; it is a product of the appropriation of certain aspects of certain Tafurian texts coinciding with the rise of American east coast architectural theory production in the 1970s. It is in the aftermath of this context – specifically the academy in the present: the pedagogy of which is heavily codified by the theoretical apparatus that arose in Princeton, New York, and Harvard, the academics ‘produced’ by that apparatus, and the subsequent generation who trained under them – that this project finds its critical potential. This thesis does not set out to correct anyone or anything, especially any interpretations of the Italian project that may have transpired in the recent past. Rather, it provides the foundation on which such a critique might be built in the future.
This thesis also attempts a critique of Contropiano. Explicating the diversity of the work in its pages, with emphasis on the art, architectural and cultural criticism, its rigorous project – or perhaps a better term would be non-project, non-progetto, or controprogetto – will be both revealed and questioned. In the first year, the journal undertook a complex and diverse analysis of culture with the express intent of exposing and critiquing all forms of bourgeois cultural production. At the same time, the journal refused to posit productive strategies for bettering society. The critique of culture on the one hand and the refusal to participate in development on the other constitute Contropiano’s double negative project. Here negative must not be understood pejoratively, but rather qualitatively as an action which impels further action.