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Review> Architectural Enigma
William Menking reviews Cooper Union's exhibition of Massimo Scolari's work.
Massimo Scolari, City without Parts, 1993.
Massimo Scolari

Massimo Scolari:
The Representation of Architecture

The Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street, New York
Through November 21

The tilted, folded, and collapsed facade of Morphosis’ 41 Cooper Square building on the Bowery now has a partner across the square with which to converse. A beautifully proportioned and “scaled” set of wooden wings perched on the balcony edge of the Italianate Cooper Union Foundation building. The wings are at once heavy and solid yet fleeting and the pure definition of lightness and fantasy. These glider wings are smaller versions of a similar wingspan that landed briefly on the Fondamenta della Tana on Venice's Arsenale canal in 1991 and then more permanently on the roof of the School of Architecture at the University of Venice on the Giudecca Canal.

A scaled down version of Scolari's Wings perched atop the Cooper Union Foundation building.
Courtesy Cooper Union

These dreamlike wings were created by the Italian architect and artist Massimo Scolari, the subject of a beautiful and compelling exhibition at Cooper Union until November 21. Scolari, who was the subject of the very first exhibition at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in 1976, taught at Cooper Union in the 1970’s and last exhibited there in 1986. Scolari has studiously avoided the contradictions of building and instead chosen to live in the world of ideas, which take shape and form in sculpture, painting, drawing, and maquettes. His theoretical and historical musings about architecture and the modern city could not appear at a more appropriate time given the current reliance in architecture on images produced by various digital formats, and the economic crises that has forced many young architects out of work, giving them time to think and dream not about building, but about the future of their profession, culture, and society.

Massimo Scolari, Gate for a Maritime City, 1979-80 (left). Reconstruction of Wings on the roof of the School of Architecture IUAV, Università di Venezia, Santa Marta, 1992 (right).
Massimo Scolari and G. Basilico

Scolari's professional trajectory led him to working partnerships with Ernesto Rogers and Aldo Rossi in Milan, but he seems to have always preferred the idea of architecture more than the reality of practice and building. In addition to his precise and ethereal drawings—many of them featuring objects hovering above  continued on page 19 Architectural Enigma continued from page 18  the landscape—Scolari has also produced a small but powerful number of objects that are planted firmly on the ground and are some of the most powerful architectural objects of his generation. His pyramid-like Ark, shown here in a small maquette, was also constructed in 1986 for the 17th Milan Triennale. Photographic images show the model’s interior reverted to a non-scale model from a powerful and purposefully disorienting full-scale construction of wooden columns and walls that Peter Eisenman has called “scaling.” A little known but brilliant project in the exhibition are the drawings and photographs of the full-scale installation he created at the Museo Palladio in Vicenza in 2002, which reproduced a wooden bridge built over the Rhine by Caesar to impress the barbarians. There are so many more fantastic moments like this bridge in the exhibition to savor; the show encapsulates the brilliance and power of architectural ideas and form.

William Menking

William Menking is AN’s Editor-in-Chief.


Massimo Scolari, Horus, 1985.
Massimo Scolari