10 Italian Garden Design Ideas

The way to the chapel on Mt Rokko (p. 204) is masterful in its sequential disclosures, which recede ahead along an indirect route to the sanctuary. At the outset, a ramp soars off to one side before turning 180° to arrive at a circular pavement, whose floor is separated from a glass tube ahead by a crack between the meeting geometries, which one must alertly step over to enter a new stage of calming light, aimed towards a mesmerizing patch of landscape. Near the end of this peaceful segment is an intensely dark and seemingly unimportant recess to the right, allowing one to easily pass by and wonder if the trail has been lost. This provocative tactic at a critical moment in the journey wakens an ever-more conscious seeking, slowing the finding and making it into an authentic deed. The attentive walker will remember the chapel’s rough location, and cautiously plunge into the darkness towards the sliver of light, a beacon succeeded by another right bend to returning light in the sanctuary. But here, as in many Nordic churches, the adventure does not end, for the room opens at the side through a huge glass wall to a secret garden whose slope indicates that the light-filled chapel is unexpectedly sunk in the earth.

Where architectural opportunities proliferate around us, we are given a seemingly unbounded scope of freedom. The surrounding structure is rich with invitations of agility and transformation, versatility and discovery, presenting an all-pervasive field of action. These circumambient possibilities are apparent in untamed landscapes and great cities, but also appear in buildings with exceptionally porous masses and ongoing cavities. In these spongy and eventful forms there is no end to the courses of action people can detect and decide for themselves. These buildings are essentially ‘open works’ and ‘open forms’, due both to their spatial continuum and to the wide range of prospects brought into view for consideration, which offer countless ‘open futures’ people are able to choose and govern themselves.

As the opportunities in buildings multiply – their invitations spread across and around the field of vision, above and below, right and left, ahead and behind, receding one after the other into the distance – a unique kind of structure is implied. Its possibilities may derive from the four basic kinds of spatial action discussed previously, but what is different is their scope and profusion, encouraging us to exercise agency to the fullest extent.

A building that offers such broad, deep and circumambient powers is inherently porous, transparent enough for the eye to scan over multiple options and penetrate into the futures they offer. But it is also opaque enough to define while withholding some tempting contents, conveying that certain locales are private, but also that hidden reserves exist that can be explored and disclosed. And lastly, if most urgently, it displays constellations of distinct and compelling places – alluring enough to spark our interest as choices worthy of consideration and the exercise of our powers. Instead of shrinking tightly around a single directive, or a few desperate choices we have to settle for, there is a tremendous abundance of choices we care about, providing us with chances to fulfill our desires.

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A structure so open to human deeds will charm and entice us in almost any direction we look. We can identify diverse points of departure for routes into and through the permeable mass. Captivating elements stir expectation and compete to attract our attention and involvement. These incentives present an ample range of inviting acts for us to contemplate, and continue to lure us as we set off on one of many possible journeys. They arouse ‘one of the deepest, one of the most general functions of living organisms’, which is ‘to look ahead, to produce future’, notes French biologist Frangois Jacob in The Possible and the Actual. ‘There is not a single movement, a single posture that does not imply a later on, a passage to the next moment.’ With each of our actions in a wide array of available futures, ‘we are engaged in what will be’.113

The closed forms we are often condemned to encounter in buildings – impregnable fagades, sealed voids, unrelieved tunnels and isolated cells – have been partially opened up to us. Impervious fagades are breached with receding space, while solid masses are shot through with cavities that erode the volume from within, presenting the eye with indented silhouettes and hollowed forms. Permeability extends through the innards to break down cell walls of a normally shut anatomy of rooms and corridors, walls and ceilings, floors and stairs. Volumes leak into one another, just as the built envelope does not end abruptly at a closed and airtight border, but disassembles and feathers along its extremities. But it is important to reiterate that these possibilities will not spark our interest if they are amorphous or bland, irrespective of their number. Each must possess a strong and enchanting character to inspire our pursuit. At these times we no longer look at a neutral (even if useful or sumptuous) object, but see into an intersubjective complex that includes us in its forms, imploring us to assess its many opportunities and explore its innermost charms.

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