Pier Carlo Bontempi Wins 2014 Driehaus Prize

“Sulla sostenibilità c’è un fraintendimento colossale... Va intesa in senso più ampio: un edificio che duri mille anni, sia flessibile, sobrio e renda felice la vita delle persone è certamente ecologico.”

                                                                                                                                           - Pier Carlo Bontempi

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     The pictures above are just a few projects designed by Pier Carlo Bontempi, this year’s winner of the Driehaus Prize. For those who don’t know, the Driehaus Prize is a big deal in the world of contemporary traditional architecture. It’s the traditional equivalent of the modernist Pritzker Prize. Some years ago I had the privilege to spend a summer working for Pier Carlo in Studio Bontempi. His office is in an old farm building in Emilio-Romagna, in the untouristed countryside near Parma. The windows look out over picturesque agricultural fields and countryside. There Pier Carlo and his team work on projects that range from modest middle-class houses to entirely new whole villages. In this peaceful setting, they produce very seductive drawings, such as these:

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     Bontempi’s is a restrained and sober architecture, and economical, with just enough detailing here and there to make a vernacular architecture that is classically informed. Arcades, bridges, towers and loggias are combined in diverse ways to make playful and interesting urban conditions, while the understated architecture is a visual relief from eyes tired from our technological society.

     The project I worked on was a new village and hotel in Emilio-Romagna called Fonti di Matilde. It was designed by a team of alumni of the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture. Traditional architectural education was decimated by modernism in Europe just as it was in the United States, and the Prince’s Institute was the only school teaching traditional architecture and urbanism in Britain. Pier Carlo was seeing the project through to completion including all of the architectural design. It’s an architecture not so different from what we have in Charleston, and with a restrained palette of stucco surfaces, arches, stringcourses, cornices, tiled roofs, shutters and little else, I felt right at home. More than anything else, it’s an architecture that seeks to please not by being flashy but through the use of good rhythm and proportion. Here’s one of the drawings I worked on before it was watercolored. It shows a small group of houses, a portion of the village:

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   Don’t get the wrong idea. These buildings are economically built with up-to-date modern construction techniques. The stucco is on reinforced concrete block, the floors of prestressed concrete beams with centralized underfloor radiant heating, the partition walls of hollow terracotta bricks finished with plaster. They are built to last, designed to be a permanent part of the landscape. Streets are given over to pedestrians; parking is below. Some pictures of the completed buildings: 

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“In Italy, for 3,000 years we continued to build a fantastic masterpiece formed of the fusion of architecture and landscape. In the 60 years following World War II, we have done everything to destroy that masterpiece with the aid of buildings alien to tradition. Unfortunately we still live in a post-war atmosphere, both of widespread desire for obligatory novelty at all costs, and of amnesia with regards to our great qualities in the field of urbanism and architecture.”

                                                                                                                      - Pier Carlo Bontempi

Pier Carlo Bontempi’s website: www.piercarlobontempi.it

The opening quote comes from this article in the Gazzetta di Parma.

And the last quote comes from this one in Traditional Building Magazine.

Architectural taste does not evolve...

... but it can be improved, just like a taste for wine can be refined, or for baseball, or for anything else. It happens at the level of the individual, not the species. As architecture is for the most part straightforward and easy to understand, most people's architectural taste is already pretty decent. This is proved by the number of tourists that flock to Venice and to Paris and to Charleston but not to Columbus. But like anything, to rise to the level of a real amateur (lover), it takes hard work and a devotion bordering on obsession.

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Grecian Architecture in Charleston Lectures at the Charleston Library Society

We are excited to be giving a couple of lectures on Grecian Architecture in Charleston as part of a series along with local historian Peg Eastman. "Grecian," by the way, is what the people practicing what we now call "Greek Revival" called it at the time. (They also called it "Modern Architecture.") We prefer to call it what they called it - "revival" tends to suggest it was mere copying, which of course it wasn't. Learn more about the lecture series at the Society's website here.

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B&L to Give Lecture to Preservation Society of Charleston

We'll be giving a lecture at the next Preservation Society of Charleston's membership meeting on Thursday, May 13th at 7pm at the Charleston Museum. It's called, "An Architecture for Our Time and the Genius of Albert Simons." We hope you can make it. Find more information here.

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