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Giancarlo De Carlo. Percorsi - Review

by Francesco Samassa

It was 1998 when Giancarlo De Carlo and the Project Archive at the Venice School of Architecture (IUAV) defined an agreement and a schedule of work with the objective of depositing, reorganizing, preserving and making available De Carlo's professional archive. This program involved more than five years' work and was finally completed in June 2004 with the publication of the volume “Giancarlo De Carlo - An Analytic Inventory of the Archive”, the third in the series (after those dedicated to Giuseppe Torres and Alberto and Giuseppe Samonà), included in the set of inventories published by the Project Archive in Venice to give the public of students and scholars of architecture the opportunity to access the records preserved in the archive.
These five years have seen a highly articulated series of phases of work, from the physical processing of the documentary material (recovered from the premises of Giancarlo De Carlo's firm in Milan and patiently reorganized, inventoried and catalogued in compliance with international archival standards), to the establishment on line of all of the data collected. The result is that today it can be consulted at the site of the Project Archive ( accompanied by a wealth of images. Here I will seek to illustrate the final order that was given to the archival fund and briefly describe its contents.

First of all I should, however, state first two conditions that constituted a limit to the operation. The first was the fact that it was necessary to limit acquisition of documents that were no longer of any operative usefulness for the study, at present in full activity, so as to not to obstruct the work. This involved the decision not to include in the work, for example, all those projects that are so recent that they are still unfinished in all phases of work (even if subsequent to the design stage in itself); but also the rich photographic archive that is constantly used for the many and varied publications that deal with De Carlo and his work. Obviously this limitation is only temporary, and it is conceivable that in future it will be superseded. A very different kind of limitation however, and in this case unfortunately irreversible, is the result of an episode in February 1972 (precisely documented) when De Carlo personally destroyed a great deal of material in his archive at that time, by "thinning out", or even eliminating completely, the drawings relevant to the various projects he had worked on up till that time (largely the "minor" projects, if we want to accept a definition of this type, but it would have been important to be able to study them today). This created a true gap, the only really significant one in the record, that did not, however, cancel all of the documentation of the work done by the firm before February 1972.
With this exception, all of the materials in the fund have been acquired in a state of preservation that is definitely good, and above all with an effective organization that we have sought in most cases to preserve, simply adapting the principles of cataloguing to those now standardized at the international level for architectural archives.

The fund is organized in a sequence of four documentary series and in a sub-fund which in its turn is organized in three other documentary series: the series of “Acts”, two series dedicated to graphic materials (“Projects: drawings, reports, models” and “Projects: digital documents”), the series of the “Writings” and then, for the sub-fund dedicated to the architectural review “Space & Society”, a series of “Correspondence”, one of “Editorial Materials” and a last section of "Various Materials".

The series of the “Acts” substantially collects all of the materials related to correspondence produced in the context of the many-sided work conducted over many years by Giancarlo De Carlo: these range from his professional practice, naturally, to his academic activities, publishing and his work of cultural promotion, without overlooking an infinity of other occasional situations in which De Carlo was involved in different ways. It amounts to a considerable volume of documents, variously ordered in the different parts (and substantially retaining its original organization), of great interest both by the multiplicity of the authoritative interlocutors with whom De Carlo kept up a steady correspondence, and by the attitude (so typical of De Carlo) of treating his correspondence as an important phase in the development of his thought. As an example I will only mention the correspondence relative to the participation of De Carlo as a member of the Board of the Milan Triennale down to 1968 (the year of the ill-fated exhibition which he curated on the theme of the “Big Number", which was devastated by demonstrators on the opening day), or the rich correspondence related to the activity of Team X, of which De Carlo was one of the most active members as well as the organizer of two meetings at Urbino (1976) and Spoleto (1976).
The two series devoted to "Projects" bring together all of the materials produced in the context of the elaboration of plans and projects that constitute, in the case of an architect, the principal corpus of records of his professional activity. Leaving aside for a moment the series containing digital materials (which raise a set of new technical problems, which are still open for archival methodology and require to be explored thoroughly, and would require for this reason to be dealt with separately), I shall here refer to the drawings and models and to the accompanying reports that the De Carlo office developed starting from 1950. It is a collection of about 10,000 documents related to almost 120 projects: a volume of material that finally offers the opportunity to study Giancarlo De Carlo's work systematically on the basis of the original sources. But the half century of work by the De Carlo firm documented in the fund, and its substantial integrity, also offers the opportunity to retrace the great transformation that professional practice underwent, in technical-material terms, in the course of the second half of the twentieth century: from the first tracings drawn in pencil and India ink, to the first radex copies, the heliographic copies and photocopies, down to today's digitalization of the processes of graphic drafting (which, as I pointed out, calls for separate treatment). This observation is important if we are to understand fully that the importance of an archival fund like that of Giancarlo De Carlo does not lie only in the opportunity it provides to study Giancarlo De Carlo himself, but also the possibility to construct other paths of research, on a very wide range of different subjects.
The series of the “Writings”, finally, brings together an important collection of documents that has been assembled over time (and jealously and patiently preserved by Angela Mioni at the Milan office), relating to the different occasions on which De Carlo produced a contribution to some subject, whether an interview, a lecture, a statement at a meeting, a preface to some publication, an article, the awarding of a prize, or much else. Of special interest are the texts drafted for numerous interventions at conventions and public meetings, not only because many of them have remained unpublished, but also because the original manuscripts have often been drafted in a way that tells us a lot about De Carlo on those occasions, with brightly colored underlining and highlighting, diagrams and small accompanying sketches and marginal notes. Lost in any printed edition, also like the many traces of the changes of mind or the notes on the backs of sheets made in the margins of the papers given by other speakers, all these aspects of the graphic drafting of the texts often become quite representative of De Carlo's way of thinking. A small sample that is highly representative of this important aspect appears in the anthological appendix to the volume Giancarlo De Carlo. Percorsi published by the Project Archive of Venice parallel with the volume of the inventory. These writings are a paradigmatic example of the fundamental importance to scholars of having access to original sources (and, consequently, of the decisive importance for study and research for the work conducted by the archives). Also important, in my opinion, are the texts of syllabuses and the presentations of the courses, lectures and other activities within the university that make it possible to reconstruct faithfully De Carlo's academic activity within the limits of its contents. This is an aspect on which historical-critical attention has never been focused, since it has always been limited to considering only De Carlo's academic career in the passage of the various posts he held, between the universities of Venice and Genoa. I shall here limit myself to these few examples, even though there are many other documents that are equally noteworthy.

Separate treatment is called for by the sub-fund of "Space & Society", the international review of architecture and urban planning which De Carlo founded and edited (from the 1970s down to its closure in 2000), since its materials have no direct relationship with the materials in the personal and professional funds. Though the premises of the editorial staff were set, except in the initial period, in the firm's offices, the review always had a life that was parallel with but independent of all of De Carlo's other activities. In this case the archive of the review has been acquired in the organization given it by Giuliana Baracco, De Carlo's lifelong companion and the energetic head of the magazine's editorial staff, and is divided into the three series mentioned above. One of “Correspondence” relates to all of the epistolary exchanges with authors, occasional contributors, but also the editorial staff; there are two of “Materials”: the first related to the preparatory materials of the different pamphlets (unfortunately they have been preserved only for the last twenty or so numbers of the magazine); a second one of "various" materials, here meaning photographic materials, press cuttings and other documentation that was collected and preserved as the review's "complex memory", a collection of notes and cues, the basic fuel for the discussions and ideas that animated the life of the review.

As I have said, all the information regarding the documents extracted during the operations of reorganizing the archive is now available on line, and constitutes a fundamental instrument forcarrying out research into an outstandingly important figure such as Giancarlo De Carlo.



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