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27.4.04

Giancarlo De Carlo

I didn't know anything about Italian architect Giancarlo De Carlo before I came across an article on and an interview with him in Le Monde on him, both published on April 27. Why all of the attention right now? The answer is an exhibit on the architect's work, Giancarlo De Carlo, des lieux, des hommes (Giancarlo De Carlo, places and people), at the Centre Pompidou until June 14. (The museum has just acquired a collection of De Carlo's models and sketches.) I haven't had much luck finding other information or images of his work. Here's a translation of parts of these articles:

Interview by Grégoire Allix, M. De Carlo: "L'architecture du star-system ne parle pas aux gens" (Mr. De Carlo: "Star-system architecture does not speak to people")

Are your struggles a few decades ago against functionalism and the International Style still vivid?

Yes. Star-system architecture does not speak to people. The world changes quickly, problems emerge, like the relationship to nature. Architecture must be refounded. I am old, but I still intend to fight.

How have you introduced user consultations in the planning of your projects?

I have worked a lot on the participation of residents. These have been remarkable experiences. But there is great misunderstanding of participation. Many architects think it is enough to go to the users, to ask them what they want. That's not it. Participation is a question of reciprocal disalienation. An architect must completely rethink his ideas after making contact with the residents and with reality. At Terni, in Mazzorbo, I have had these experiences that have been like shocks which I have gone through, I think, and become better, with more knowledge, more architectural sensibility.

This listening must also, according to you, be applied to the geographical and historical environment...

The context contains almost everything. The problem is knowing how to read it. Generally, one makes numerical calculations, one lines up the data, and one tries to arrive at the reality. That's not the problem. To know the context is gradually to "become" the context. Same thing for the project: you must not go directly to the solution, you should surround the possible solutions and look at them from all sides.

Does your youthful involvement with antifascist and anarchist movements play an important role in your conception of architecture?

Yes. I have an anarchist background. I believe in active freedom. At the time when I was in the Resistance and when I was fighting as a partisan, I could not agree with the communists: we do not have the same understanding of freedom. I am not an authoritarian. I think that we can accomplish things without taking advantage of our power. My architecture is impregnated with this political idea.

When one looks at your plans, one has the impression of seeing the engineer's mark, the care for technical detail, for the realization...

I began my career as an engineer. I've done a lot of drawing with my hands. I am quite bothered by all these young people who draw only on the computer. They do not enter into this contact with the idea, the thought, and the hand, which is very important for architects. There are architects who have never seen a construction site, who are happy only to talk about architecture. To be an architect you have to know what the workers do, to be capable of doing it like them.
Giancarlo De Carlo, Free University of Urbino, Department of Educational Sciences, 1968–1976
Giancarlo De Carlo, Free University of Urbino, Department of Educational Sciences, 1968–1976


Frédéric Edelmann, Giancarlo De Carlo, à échelle humaine (Giancarlo De Carlo, on a human scale)

The Pompidou Center this Italian 86-year-old mastermind, whose plans the museum has acquired and whose sketches and models it has received by donation. The chance to discover an unclassifiable builder, enemy of functionalism, whose sensibility to sites and residents was nourished by anarchism.

Born in Genoa in 1919, raised in Tunis, nourished by Milanese ingenuity, converted to architecture at the University of Venice, Giancarlo De Carlo has been left out of practically all of the encyclopedias of contemporary architecture, supposedly because before the age of 70 he had not built much, which is not exactly correct. He has in fact built more than some others who were more talkative. But he had one fault, shown by this revelatory exhibit at the National Museum of Modern Art, that of being effectively unclassifiable in Italy, where labels and strongly opposed schools are the rule. [...]

In his thought, De Carlo is close to William Morris, who dreamed of industrializing the arts to make them shared. He is with the part of Le Corbusier not devoured by his urbanist ego and that of Frank Lloyd Wright that knows how to handle practically all scales. He was close to Team X, a group founded in reaction to the functionalism and urbanism of the postwar years, as they were perpetuated by the rituals of the International Congresses of Modern Architecture. Team X included personalities like Aldo Van Eyck, Ernesto Rogers, Alison and Peter Smithson, Louis Kahn, and George Candilis, who kept their faith in architecture inspired by the Modern Movement but were conscious of the lack of attention to human and environmental factors that rationalism had created. This makes a school of thought, not a style or even a type of architecture.

So what is Giancarlo De Carlo's architecture? Paradoxically, the drawings, models, and plans acquired by the Pompidou Center do not seem to show at all this work made with sensitivity to the site and from dialogue with future residents. Instead they recall the engineer formed in Milan before his Venetian illumination.

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