Raia gold medallist

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Enrico taglietti - building the invisible city

The 2007 RAIA Gold Medallist is Canberra architect Enrico Taglietti. Four writers – Paola Favaro, Howard Tanner, Jennifer Taylor and Massimo Tadi – consider his oeuvre, influences and contribution to architecture in Australia, and we present snapshots

Enrico Taglietti, 2007 RAIA Gold Medallist. Portrait by Vikky Wilkes.
Enrico Taglietti, 2007 RAIA Gold Medallist. Portrait by Vikky Wilkes.


JURY CITATION


The Gold Medal is the highest honour the RAIA can bestow, recognizing Australian architects who have produced buildings of high merit, who have produced work of great distinction resulting in the advancement of architecture, or who have endowed the profession of architecture in a distinguished manner.

Enrico Taglietti’s architecture is highly significant in Australian architecture, both for its individual character and for its regional base in Canberra – away from the large coastal cities of mainstream Australia.

Taglietti’s work over the second half of the twentieth century has consistently pursued an Australian architectural vision as seen through Italian eyes. Arriving in Australia, his first impression was of “the sort of emptiness which was very conducive to creation”. His work demonstrates the architectural story of an immigrant – seeing a new country with clear vision – and he continues an important tradition of successful immigrant architects, including Harry Seidler, Frederick Romberg and, more recently, Romaldo Guirgola.

Having come to Australia as a young graduate in the late 1950s, Taglietti settled in Canberra, then an intimate city of 40,000 inhabitants. At the same time, the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) emerged and engaged the country’s prominent architectural talent to undertake the major projects required to implement the capital’s growth. In a period when Canberra practices were usually branch offices of Melbourne and Sydney, Taglietti’s succeeded as the first Canberra-based practice of note. Today he is regarded as one of the national capital’s active “elder statesmen” of architecture. His work has been critically acclaimed in Australia and internationally in numerous publications.

Taglietti’s influences come from the philosophies and work of Frank Lloyd Wright rather than the international modernity of the Bauhaus. The links and lineage between Wright, the Griffins and Canberra has been significant to Taglietti’s thinking and work, particularly the idea that meaning in architecture is developed from an organic relationship between architecture and landscape. This empathy with the landscape has made him a natural advocate for the Griffins’ vision for Canberra.

The design of his buildings is based on what he has described as a “calligraphy” of elements – long, horizontal flat roofs and balconies, sloping fascias and balustrades, and battered walls – and often incorporates sloping window reveals and unpainted surfaces for texture and minimal maintenance. Both his domestic work and large-scale public commissions gave him the opportunity to explore the free use of concrete. Concrete also enabled his houses to work into their bush settings. Prominent weathered timber fascias and boarding added to the fusion of his buildings with the landscape.

Enrico Taglietti was born in Milan in 1926 and completed his architectural studies at the Milan Polytechnic, studying under such luminaries as Gio Ponti, Franco Albini, Bruno Zevi and Pier Luigi Nervi. His work led him to Australia in 1955, and his practice has continued in Canberra through to the first decade of the twenty-first century. His practice has had a long commitment to domestic architecture but has also built many public buildings including schools, churches and major commercial buildings. Notable projects include the McKeown House (1965), the Church of St Anthony (1965) and the Embassy of Italy Chancellery (1974). Notable public buildings include the St Kilda Library in Melbourne (1972), Giralang Primary School and Preschool (1975) and the Australian War Memorial Annex (1979) in Canberra.

Working outside the architectural mainstream, Enrico Taglietti’s influence on Canberra architecture has been to stimulate the intellect and eyes of those who know and admire his work. The philosophic, aesthetic and formal qualities of his creations are remarkable. He is an outstanding architect of national significance, who has made a major contribution to the growth of the national capital.

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RAIA Gold Medal Jury 2007, RAIA National President Carey Lyon (Chair), RAIA Immediate Past President Bob Nation, RAIA 2006 Gold Medallist Kerry Hill, Kerstin Thompson and Robert Morris-Nunn.

UN’ARCHITETTURA PARLANTE

Giralang Primary School and Preschool, ACT, 1975.
Giralang Primary School and Preschool, ACT, 1975.

PAOLA FAVARO

Enrico Taglietti’s architecture has been described by Australian and international architectural critics as an architecture “whose highly personal style remains outside the main streams of current Australian architecture”, as “impossible to place in a convenient stylistic basket marked ‘F. L. Wright’ or ‘Scarpa’”, as being of “genial expressionism,” and overall as “idiosyncratic design”.1 It is not difficult to see that the organizing idea behind his buildings – when experienced either from outside, walking along their edges, or from inside, moving through the sequence of the inner spaces – is the product of a personal, individual and, at the same time, complex series of decisions. For me, the question is: to what extent is his idiosyncratic architecture the result of his early formative experiences?

Through interviews with Taglietti, his family and his contemporaries in Milan, a significant aspect of his life emerges: his consistent exposure to contrasting events, people and places. Within his family environment and his education at the Jesuit primary school Leone XIII in Milan (1932–36), the Francesco Martini high school in Asmara (1940–45) and later at the architectural school at Milan Polytechnic (1948–53), Taglietti experienced debates on confronting and, at times, conflicting ideologies. Cautious though one must be about making too deterministic a reading of his life, I nonetheless believe that certain formative influences helped to shape his idiosyncratic frame of mind, his unwillingness to compromise, and his intransigent determination to stand up for his convictions.

The first aspect of contrast can be detected within his family life and his early education. Inside Taglietti’s family there was a consistent conflict regarding education between his more conservative father, a real patriarca, and the liberal attitudes and beliefs of his mother. His secondary education in Asmara (in Eritrea, formerly Ethiopia) during the Second World War, exposed Taglietti to the ideological debate among his high school’s educators, who were following diverse political and philosophical directions promoted by the Italian Fascist colonial power and later by the British government. But most significant was the ideological debate that emerged during Taglietti’s architectural education in 1950s Milan. The polytechnic environment revealed a conflict between the conservative teaching approach of the Head of School and the Milanese Tendenza, and the Modernist alternative of Gropius’s Bauhaus philosophy – perceived by Taglietti as a “rigid, direct and structured approach with everything arriving to one conclusion”. This period also saw the merging of technical components, through Pier Luigi Nervi’s lectures, with the notion of architectural space as the fundamental expression of the Modernist period on the basis of Bruno Zevi’s “speak architecture”, Frank Lloyd Wright’s “sense of space” and the Milanese architect and teacher Carlo de Carli’s ideas of spazio primario. Furthermore, Taglietti witnessed Italy’s postwar reconstruction, with its social and political conflicts and architectural debates, which saw the main cities of Milan and Rome as protagonists of a dispute between the rational architecture of MSA (Movimento di Studi per l’Architettura) in Milan and the organic architecture of APAO (Associazione per l’Architettura Organica) promoted by Bruno Zevi in Rome.

The second aspect of contrast can be identified in the places Taglietti inhabited – Milan, Asmara and Canberra. Milan, unlike Asmara and Canberra, doesn’t rely on any dramatic natural landscape for its urban development. It is certainly not on a plateau 2,500 metres above sea level, and nor does it have hills, mountain, river or lake to count on.

As architect Vittorio Gregotti comments, “Because Milan is not blessed with a dramatic setting (being absolute flat), has no fine river running through it and – unlike Florence or Rome – no mythically beautiful surrounding landscape, its architecture has to work that much harder to create urban quality … Milan does at times seem an ugly city, this is because the architecture is ugly and there is nothing else to look at.”2 ›› And a similar view from architect Aldo Rossi, “The first is that Milan has no natural landscape to distinguish it (hills, mountains, rivers, sea, etc.): and the second is that it does not even have a vertical construction to characterize it (Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, etc.). It is an extremely flat, horizontal city, which has almost exalted the condition of flatness.”3 ›› With no exciting natural landscape and no significant vertical buildings, Milan is shaped by the contrast of the regular grid of the Roman Mediolanum with the irregular pattern of the medieval streets and the intricate, navigable canal system designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Taglietti was alert to the ideological tensions in 1950s Milanese architecture made, for example, by Ernesto Nathan Rogers in his Torre Velasca, with its contradiction between rejecting the neoclassical principles still pursued by most of the Milanese architects at that time, and accepting innovation.

In contrast, the eastern African city of Asmara offered Taglietti the experience of a multicultural environment. There he saw the rich urban and architectural quality of a city built over time with oriental and indigenous constructions, from the mosques and the churches to the growing colonial city with its Modernist constructions rapidly built by the Italian Fascist regime. But, most importantly, Taglietti appreciated the relief of the early Christian churches that were carved out from the rock of the surrounding landscape.

What, on reflection, might be drawn from Taglietti’s pattern of conflicting experiences? The consequence, it could be argued, is Taglietti’s consistent, passionate architectural arguments, as revealed in his projects, his writings, his lectures and his conversations.

It was in Canberra, “a city where the landscape made its architecture,” that Taglietti came to test his design principles. Taglietti learnt from his experiences to construct his own ideas, not to be a follower of any architectural group or style, and to figure out ways to have the architecture connect with the city and its surrounding landscape. Ever mindful of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin’s original design for a national capital, marked by strong water and land axes, Taglietti’s architecture is in constant dialogue with the place – with Lake Burley Griffin, Mount Ainslie and the Black Mountains beyond. His discussions are a dialectic, at times a polemic, between the place and the architecture. Accordingly, Taglietti’s architecture is not so much a silent architecture as an architettura parlante. Every element forces discussions and polemic, fights to say something, first to the place, then to the people. His architecture provokes a discourse between the internal space and the external space, forcing the inhabitants and the users to think about how they want to inhabit the space – where they want to walk through, how they want to sit down to work or to relax, and in what ways they want to engage with the surrounding landscape. This architettura parlante, this dialogue with the place, has been Enrico’s preoccupation since his arrival in Canberra in 1955. As Aldo Rossi reminds us, “places are stronger than people, the fixed scene stronger than the transitory succession of events.”4 ›› Events occur and change. People come and go. Places stay. A picture emerges of an architect, in particular a migrant architect, with contrasting formative experiences and places stored in his memory. This picture raises a series of questions related to identity and adaptation to a new culture. One can argue that with adaptation comes the necessity of belonging to a place and a culture. Taglietti’s extraordinary attachment to Canberra – the place of choice and of the opportunity to contribute to the making of that place – is the most significant aspect of his character as a migrant architect. One only has to read his recent articles and letters regarding Canberra’s future growth, and his vision for it, to realize that Taglietti, at eighty years old, still has a passionate furor architectonicus for the place that is Canberra.

Taglietti has developed an architectural language that responds to place through strong formalist external volumes juxtaposed with idiosyncratic complex internal spatial arrangements. One example is the 1968 Paterson house in Aranda, which shows the extent to which Taglietti questions the surrounding landscape through a fortress-like external envelope whose specific openings frame the natural environment and the distant horizons, cleverly overlooking visually undesirable elements. Another is the 1975 Giralang School, where the nondescript immediate landscape gave Taglietti the possibility of creating one. The exterior outline resembles a section of a city, with sloping sections of walls and angled vertical surfaces rising towards the open skylights above. The volume of Giralang School, when read in this light, could be interpreted as giving a context to the site – in other words, a landscape which “speaks” of surfaces rising from the ground, even reflecting the line of the Black Mountains on the far horizon.

The composition and proportions of Taglietti’s architectural spaces have a distinct personality, a resonance to the cultural language of the places inhabited as well as a sense of continuity derived from his maestri, Bruno Zevi and Carlo de Carli. He appropriates a cultural language in an idiosyncratic way as a base to expand upon rather than seeing it with its limitations related to a specific time and location.

In Canberra, Taglietti has been questioning since the late 1950s how architecture, expressed through the dialogue of external volumes and surfaces, interacts with the landscape, and how it explores the iconic memory of spaces and their relevance to human presence. Taglietti’s work, in relation to his Australian contemporaries, is outside the mainstream, offering more depth and playfulness of forms and content.

He was a migrant by choice, searching for better opportunities in both Asmara and Canberra. What is significant in Taglietti’s experience is his ability as a migrant architect to discern and manipulate universal and general premises of culture – the values placed on history and culture, allowing change, assimilation and adaptation to a new culture, confirming Werner Seligmann’s argument that, “For a true architect, the mind constitutes an unfathomable storehouse of information and impressions that, in the process of creating, lose their identity and are converted into something new.”5 ›› Taglietti’s search for a dynamic and sculptural form, for an architettura parlante, has been successful throughout his career. His buildings and his representational language deal with architectural problems, they “speak architecture” convincingly behind an overt functionality and commodity. His projects embrace cultural issues, aesthetics, and disciplinary and ideological issues. In short, they represent the substance of an educated, idiosyncratic point of view that is both universal and of its place.

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Paola Favaro is a lecturer in architecture at the University of New South Wales. She is writing her PhD on the work of Enrico Taglietti. This essay draws on her interviews with Enrico Taglietti in Canberra 2003 and his sister Silvia Negri in Milan 2004.

EUROPEAN SENSIBILITIES IN THE AUSTRALIAN LANDSCAPE

McKeown House, Watson, ACT, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden. This image was the frontispiece for Australian Housing in the Seventies.
McKeown House, Watson, ACT, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden. This image was the frontispiece for Australian Housing in the Seventies.
Osborne House, ‘Grantham Park’, Currandooley, NSW, 1961. Photograph Max Ahearn. Taglietti’s first house was widely published in Australia and internationally.
Osborne House, ‘Grantham Park’, Currandooley, NSW, 1961. Photograph Max Ahearn. Taglietti’s first house was widely published in Australia and internationally.

HOWARD TANNER

Canberra in the 1950s was an odd place: a scatter of formal public buildings, and six garden suburbs in search of a city. Lacking the central lake, its flanking bridges and an established parliamentary triangle, it was almost impossible for a visitor to grasp the Griffins’ vision for a remarkable capital city.

In 1955, fate, in the form of an invitation from leading Sydney retailer and entrepreneur Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, brought Enrico Taglietti to Australia. The task before the young Milanese architect was to coordinate an exhibition of modern Italian art and design in Sydney, which included examples of his own work. Through the generosity of the Lloyd Joneses valuable introductions were effected, and he travelled to Canberra and further afield.

At this moment – and for the first time since 1929 – the realization of Canberra as the nation’s capital was a serious item on the Commonwealth agenda. Options for the formation of the lake and the definition of the Anzac Parade ceremonial axis, and the advice of international city planning experts such as Sir William Holford, led to the formation of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in 1957. With significant government investment, the NCDC planned and shaped the city we see today.

For Taglietti, who left Milan in 1956 to live and work in Canberra, it was an opportunity to contribute to the blank canvas of an “invisible city”, and to participate in the imminent requirement for an Italian embassy. Educated Italians were aware of Costa and Niemeyer’s creation of Brasilia (1956–61), and Canberra was clearly the other national capital on the cusp of fruition.

Taglietti’s initial projects were modest, but in 1959 a group of Canberra developers engaged him to design the first of a series of distinctive motels and hotels, allowing Taglietti to develop his idiosyncratic use of angular concrete balconies and powerful roof forms. These led to later office buildings and to institutional commissions, of which St Anthony’s Church at Marsfield, NSW, and Giralang Primary School in the ACT are best known.

Early acclaim is evident in the inclusion of Taglietti’s work in the 1979 exhibition Transformations in Modern Architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Architectural critic Arthur Drexler wrote in the exhibition catalogue of Taglietti designing in a “Wrightian manner” and, while parallels can be drawn, Taglietti and architects like Bruce Rickard and the Sydney School of the period were all open to Prairie School influences.

I came to know of Taglietti through research for my book Australian Housing in the Seventies (1976). While rewarding early projects by Glenn Murcutt, Gabriel Poole, Terry Dorrough, Viv Fraser and others were included, it was Taglietti’s dramatic McKeown house (Watson, ACT, 1965) that took pride of place on the frontispiece – it was quite different to anything else of the period. As I wrote:

“An interest in built massing as sculptural form (the new geometry) reflects part of this release from basic [post war] building. The work of Italian-trained Enrico Taglietti … shows the varied modelling and articulation possible within the domestic framework. Take as an example Taglietti’s McKeown house in Canberra: tapering walls, cantilevers and roof planes tie together to make a very strong and carefully composed ‘work of art’. Here plain building is transcended.”1 ›› Reflecting on the Allan C. Smith house (1968) at West Pennant Hills, then on the outskirts of Sydney, I commented, “Dr Taglietti … has over the last ten years revealed through his architectural work, especially his houses, sculptural solutions to the built form. Unusual shapes and angles and contrasts of light trellis and massive masonry, and the use of hovering cantilevered planes of roof and deck, have given his work a distinct character and individuality.”2 ›› Thirty-five years later, to refresh my memory of the impact Taglietti’s work had on the Australian scene at that time, I revisited his first new house in Australia, designed in 1961 for Pat and Sally Osborne on the grazing property Currandooley, which edges the eastern shore of Lake George, north-east of Canberra.

The Osbornes clearly recall the excitement of the project:

“Pat wanted a contemporary house.” “There was a young Italian architect in Canberra who was doing very interesting work.” “Taglietti was very charming, very enthusiastic, with piercing blue eyes.” “His ideas appealed to us immediately.” “We wanted an L-shaped plan which would cut out the wind from the south, and nestle into the hill.” “The most unusual aspect of the house was the roof: all hips and no ridge, with suntraps cut into the angular forms.” “Taglietti said that it was his first site with unlimited space … while a clever designer … he was quite economical.” “The house cost 13,000 pounds, while a standard project home at the time cost 6,000 pounds – to us it represented good value.” ›› In essence, it is a simple three-bedroom house of 21 “squares”, with a large living space and kitchen in one wing, and the bedrooms and bathrooms in the other, the two wings terminating in verandahs with distinctive roof cut-outs, and enfolding a rectangular garden space. Triangulated openings, a spectacular fireplace and heated floors counterpoise bagged walls and typical parquet and tiled floors of the period.

Good design, especially exciting domestic design, has interested Sally Osborne’s family for generations. Her Crace ancestors furnished residences for the Prince Regent, worked with A. W. Pugin, and shipped out specific furnishings for their homestead Gungahleen (now surrounded by the Canberra suburb Gungahlin). Sally and her sister Julia McFarlane – who later ran successful design businesses in New York – were inspired by Marion Hall Best, the celebrated Sydney interior designer, and these influences revealed themselves in the detail of the new Taglietti house. There were Bertoia chairs, the dining table was by Clem Meadmore, curtains were of linen scrim, blinds used Marimekko fabrics, two large Finnish rugs of abstract design came from David Jones, and the internal walls were painted with special glazed finishes, as recommended by Marion Hall Best.

This was probably the most distinctive house constructed in the Canberra region in the early 1960s, and arguably the most famous, being published in Domus, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Architecture and Arts, Architecture Today and Cross-section, and being included in the exhibition Transformations in Modern Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Architecture and Arts, listing it among the ten finest buildings of 1961–62, described it as “a forceful and virile house with a thoroughly Australian character”.

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Howard Tanner is a national councillor of the RAIA and Chairman of Tanner Architects in Sydney.

A TRIBUTE

Design study, learning units, Gowrie Primary School and Preschool, 1977.
Design study, learning units, Gowrie Primary School and Preschool, 1977.
“At the beach”. Enrico Taglietti, top, at the Le Corbusier Workshop, Marseilles, 1954. Francesca Tadi, a fellow architecture student at Milan Polytechnic, is top left. Enrico and Francesca married later that year.
“At the beach”. Enrico Taglietti, top, at the Le Corbusier Workshop, Marseilles, 1954. Francesca Tadi, a fellow architecture student at Milan Polytechnic, is top left. Enrico and Francesca married later that year.

JENNIFER TAYLOR

The buildings of Enrico Taglietti are distinctive in the repertoire of Australian architecture. To me, his work has never lost the Italian spirit, with its sense of fun and theatre, and with a sculptural richness inherited from Italian architecture.

When Enrico arrived in Australia from Italy concrete was the material of the day, with many of the major works being built in his new home city, Canberra. The expressive freedom and exuberance in his architecture is found even in his very first buildings of the 1960s, which served as an antidote to the sobriety of much of the concrete architecture of the time. Refusing to accept structural and functional rationale as the overriding determinants of form, Enrico has always placed aesthetic and emotive appeal high on his list of criteria, moulding the plasticity of his materials to bring drama to space and to capture light. He never hesitates to shape form simply for its delight or its moving qualities. In his words, “Why not create something beautiful … when you can do it for the same cost as something ugly.” But his compositions are never random; rather there is a clearly perceived order that frequently culminates in a point of focus, be it an entry, the crown of a skylight or the sculptural antics of a key wall. Yet, for all of their vigour, the buildings seem relaxed, welcoming users, children, vegetation, the sun and breezes to play through them.

We have indeed been fortunate that Enrico Taglietti chanced to come to Australia, and decided to stay. His buildings have continued to invigorate the profession and have brought joy and much pleasure to those who visit and use them. Congratulations, and thank you, Enrico.

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Jennifer Taylor.

The Taglietti apartment in Milan, published in Domus, no 292 (March 1954).
The Taglietti apartment in Milan, published in Domus, no 292 (March 1954).
Osborne House, Currandooley, 1961. Photograph Max Ahearn.
Osborne House, Currandooley, 1961. Photograph Max Ahearn.
McKeown House, Watson, ACT, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden.
McKeown House, Watson, ACT, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden.
Dingle House, Hughes, ACT, 1968. Photograph Harry Sowden.
Dingle House, Hughes, ACT, 1968. Photograph Harry Sowden.
Tabitha and Tanja Taglietti, c. 1961.
Tabitha and Tanja Taglietti, c. 1961.
Cinema Center Building (Stage 2), Canberra, 1966.
Cinema Center Building (Stage 2), Canberra, 1966.
Captain James Cook Hotel, Griffith, ACT, 1968 (now demolished).
Captain James Cook Hotel, Griffith, ACT, 1968 (now demolished).
Convention Centre Complex, for Australian Consolidated Press, Campbell, ACT, 1967.
Convention Centre Complex, for Australian Consolidated Press, Campbell, ACT, 1967.
Letter from the Museum of Modern Art. Taglietti projects included in the exhibition were Giralang Primary School, Osborne House and the Townhouse Motel, Wagga Wagga. Transformations in Modern Architecture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978.
Letter from the Museum of Modern Art. Taglietti projects included in the exhibition were Giralang Primary School, Osborne House and the Townhouse Motel, Wagga Wagga. Transformations in Modern Architecture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978.
Townhouse Motel, Wagga Wagga, 1963.
Townhouse Motel, Wagga Wagga, 1963.
Smith House (now Li House), West Pennant Hills, NSW, 1968–70. Photograph Kerry Dundas for Max Dupain.
Smith House (now Li House), West Pennant Hills, NSW, 1968–70. Photograph Kerry Dundas for Max Dupain.
Paterson House, Aranda, ACT, 1968.
Paterson House, Aranda, ACT, 1968.
Kileen House, Mt Majura, ACT, 1971.
Kileen House, Mt Majura, ACT, 1971.
The family, Franca, Tanja and Tabitha Taglietti, 1973.
The family, Franca, Tanja and Tabitha Taglietti, 1973.
The Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy of the Holy See), Red Hill, ACT, 1978.
The Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy of the Holy See), Red Hill, ACT, 1978.
Church of St Anthony, Marsfield, Sydney, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden.
Church of St Anthony, Marsfield, Sydney, 1965. Photograph Harry Sowden.
Evans House (now Nicholl House), Cook, ACT, 1973.
Evans House (now Nicholl House), Cook, ACT, 1973.
Giralang Primary School and Preschool, ACT, 1975.
Giralang Primary School and Preschool, ACT, 1975.
Rudd St Centre, Canberra, 1985–86.
Rudd St Centre, Canberra, 1985–86.
The family, 1976. Photograph The Canberra Times.
The family, 1976. Photograph The Canberra Times.
Sketches for the Parliament House Temporary Exhibition Centre, 1982 (demolished).
Sketches for the Parliament House Temporary Exhibition Centre, 1982 (demolished).
McKeown House no. 2, Watson, ACT, 1994.
McKeown House no. 2, Watson, ACT, 1994.
IBM Building, Barton, ACT, 1995.
IBM Building, Barton, ACT, 1995.
Michael O’Connor Stand, Phillip District Enclosed Oval, ACT, 1990.
Michael O’Connor Stand, Phillip District Enclosed Oval, ACT, 1990.
Parliamentary Zone Early Childcare Centre, 1991.
Parliamentary Zone Early Childcare Centre, 1991.
Sea Residence for Dr and Mrs de Crespigny, Lilli Pilli, NSW, 1994.
Sea Residence for Dr and Mrs de Crespigny, Lilli Pilli, NSW, 1994.
Australian War Memorial Annex, Mitchell, ACT, 1978–79.
Australian War Memorial Annex, Mitchell, ACT, 1978–79.
The Meeting Place, a proposal for the development of an Australian National University Arts Precinct. Joint venture between ANU, Kumagai Gumi and Enrico Taglietti.
The Meeting Place, a proposal for the development of an Australian National University Arts Precinct. Joint venture between ANU, Kumagai Gumi and Enrico Taglietti.
Residence and Chancellory for the High Commission of Pakistan, Yarralumna, Canberra, 2005 (in design).
Residence and Chancellory for the High Commission of Pakistan, Yarralumna, Canberra, 2005 (in design).
Enrico and Franca, 1998.
Enrico and Franca, 1998.
Residence for the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Garran, ACT, 1996.
Residence for the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Garran, ACT, 1996.
Penny and Randal House Extensions, Griffith, ACT, 1988.
Penny and Randal House Extensions, Griffith, ACT, 1988.
Design for the architectural envelope of Canberra’s City Hill. “A design to stop buildings constricting the void. One must have a vision, adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand.” Enrico Taglietti, 2005.
Design for the architectural envelope of Canberra’s City Hill. “A design to stop buildings constricting the void. One must have a vision, adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand.” Enrico Taglietti, 2005.
Detail of proposal for City Hill Park, Canberra.
Detail of proposal for City Hill Park, Canberra.

 

THE SEARCH FOR INFINITY

The architecture of Enrico Taglietti between eternity, utopia and dream.
MASSIMO TADI

“Always dear to me was this solitary hill And this edge, which from so great a part Of the farthest horizon excludes the view But, sitting here and gazing, I imagine Boundless spaces beyond that edge and more Human silences and profoundest quiet. In the mind where the heart is almost filled with Fear. And, as I hear the wind rustle among the shrubs, That infinite silence and this voice, I compare. And the eternal comes to mind and the dead seasons, And the present and living one and its sound. So, with this Immensity, my thought is drowned. And its foundering is sweet to me in this sea.”


In order to understand the work and poetics of such a remarkable and versatile figure as Enrico Taglietti it is not necessary to place his work within a school, a rank or even a place, nor is it useful to invent imaginary pigeonholes. Certainly, such an endeavour would reassure those who need always to reassemble the fragments of often enigmatic and unique personae within the known bounds of official historiography. However, it would also lead to the irremediable loss of those elements which, in my opinion, make up the most relevant features of the cultural lesson of Enrico Taglietti – a unique identity based on his belief in the “epiphany” as the foundation of architecture.

In fact, the most distinctive finding of my architectural research into this cultured European intellectual is not to be found in his evident affinity with certain principles of structured poetics, but rather in the moulding of his work through his personal search of the “elsewhere” and by his conscious and tenacious effort to always be part of a cultural and critical “minority”, associated with his wonder when confronted with “infinity”, when “the heart is almost filled with fear”.

Within this recurring theme of the “elsewhere” and “infinity” – with which he was physically confronted for a large part of his life – Taglietti seems to have developed his deepest and most personal cultural identity. This began at a young age when he first encountered the maraviglia of Greek pathos and the reassurance of lex romana in the classic literature that had so big an influence during his education. This took place not in the classroom of an Italian high school but in the limitless horizons of a then Italian Africa, where Enrico spent his formative years in close contact with a rich and refined international community.

It seems plausible to assume that in Asmara he started to form the embryo of his particular way of seeing the world, which he never abandoned and which led him via Milan to Sydney and, finally, to his “invisible city”, Canberra.

“In this land it is written that what you seek you will find, what you overlook will escape you.”1 ›› Following the return of his family to Italy, Enrico Taglietti became an architect at the Polytechnic of Milan – a university that, within the traditionalist Italian cultural landscape, had always represented the point of contact with the outside world, the cultural avant-garde of the nation, and a place where a link was created between technical/scientific knowledge and humanistic culture. It was here, “during a postwar socialist and euphoric moment, in an heroically utopian climate when the mission of the architect was seen as a Messianic one and the architect as the new Universal Man destined to rebuild a new and perfect world”, that Enrico was trained and actively took part in the debate for the definition of a new architecture to be considered as epic.

His participation in the works for the 10th Triennial (1954), also in Milan, was an important experience that, as well as providing him with international contacts, remains with him as a vivid memory and will contribute to keeping alive the vision of architecture as epiphany, the search for which became his dream.

“Newly graduated, it was for me like a sensual and dazzling ecstasy. There I met Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Buckminster Fuller and Oscar Niemeyer. All of them left in me a memory of their dreams: Californian houses, buildings amongst the pines, living units, cardboard domes, white converged forms. However, the men with whom I had the most human relationships were the artists; the Spaniard Eduardo Chillida, the Finn Tapio Wirkkala, Saul Steinberg, Agenore Fabbri, Henry Moore, Marino Marini and Lucio Fontana.” ›› Those years also saw the development of his support for a critical minority against a triumphant majority, a majority that looked at the ideas of modern architecture in terms of Le Corbusier and Gropius and which, in some cases, would result in the worst of international functionalism. In contrast, Taglietti’s architectural ideas developed following principles inspired by the teaching of the environment. With this he longed for an image that flowed through a strict relationship between Nature, the Territory and Man, without the abandonment or obliteration of the deeply-rooted culture of humanist ideals proper to Mediterranean classicism.

His was, and is, an adherence to general principles in a more articulate and complex way than any apparent choice of camp. During an interview with an Italian architectural magazine in later years, he spoke about his contribution to the Australian architectural panorama as follows:

“I think that mine is the contribution of a solitary preacher of the organic principles of the ‘modern’ that is the antithetical meaning of my Mediterranean culture in the middle of a predominantly Anglo-Saxon tradition. My position as architect is, I hope, poles apart both from the questionable ecologist Puritanism and from the formal continuity of the international modern that is reduced to an excuse, a ‘style’.” ›› This recurrent attitude to the differences between identities was grasped by Jennifer Taylor, who, in her Australian Architecture from 1960 to Today, defined Taglietti’s architecture as an exuberant combination – without parallel in Australia – of Italian ancestry and Japanese sobriety.

Taglietti landed in Australia due to his involvement in an exhibition of Italian architecture and design in Sydney in order to promote the Milan Triennial. The epiphanic dimension of his architecture seemed to find fulfilment in a special occasion fate presented him with, when the Italian embassy commissioned him to look for a suitable location for the move of the Italian embassy from Sydney to Canberra. The search for an inspiring location, which characterized his formative years as well as his first professional years, was realized. Taglietti would later remember this event:

“During my formative years when I was in desperate search of revelation that would eventually make me understand the essence of architecture, I explored many cities like Marco Polo. Cities of temples (Athens, Rome), cities of pyramids (Paris, Cairo), cities of dreams (Venice), cities of churches (Orvieto), cities of markets (Verona), cities of mansions (Urbino), cities of cathedrals (Barcelona), cities of tombs (Beijing), musical box cities (London), cities of skyscrapers (New York), cities of golden domes (The Kremlin). I reached a fundamental conclusion: planners do not create Cities, they are created by architecture. Architecture is the genuine matrix of the city. I found that Sydney was a city without a matrix, a city of long red roofs with a coat hanger as a bridge and a neo-Gothic and neoclassical architecture. Its core was not its architecture but its hundreds of bays – the city of ports. During an afternoon in September many years ago – the wattle and prunus in bloom, the mountains sprinkled with snow – I reached the city of Canberra in a Fiat 500. A city without towers, without golden domes, without cathedrals, a city without a past. It was the dream of any modern architect. There was nothingness: the silence, the music, the clean slate, the end of an exploration, maybe the destination, and the invisible city.” ›› Now a long story began of extraordinary architecture for his Canberra, created according to the principles of asymmetry, of plastic continuity of the internal space, the architecture of silence, generated by deep and extended horizontal lines – architecture that is immersed in vast horizons and reconciled with the landscape of the Australian Capital Territory. Within it, the internal tension between the vast covering layers and the fluid forms of the connections to the soil shatter any possibility of the facade being seen as a bi-dimensional closure, generating different cuts and cracks which reveal the existence of deep internal voids. In these the light becomes a special architectural material to be moulded in them and with them. Taglietti carries out his lyrical journey.

“For me after forty years the light, the challenge of the emptiness and the relationship with the fragility of this ancient land are still reasons for my profound attraction for this country.” ›› From this time Canberra – the city untouched by ugliness and history, the city of emptiness, of spaces without boundaries, the vision of the invisible city, of the inhuman silence which hangs over it, of infinity and eternity revealed, the city defined by him many times as “the elsewhere”, “the dream of a new city and still to be discovered, invisible and liveable at the same time” – becomes an inspirational muse, elevated to a “solitary hill” from whose “immensity” his “thought is drowned” and in which even today “its foundering is sweet … in this sea”.

››
Massimo Tadi is professor of architectural design at the Faculty of Building Engineering and Architecture, Polytechnic of Milan. All quotations are from Enrico Taglietti, unless otherwise indicated.

››
Gold Medal Speaking Tour ››
Enrico Taglietti’s national tour begins in Canberra on 15 March. He speaks in all state capitals between March and September, with the A. S. Hook Address in Canberra in October.


For details contact your RAIA chapter or see www.architecture.com.au


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