Like a chameleon, architecture can mimic any natural landscape it sits on. From a Swiss alp, to the British cliffs, to a nearby glacier, to Mexican basalt rock, to a volcano — such as the Renzo Piano Building Workshop has designed for the periphery of Naples. It’s as real estate agents say: context is everything. Whereas iconography usually means a shrinking or blowing-up of an image to fit the scale of the architecture, this enormous building (a shopping mall) has actually the size of a small volcano. This ‘crater’ has a diameter of 150 m, the ‘volcano’ itself is 320 m wide. It is 1:1 iconography.
“The crater is a contemporary take on a Greek marketplace, a void as a place for events, meetings, dialogue and the gathering of people”, Renzo Piano says about his design. But what about the negative connotations of volcano’s? Entire Italian cities have been burdened under a layer of lava — just think of Pompeii. Iceland in its past has for decades been largely uninhabitable after a serious volcanic eruption. Should we seriously celebrate the image of the volcano?
The owner of the building seems to hesitate to thinks so. The shopping mall is called ‘il Vulcano Buono’, ‘the Good Volcano’. Just ‘volcano’ apparently didn’t provide the right image. The idea the volcano seems to evoke a sense of adventure. But not too much. A harmless adventure.
There is something curious about this design. Apart from the landscape reference, a couple more parameters have steered to this particular form for the building. The iconography is a welcoming side effect. Something to sell the project to the public. Just look how the perfectly round form of the building blends in with the curves of the adjacent highways. Just look how the slope of the roof seamlessly emerges from the surrounding parking. And just look how the interior has a curved corridor in which you can’t see the end — ideal to keep any visitors shopping.
The round plaza works just like that. The world outside is obscured, you are literally surrounded by shops. There are no pathways over the green roof, there are no elevated terraces overlooking the highway interchange. A place for ‘dialogue’, mister Piano? Really?
A comment: In 1967 the James Bond film ‘You only live twice’ came out featuring a military base hidden in a hollow volcano.
A question: I believe Peter Eisenman once told in a lecture that his design for Santiago de Compostela is actually a replacement of a hill that stood on the site. The curved form of the roof follows the topography of the now excavated hill. Do I remember that correctly?
A speculation: In the south of the Netherlands a chunk of the Sint-Pietersberg is being leveled by a cement factory. What if we ask the company to rebuild the old topography with a construction made of their own concrete?
Somewhat related: Seuthopolis;