Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa

The work of some baroque architects may offer interesting relationships in the displacement of the referential spatial structures of the Renaissance and, as many historians have pointed out, relate to the contemporary pendulum state of expansion of architecture.

Bramante’s San Peter’s innovation is due to the motivation of space as a positive figure, thanks to the intricate articulation between concave voids and convex poché-walls, activating a metaphysics in space through the pulsation of form, assigning an equal value to the void and to the mass. Borromini made this evident in San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane (1665-1667) as he pragmatically engenders his philosophic concept of Res-Extensa performed firstly in the cloister (1634-1637) where the concave corner is inverted into a convex figure that indexes a space from outside [fig. 00a]. The interior (1638-1641), presents the corners as a presence of absence (only straight line in the composition) as a removal of the corner condition, which affects the stability of the structure of the space, a metaphysical absence in a sinuous movement that results in a space that becomes a continuous positive figure, a unity and a new synthesis, an innovation that derived into a new canon. As such, it displaced the archetypical condition of the corner creating a new language based on a plasticity unfamiliar to the tectonics of its contemporaneous architecture. Relative to this question, this building is simultaneously organized by two systems: one that displaces a centroidal organization through two centers that transform the dome in a distorted oval form with a linear direction, and the other conformed by a nine square grid figure that index the crossing of two axis [fig. 00b], one expanded and the other compressed, unified through a continuous spatial gradual degree change, considered within this context, a topology. This pulsation indexes the plasticity of an abstract immaterial white space, the presence of these forces articulate a psychological awareness in the conception of the space, and this pulsation is articulated with the rhythm recovered by the nine square grid organization of the columns that ambiguously integrate the directionality of space developing a continuity between the two axis that fuses into a longitudinal space.


This work was continued by one of Borromini’s collaborators, Carlo Rainaldi, particularly in his masterpiece Santa Maria in Campitelli (1656-1665) [fig.01a, 01b, 01c]. Wittkower analyzes multiple aspects of this paradigmatic building that escapes any stylistic category and reaches to conclude certain influences that provide a ground for this investigation .


First, the structure of the church of S.M. in Campitelli[1] is divided in two and it can be analyzed from a critique to Borromini’s San Carlo, as it indexes two of its floor plans organized perpendicular to each other, but restructuring their idea of pulsation and continuity [fig.00b, 02].


Second, the anterior space may be read as a Greek cross type that indexes a small previous church[2] (1658) [fig.03]. The displacement of the dome and the altar [fig.03a, 03b] towards the back generates a series of inversions between the two centroidal spaces that through double negations surpass a dialectic[3] [fig.03c, 03d, 03e].

Third, the processional axis is interrupted in the middle, where the nave and the posterior space change scale in section and in plan responding to the site constrain that is coordinated with the telescopic perspectival focus towards the altar [fig.04]. Also an interruption in plan originally drawn by Rainaldi similarly to Palladio’s Il Redentore, indexes another perpendicular axis as a lateral entrance to the church, as in the other cases of Borromini, splitting the church functionally and in the middle.

Fourth, both spaces are based on a nine square grid organization type since a series of topological –as gradual displacements- index one with the other (including site adjustments): the anterior space expanded and the posterior space compressed. The posterior transversally compressed space, negates the transept that is supposed to be at the intersection of the two directions and below the dome that is left at the anterior space as in a Greek cross composition, but also referencing Borromini’s tension in San Carlo’s between the transversal and longitudinal sections. In Campitelli these two sections, the compressed one and the expanded one, are parallel to each other composing the two transversal sections of the building [compare fig.05a and 05b by Rainaldi and fig. 05c and 05d by Borromini[4]].

More importantly, this “topological” continuous transformation originated as a displacement of the original structure, originates a typological change between the two spaces: the anterior space reinforces the transversal direction, since the space seems to orient primarily interrupting perpendicularly to the processional axis with the two lateral altars; the posterior one reinforces this processional axial direction with a lateral transversal compression, hence becoming frontally oriented towards the altar and in coordination with the vertical presence of the dome, which as such is indexed but negated in the anterior space [fig.06a]. Both spaces are contained in a composition that produces a synthesis among two structures in tension. The perpendicular axis in the posterior space (dome space) acquires presence by being negated (double negation) since rather than presenting lateral altars, abstract emptied walls are integrated by a curvilinear movement of continuity that widens the compressed space, as it happens in Borromini’s S.M. Sette Dolori[5], coordinated with the dome, projecting a somatic memory in a bodily affection of the previous experienced space.


Fifth, these simultaneous displacements present themselves continuous due to a telescopic folding of space, and here is when the psychological conception in the pulsation of the space is interrupted, articulated and structured with sequential acceleration of the rhythm of the space. With the interruption of the continuity of the wall pulsation with a structural reference and in parallel to the linearity of the perspectival space focalized in the altar, Rainaldi critiques Borromini’s spatial plasticity as a disciplinary expansion.
Sixth, this linearity as well as the folding or the Borrominean continuity are interrupted by a series of frontal scenographic pictorial planes that perpendicularly interrupt the perspectival cone, indexed by the columns and the superior entablature of the capitals, as exaggerated elements articulate the spaces with an undoubted Palladian reference to structure[6]. At this point, we can relate the effect of multiplicity in tension with the unification of Brunelleschi’s perspectival space. The Borrominean pulsation of the space is critiqued by an enfolding, as the Palladian picture planes reinstitute a structural articulation. However, it is due to the relative topological displacements to the structural correspondences between the two spaces that integrate them, that such particular polyrhythm unfurls multiple visual and bodily affects.

Lastly, the columns as signs become unmotivated due to their ambiguous formal functioning and to an overall structural formal syntax, hence these differentiations are systematized and contained within a field. The result is a complex field that accelerates the space, folds, and that is articulated within a pulsating continuity; but such continuity is also simultaneously interrupted perpendicularly, without loosing the perspectival unification that integrates the sequence of columns. This field develops then two kinds of differentiations, introducing an innovative idea that creates a complex contradictory but simultaneously progressive polyrhythm. These two differentiations can be described as gradual rhythms that produce difference in degree in the overall organization of the building, but also as another kind of formal difference that critiques the original organizational type of the building, that at a conceptual level changes this original type into a the deeper structural difference that enables many inverting double readings and open relationships from these gradual topological relative differentiations [fig.06b].

The double reading of a visual perspectival space and its interruption by means of structuring pictorial planes, generate an excess of multiplicity and a synthesis of opposites in tension within a pulsating curvilinear and folded spatial continuity [fig.04, 07]. This strategy presents an affection that displaces a spatial structure in a post manner, reintroducing a reference to a structural re-composition that articulates and interrupts such fluidity. Such movement presented as a mannerist structuralist displacement, recomposes the whole through perspective and the planes that perpendicularly interrupt it.

These structural problems are precisely integrated with the mediums of representation, establishing a manifest that transcends the historic dialectic of the continuous state of revolution in art between Renaissance and Baroque. The building presents a spatial synthesis of many pairs of concepts developed by Wölfflin simultaneously and in tension that transcend the dialectic through a double negation –not this not the other, not affirmative and negative- of a field of relationships and tensions. Wölfflin presents the history of art as a pendulum movement, a process in continuous revolution, a dialectic between classicism and baroque as a continuous historical structure. His categories: linear and pictoric (tangible and intangible); plane and recession as a spatial version of the previous one;  open and closed; multiplicity and unity; absolute and relative (clarity and no clarity) left a box of tools that follow a Hegelian model as Eric Fernie[7] suggests.
The space that Rainaldi is able to achieve is consolidating this move against the alienation of the visual, as structural relationships empower the presence of absence, a pulsation that enables a spatial excess and a visual awareness in a multiplicity. Thus is able to address the media interfaces that striate the work recognizing such mediation and therefore work out an architecture that informs the visual from a structural logic.
The  implied questions of this argument points to current formalisms and their extreme automatization of formal output that has been induced by the machinic diagram that now is reaching a certain limit with algorithms. The formal progressive differentiation generated by any machinic diagram[8] should, to a certain extent, be more critical of the relationships it produces, throughout the application of a field intelligence that assigns value to the series of iterations that such diagram may produce, re-editing the outcome into a complex structure of reflexive operations in order to overcome its predeterminations. If conceptual difference is not critically introduced, structures remain untouched, as it is the modern repetitive space of the grid.
Due to its flexible quality, the generic departing origin of a diagram or a schema presents the possibility of developing an abstract continuous topological transformation, a genealogy of dynamic forces that accumulates traces by indexing particular non structural mappings. This dynamic topological transformation may enable such displacement that may critique the point of departure, the recognition of such a typological change that may induce a structural transformation that as a critique of a transcendental type enables a critique of generic concepts and categories. This diagram is based on a structural flexibility that is able to maintain the quality of certain relationships within a fluid pulsating dynamic condition, consequently unlike the concept of pattern in which repetitive units are based on a visual appearance of unity.
[1] Original Drawings developed by students for the architecture design II course Baroque Analysis directed by professors Michael Young, Felicia Davis and Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa, The Cooper Union, 2008. Santa Maria in Campitelli by Carlo Rainaldi floor plan drawing interpretation by students: Sean Gaffney, Jess Russell, Danny Willis, Malin Heyman, Liya Kohavi and Ge-nan Peng.
[2] According to Güthlein, Klaus, “Zwei unbekannte Zeichnungen zur Planungs- und Baugeschichte der römischen Pestkirche Santa Maria in Campitelli”, 185–255, 1990, in the book titled Römisches Jahrbuch der Bibliotheca Hertziana, München, Hirmer. In this article he traces several archeological studies of the previous interventions and possible alternative projects that constitute Rainaldi’s church.
[3] Refer to Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche and Philosophy, The Atholone Press, 1983, orig. France, 1962.
[4] Original Drawings developed by students for the architecture design II course Baroque Analysis directed by professors Michael Young, Felicia Davis and Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa, The Cooper Union, 2008. San Carlo by Borromini floor plan and sections drawing interpretations by Pamela Cabrera, Andres Larrauri, Rolando Vega,  Elena Cena, and Will Shapiro.
[5] S.M. Sette Dolori, Borromini, the space presents two single spaces oriented functionally perpendicular to each other with the benches, while the general organization of the church follows a compressed layout that flattens out the pulsation present in San Carlo.
[6] Wittkower analyzes in Palladio and English Palladianism, the influence of Palladio (Veneto Region) in the Baroque Rome. He quotes as an example the case of Bernini and his colonnade in Piaza San Pietro in Rome, noticing the strange combination of columns that are similar to the portico of the Chiericati Palace by Palladio in Vicenza. On the other hand, in relation to the picture planes used by Palladio: “Rome has no precedent of a scenographic type of architecture; scenographia, in the Palladian sense is inexistent, including in the high Seicento. The type of structures created by architects such as Borromini or Cortona are basically antiscenographic...The architecture based in an uniform system of elements do not produce a concentration of motifs towards the altar. The contrary happens with scenographic architecture, that does not obey to that system...” Wittkower, Rudolf, “Carlo Rainaldi and the Roman Architecture of the Full Baroque”, Art Bulletin N.19, 1937. Even if at this point he does not mention the case of Rainaldi, he clarifies that he was influenced by Palladio.
[7] Fernie, Eric, art history and its methods, a critical anthology,  selection and
commentary by Eric Fernie, New York, Phaidon Press, 1995.

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