San Rocco calls for a Mosque

Text written by Wonne Ickx in the aftermath of the San Rocco Summer School 2013 in Genoa, Italy. Students worked during an intensive week on a design for a Mosque in Genoa.

The straightforward black and white drawings, the archaeologist-notebook-like sketches and the unpretentious figure-ground plans of Mosques are certainly one of the main reasons why some of these books on Muslim architecture have conquered a special position on my bookstand. Maybe, my issues of San Rocco obtained a similar privileged place on the shelf for the same reason. The provocative black and white axonometric drawings that dress the magazine up, have become a powerful trademark. San Rocco is San Rocco because of its graphics, and its success is certainly strongly indebted to its solid visual character. It would not be too hard to imagine some of the texts appearing in the journal to be published elsewhere, but these black and white axonometric drawings seem to belong exclusively there.

It would on the other hand, be awkward to state that this magazine that – let's face it – is partly born out of an annoyance with the actual architecture publications with their poppy images of the newest design trends, is now also just reduced to just a graphic victory? Is a new (a new old) and fresher visual language than the only possible escape from the irritation with a culture that is more dedicated to visual spectacle than to the medium of architecture?

No, there is indeed more. While San Rocco's graphics are so in-you-face-and-always-there, they are basically just the decoration: the knickknack to tart up the magazine. They do not illustrate or add information, are just there to form a cover, separate articles, and create a visual consistency. There is however a more hidden, absent, un-printed but truly remarkable piece of the publication that is an important clue to understand San Rocco. I'm talking of the 'Call for Papers' which is - in my personal opinion - one of the most superb pieces of architectural provocation written in the last years. San Rocco is not about graphics; it is not even about the essays, plans, sections, images or artworks appearing in the magazine. San Rocco is –if I can state it so boldly- really about the Call for Papers. In these Portable Document Formats –PDF's– an short introductory editorial note brings a series of ideas together. The easiness with which these proposals seem to cross the boundaries of geography, time and architectural preferences, is astounding, but even more so is the overall wording of the proposed case studies. Audacious statements follow each other up at machine gun speed, presenting thoughts on architecture 'just for the sake of argument', and every inch of uncertainty seems to be countered by making the declarations even more intrepid.

While Tschumi's pavilions at the Parc de la Villette, are considered too expensive and uncompromisingly ugly, Mount Rushmore is worth a visit. The Reichstag, Fondation Cartier, the Cemetery of Modena and basically all buildings by Calatrava are classified as conceptual mistakes. Stirlings doubts and mistakes are always understandable, while Ricardo Bofill, Paul Rudolfh and Morris Lapidus are very scary architects. Foster`s New City in Abu Dhabi is even more tactless to local contexts as Chandigarh, le Plan Obus or Brasilia and Lacaton and Vassal don't seem to understand the difference between good and grand. Bramante doesn't care, Koolhaas is good, Ungers bad, and John Nash simply a son of a bitch. So, that is that!

This nonchalant and carefree discharging of judgmental comments, generates a fertile field of discussion; something that had been lost since we 'all started to appreciate each other points of view'. The spontaneous writing and this speaking-before-you-think, is maybe partly made possible by the anonymity of this Call for Papers. Contrary to the finals essays and contributions, which are always backed up a specific author – and therefore are 'discussable' with somebody –, the expressions in the Call for Papers come from a undefined voice: the editorial board of San Rocco.

It is there – in these Calls for Paper – that San Rocco really fulfills its mission statement: 'to be able to discuss architecture without being particularly or intelligent, or philologically accurate'. And maybe that is also how we have to see the San Rocco Summer School. Not a series of well developed and well balanced, careful architectural proposals – this could be impossible seen the short time span and the surreal rhythm of changing teachers and opinions the student were submitted to- but rather as previews to a possible project. As such, the project made by the students for the Summer School, are not about a clever and precise solution for a specific problem. They are actually not really about building a Mosque in the port of Genoa. And that is what makes them matter. Paraphrasing the 'abouts' of San Rocco….

These projects are about architecture.

These projects do not really solve problems and they are not useful.

They are neither serious nor friendly.

They are made by architects, and as such they are not particularly intelligent, or philologically accurate.

Their pictures are more important than their text.