“Angelo Monti. Il progetto tra intuizione e concretezza”
Monography, preface by Luigi Alini
The text and the interpreter, the work and its explanatory interpretation. As Starobinski suggests, the implications
involved in this relationship make up “a necessary dualism”, since the object, like the eye that sees it, is not indifferent, or detached: the act of “seeing” includes in itself a vested interest towards “that” work; in seeing, we are making clear not just an objective condition but also a specific point of view, which is obviously not the only one possible. It is with this awareness that I approached the work of Angelo Monti, and which has allowed me to carry out a cognitive enquiry starting with his way of breathing life into architectural projects: the invariables, the typological elements, the relationship with the existing building, the materials and the techniques used. From the way in which Monti carries out his ‘trade’, reading between the lines of his actions, there nevertheless emerges another less visible yet more intimate world: geography of the soul which transcends the application of a rigorous professional method. Therefore this book explores not only several significant moments in the work of Angelo Monti during the course of a considerable timescale (1980 – 2010), but also the well-laid out itinerary of a journey that is much more than a professional character. Continuity and consistency are the “hallmarks” of Monti’s work, in which there are always certain unchanging elements, notwithstanding the diversity of the objectives. Monti seems almost stubbornly driven to examine and test the nature and principles of a school, of a “non-extreme modernism”, that hark back to some of his previous works. With the strength and firmness of his profession, Monti has, over time, found a balance between the different requirements that inevitably influence a project: place, materials, time, budget, and functions. The Casa unifamiliare (single family house) at Cermenate (1984-86) for example, combines the modernistic lexicon of pure spaces with the expressive quest in the use of exposed brickwork. In material terms, the use of exposed brickwork calls to mind another world, the agricultural past of these places. Monti evokes memories without falling into romanticism or nostalgia: “I believe in architecture as memory, Calvino reminds us that the city doesn’t talk about its past, it contains it”, and he acts with rigorous method, applying a consolidated working model that characterizes a generation of designers and planners trained in the modernist Italian school. He has progressively refined, adapted, and “folded” this method, according to the sensitivity and identity of the context of reference, those objective conditions that are behind architecture and that make it possible. The single family house at Cermenate (1990-1992) is an evolution of that of 1986. The themes persist: the use of exposed materials evolves within the expressionist lexicon following the structural order. The search for variations on a theme also continues with the single family house project at Seveso (1992-1994). The exposed brick curtain wall remains the focal point of the dialogue with the city. The planimetric layout evolves towards an disjointed geometry, towards interstitial spaces and areas that allow the perception of different levels of depth. The shadows heighten the spaces, which lose the stiff geometric rigour of the previous experiences in favour of an “expressionist” plasticity. In a renewed lexicon, Monti ties together certain traditional typological elements: patio and portico, for example. In the non-domestic restructuring tasks, such as the Palazzo Landriani-Caponaghi at Seregno (1999 – 2004) , Monti acts decisively and resolutely. He deals with three historic council-owned properties, and liberates them from superfluous additions from the 1950s thus restoring their original appearance. The reconstruction of the façade giving onto the adjacent square gives the opportunity for a modernist addition, which suggests rhythm and sequence in the filled and empty spaces. The internal areas, instead, undergo a functional rearrangement according to their anticipated usage. The generative principle adopted for the finishing of the facade involves the creation of intrados within the ceilings, where in a modernist style, Monti redefines the lacunar logic: steel ceilings, with caisson squaring and beams which maintain the rhythm of the antique ceilings. In this operation Monti highlights one of his strong points, the ability to bring the world of the artisan into the creative context. Spaces are ‘built’ like crafted objects, the result of a continuous dialogue with the artisans involved, how to make the best of that skill, that action, that wisdom that Monti turns into a story, a ‘story’ that reaches its conclusion in its materiality: “I like the logical creation of matter from material; in my work, this transition is almost an emulsifying process (…). Light is also a substance, like the texture of a material, its level of opacity, its granular quality. I like the sincerity of materials.” Architecture is not just the wise playing with spaces under light; it is light that interacts with matter. Monti deals with this awareness without falling into the trap of excessive virtuosity, a topic often resolved instinctively, without straining or showing off. In my opinion, the quality of Monti’s work can be summed up precisely in his masterly ability to manage complex processes. Architecture is not a ‘happening’, it is part of life, and has a social and ethical dimension. Monti doesn’t go for the shocking, the theatrical effect: he has the maturity, the strength and the stubbornness to act in a structured way, with a solid approach that claims the ethic dimension within architecture. The spaces in his architecture are characterized by a sober elegance, which is the hallmark of his nature and his way of dealing with the world. The care and attention that he devotes to his work can also be seen in the graphic presentation of his projects. The precision, the accuracy, the in-depth study of every element demonstrate a sense of ethical adherence to the project that extends to the practical side. The graphics are created in order to define a constructive process, a series of focused operations, not to finish on the pages of glossy magazines. Real problems are considered in the straightforward prose, not ephemeral concepts more for talking about than creating; Monti is never ostentatious, or excessive. Rather than something to put on display, his architecture is the perennial quest for perfection, with the knowledge that at the very moment when it is within reach, it disappears. In this continuous challenge, with material and its “substance”, its “gravity”, its earthly nature on the one side and on the other the world of ideas and shapes that come to life in this matter, Monti continues with that stubborn and ‘patient quest’ which is not always due or ascribable to rational facts, because, if on the one hand the links between material and form are related to “measurable quantities” (cost, performance, techniques, etc.) on the other, certain aspects elude an objective evaluation and enter the realm of the unexpected, they become part of that unfathomable current of intimate “personal motivation”, those convictions that each of us puts into our daily work. Through shape or form, eidos, – the Greek word that returns to the concept of idea, of image – brings us back to matter as the condensation of a substance: «eidos is that which causes a thing to be what it is, and without which it loses its meaning» . Because in the moment in which we create a relationship between form and matter we no longer distinguish the one from the other, we no longer see an idea of separateness between an objective starting point (the material, the place, the impartial conditions involved) and a point of arrival (the shape); we recognize in the mattershape duality a bijective agreement, an alliance. It is this same alliance that in Angelo Monti’s work can be best summed up as “a possibly anachronistic principle of resistance to the logic of consumption and waste that has become obvious with the disappearance of the concept and value of architecture, and the way in which the modern world treats it, never so much as now at the centre of media attention and never so little widespread as ‘banal’ ”. In the light of this “disciplinary redemption”, the story of Angelo Monti’s work told through the selection of works presented here makes clear the desire to put something under discussion once more: the crystallization of a balance and at the same time, the need to overcome it in order to turn his gaze elsewhere. A gaze that I hope will allow him to reduce that sense of ‘distance’ that sometimes appears in his rigorously Cartesian architecture, a distance that is more intellectual than real. I am sure that for Angelo Monti this book will act as a kind of break, or separation, since focusing on several outstanding results will unwittingly cause to prevail in Monti that sense of perfection in imperfection, which is so dear to the Japanese culture of wabi sabi and to which, through shared interest, both Angelo and I turn.