In Search of Orders – Xiang Li

1. Basilica di Superga

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1.1. Brief background

Address: Strada Basilica di Superga, 73

The church is located at the top of the hill of Superga, dominating the city of Turin. Designed by architect Filippo Juvarra, Basilica di Superga was built from 1717 to 1731 during the reign of Victor Amadeus II, considered to be late Baroque-Classicism style. The crypt of the church contains tombs of the Savoy family.

1.2. Composition of the facade

The symmetrical west (front) elevation of the church is composed of a podium, a pronao (with a pediment supported by Corinthian columns and a single staircase below), a nave and two aisles, two bell towers, and a dome in the center (supported by a tholobate and covered with a roof lantern on the top).

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1.3. Details

It was on 11th September when we went to hear a concert held in this church. The pictures were all taken on that day.

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The dominant, isolated position enables the commissioner and the architect think independently of the city and add strongly to the possibility of the design, which provides the spectacular deep portico with a Corinthian colonnade supporting the entablature and the pediment, and also the two rectangular alae and the enormous dome rising from the tholobate, resembling Michelangelo’s dome at Basilica di San Pietro.

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Pilasters are attached to the exterior wall of the circular nave and the two rectangular aisles, among which those on the front wall are aligned with the Corinthian colonnade of the portico. Around the tholobate attach the composite pilasters, in front of which the free-standing composite columns support a continuous concave-convex trabeation, representing the Baroque feature, which is also easily recognized on the bell towers with corbels. Clerestories and semicircular altars are also used at the exterior. The columns and entablatures are stuccoed over white, while the walls yellow and the domes (including the ones of two bell towers) dark brown. Although the church is decorative and the exterior provides splendid views from the city, some elements still remain severe. The ceiling of the pronao, as an example, is plain rather than coffered.

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The interior is formed by served and serving spaces which are created with distinct structures: the two aisles are barrel vaulted (coffered), the altar has a compound dome supported by sail vaults, and ultimately the nave – the main space of the church, has a hemispherical dome supported by a trabeation system, in which free-standing Corinthian columns are used as structural elements together with the non-structural composite pilasters.

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Similar to the exterior, the interior of the tholobate is also concave-convex, especially obvious on the base and the lintel. Another Baroque feature is the use of broken curved pediments with composite columns and pilasters. There are eight main columns of the tholobate, each supports a rib of the dome. Clerestories are used to allow light in. The entire space provides a strong sense of transparency, of both design and structure.

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2. Teatro Regio

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2.1. Brief background

Address: Piazza Castello, 215

Located in the city center of Turin, the theater faces its west facade to Palazzo Madama on the Piazza Castello.

In 1713 architect Filippo Juvarra began to plan Teatro Regio for operatic productions, but not until 1738 after his death did the construction began. The theater was inaugurated on 26 December, 1740. After being destroyed by a fire in 1936, Teatro Regio was redesigned by architect Carlo Mollino. The work started in 1967, and the rebuilt theater was inaugurated on 10 April, 1973.

2.2. Composition of the facade

The well preserved west facade of the old theater was designed in a sequence of arches and windows (each with a surbaissé or a circulaire pediment above), and was made with red bricks.

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2.3. Details

The harmonization of the original theater and the new design is successful. A glass box is inserted to the second floor of the old building, joining the two parts of the theater together and creating an atrium in front of the opera hall. Moreover, it is a part of the ‘brick-glass-brick-glass-brick’ variation on the facade.

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The opera hall, or the main part of the new design, has a curved facade on each side and combines three different materials together: brick, glass and stone. The bricks are used in large scales, following an octagonal decorative pattern and embed the building into its context including the old theater, several brick historical architectures on the east, and the opposite Palazzo Madama on the west. The stone bricks used below the glass curtain wall is not plain, but edged.

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The curved facade composed mainly by glass material is extremely impressive. To a certain extent, the curve and the special texture together make the massive theater flexible on the exterior, and distinguish the theater from its context rather than simply become a copy of other buildings. The hollow part of the curve, with staircase at the front, also serves as a functional component of entrance and exit.

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On the other hand, the curved glass curtain walls have a very interesting interaction with other buildings on each side. An obvious example is the north side of the theater, where it encloses a courtyard together with the Archivio di Stato. The south façade of the Archivio di Stato, which is designed straight and restrained, becomes curved in the reflection of the theater’s glass curtain wall.

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3. Why do I choose these two buildings?

I’m not sure if there is a coincidence in my choice of the two architectures that are both related to Juvarra. I choose the two buildings because they are impressive.

As for Basilica di Superga, it is isolated to some extent, thus it can be thought more independently from its context. Furthermore, the church provides me a strong experience at the concert, that feeling the light sinking from the roof lantern and clerestories interacted and harmonized with the ascending voice of the choir. That even reminds me of a concept in traditional Chinese philosophy which is called ‘Tai’, referring to the ideal harmonization of the Earth and the heaven.

As for Teatro Regio, it is because I like operas and I’m interested in the modern interpretation of a historical building, in other words, how the architect respected the context and created new functions and meanings from emulating the old forms. As architect Louis Kahn instructed, we are supposed to learn from the spirit of old things instead of imitate them; and one aspect of that spirit, in my opinion, is exactly the search of the ultimate Order.

PDF Link: in-search-of-orders

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