House of Memory . Milan

Baukuh . + archilovers

The “House of Memory” is an archive as well as an exhibition and conference space in Milan. It is the headquarter of five cultural associations whose aim is to preserve the memory of the conquest of freedom and democracy in Italy: the National Association of Former Deportees (A.N.E.D.), the National Association of Italian Partisans (A.N.P.I.), the National Association of Terrorism’s Victims (A.I.VI.TER.), the Association Piazza Fontana 12 December 1969 and the National Institute of Studies on the Italian Resistance Movement (I.N.S.M.L.I.). The building was completed in 2015, on the base of the project awarded first prize in an invited architecture competition organized in 2011. The new building is part of the recently transformed Porta Nuova area and is one of the elements of a network of new public spaces and facilities including the Headquarters of the Lombardy Region, the Riccardo Catella Foundation, the Art Incubator and the (soon to be completed) Park of the “Library of Trees”.

The House of Memory is a house, a collective house in which Milanese citizens hope to find protection for the memories they want to preserve. Nobody inhabits this house, and in this case the word house is understood as an envelope, a protected space, or a shelter that crystallizes memory within the flow of the metropolis. The word “house” – which is far too familiar – paradoxically emphasizes the monumentality of the building, turning it into an archetype or a symbol. The House of Memory is a house, and therefore a monument. In this context, the house becomes an object to be both protected and exhibited, a treasury to be surrounded with an envelope that both defends and exposes its content.
Styles of Memory
The idea to entrust a building with the task of preserving and transmitting memory might seem anachronistic and it is certainly problematic in the context of contemporary society. In fact, we are all quite suspicious (and not without reason) of attempts to capture memory into something as defined and irreversible as a building. And yet the House of Memory, by definition, cannot avoid testifying and so resisting in a fixed configuration over a long period. It is impossible to ignore that the House of Memory is a monument, although it operates in a society without any precise collective goals to assign to architecture. Instead of opposing this unclear condition, we imagined how to profit from it. In fact, it is precisely in this complex dimension that the potential of the new building lies: in the possibility of combining the slowness and inertia of architecture with the multiplicity and rapidity of contemporary media. Rather than awkwardly following in the footsteps of contemporary communication technologies through a medium as static as architecture (and rather than reducing the complexity of contemporary technology and media to the unavoidable immobility of architecture), we chose to underscore the potential difference between the House of Memory’s solid exoskeleton and its fluid and mutating content. The new building highlights the complementarity of material and immaterial archives: different styles of memory coincide in an object that is ready to establish a dialogue with different audiences without renouncing the possibility of providing a unified representation. Thus a permanent stage set appears alongside a changing scenery, thereby producing a machine of memory that is both complex and univocal, both slow and mutating, and both multiple and immovable. The new building profits from both its weight and its lightness. As an open and continuously updated archive, the House of Memory is ready to play host to a multitude of informal and unforeseen uses. As a heavy, compact volume, the House of Memory displays its inertia, choosing to remain a stumbling block left to hinder and repeat its own testimony.
The relationship between memory and the House of Memory is not one of direct translation. Contemporary Milan does not possess a stable, entirely shared memory, ready to be carved in stone without further interrogation. Rather than considering the House of Memory as an expression of shared memory, we preferred considering it as a tool for discussing the different elements that coexist within the collective memory of the city. The House of Memory tries to provide a shelter for the various and varied memories that are woven not only into contemporary society, but also in the minds of individuals. Firm, longterm memories thus coexist inside all of us with our own fleeting, delicate memories; public memories go hand in hand with private ones; explicit memories cannot be separated from unconscious ones. The House of Memory is entirely covered with large images depicting Milan’s recent history. The shell of the new building is understood as a contemporary polyptych: this collection of images tries to suggest with great immediacy both the complexity and the ideal unity of Milan’s collective memory. The decorated façade, more than defining a shared memory, exposes the need for such sharing. For this reason the images collected on the envelope of the House of Memory are at the same time explicitly monumental and deliberately fragile. In fact, given their construction, the images appear more clearly from afar and then they lose clarity by coming closer. They dissolve into a sort of floating dust, as if they would finally be unsure about the very same truth that they so proudly accepted to expose. The iconographic program, carefully defined by a Scientific Committee, is made of nineteen portraits of anonymous Milanese citizens, which suggest the multiplicity of the populations that animated the city in the post-war period, and of eight historical images which record eight moments in the recent history of the city such as the deportation to concentration camps, the Liberation from Nazi-Fascism, the piazza Fontana bombing of 12 December 1969, …. This exterior decoration in polychrome brickwork establishes a direct relation with the Lombard tradition of buildings such as the Ospedale Maggiore and Santa Maria delle Grazie.

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