Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited

Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited
Richard Murphy
Breakfast Mission Publishing, 2017

Paperback | 11-3/4 x 11-3/4 inches | 384 pages | 2000 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1527208902 | £70.00

Publisher's Description:
Carlo Scarpa worked on the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona intermittently between 1957 and 1975. It is perhaps his most important project. His work there draws on all his remarkable skills. It demonstrates how to work creatively within a building which already possesses a complex history. It is a magnificent example of his highly personal language of architecture, not least his incredible eye for detail and mastery of the crafting of materials. And it contains a museum exhibition which is as radical and timeless today as the day it opened in 1964 and has served as an inspiration to museum designers ever since. His most extraordinary achievement is where all these themes coincide in the astonishing display of the equestrian statue of Cangrande, perhaps the most remarkable setting for a single work of art ever made.

This book analyses not just Scarpa’s work as we find it today, and in great detail, but also introduces the reader to the complex history of the building as well as sequences of Scarpa’s own highly revealing drawings; witnesses to a brilliant curiosity and holistic approach to design where the art and architecture are completely complimentary.

Richard Murphy surveyed the whole building in 1986, and later interviewed many of Scarpa’s collaborators, including his craftsmen, and analysed all Scarpa’s drawings leading to three exhibitions and a book published in 1990. However, Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited is in many ways unrecognizable from its predecessor. It is neither a second edition nor is it a completely new analysis. It has started with the 1990 publication but the format is larger and 198 pages have grown to 384. Almost twice as many Scarpa drawings have been selected (some were unknown in 1990), and this time they are printed in colour with a reference system to guide the reader to details within them. Large sections of the accompanying text have been rewritten and expanded and there are two new chapters. Perhaps most importantly there are many more photographs, both of the building at various phases of its complex life but also superb contemporary colour photography by Peter Guthrie assisted by Matthew Hyndman.
dDAB Commentary:
A few decades ago British architect Richard Murphy wrote two books on two buildings designed by the great Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa: Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio in 1991 and Querini Stampalia Foundation, part of Phaidon's Architecture in Detail series, in 1993. Both books detail projects that transform old buildings for new uses, projects that can safely be called masterpieces of late-modern architecture. Both books are also out of print and, as the above links to Amazon attest, sell in the hundreds — far too much money for the average reader of architecture books. Thankfully for fans of Scarpa, a few years ago Murphy self-published a thorough expansion and update to the book on Castelvecchio, adopting the large square format of the Phaidon book but doubling the page count of the 1991 original (it's six times the length of the 60-page Phaidon book, for additional context). Needless to say, Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited is an extremely in-depth presentation and analysis of Scarpa's design, and a passion project based on decades of visits and assembly of archival materials by Murphy. It's clearly the deepest dive of any building monograph I've come across.

The book, a bit unwieldy given its size, starts with the inside flap: floor plans that are a key to the three floors of the museum. Meant to be a constant means of navigation when open, this flap is also a symbol of Murphy's attention to detail that serves two purposes: making the book function well as an archive of information and making that information give the reader an intimate understanding of Castelvecchio. A few pages later, past the table of contents, preface, and other introductory texts, Murphy presents a chronological summary of Scarpa's work at Castelvecchio, color coding the plans to illustrate what was essentially three phases over nearly thirty years. Such a summary is particularly valuable with Castelvecchio, since the building underwent a transformation from castle to museum a few decades before Scarpa was hired, and the architect approached the project as a layering and revealing of history. The chronology is also aligned with Scarpa's working process, which was intuitive and highly responsive to the evolution of the project during construction. (Murphy points out that one of Scarpa's first additions to the building was an on-site office where he could work and see all the comings and goings related to construction.)

Following the chronology and some essays that contextualize Scarpa's design in numerous ways (historically, geographically, in museology, in construction), Murphy devotes five chapters to the five main parts of the building complex, in the order they are experienced in person: the courtyard, the entrance room and sculpture gallery, the Cangrande space, west of the Commune wall, and the final rooms. Scarpa's sketches, drawings by Murphy and his students, and contemporary and historical photographs document the many parts of Castelvecchio. Each image is numbered — the page number plus a decimal — and keyed to the text, making the references easy to find and understand. Going one step further, Murphy refers to particular details in Scarpa's drawings and therefore uses a grid system, with letters located on their margins. These references are tricky at first, but they quickly make sense and are more evidence of Murphy's attention to detail in using the book as a means of understanding the building.

I visited Castelvecchio in 1995, on a trip that also included visits to Scarpa's Banca Popolare di Verona, Brion Cemetery, and Querini Stampalia, among others. Scarpa's focus on details was most pronounced and visible at Castelvecchio, where he designed displays for paintings and sculptures and used each as an opportunity for creativity in materials and construction. Most famous of these is the outdoor display of the large equestrian Cangrande sculpture; it is given its own chapter, 50 pages of drawings and photographs. The statue sits on a cantilevered concrete plinth below a roof layered with clay tile and copper and propped up by steel. A network of bridges traverses the space, which feels discovered rather than designed. In a sense the Cangrande space encapsulates Scarpa's work at Castelvecchio: the patient search for what is most appropriate and — like this book too — revealing. 

Author Bio:
Richard Murphy was educated at Newcastle University and then at Edinburgh University where he later taught. His researches into the work of the Venetian Architect, Carlo Scarpa, at the Castelvecchio, Verona began in 1986. ... In 1991 he founded the practice of Richard Murphy Architects in Edinburgh.
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