La Notte

La Notte
1961, 122 minutes
directed by  Michelangelo Antonioni

Walking around Rome with the Eisenman studio, one strand of thought kept popping up, and that was the issue of voice. As in, how does a student find his own architectural voice in a studio environment populated with professors as strong and sometimes as fundamentally opposed as Eisenman and Krier? If you do any searching at all, you will find somebody somewhere who will tell you that the point of an architectural education is to help you find your own voice. Help us find our voice. It sounds almost dubiously altruistic, especially surrounded by anxious and aggressive classmates and equally-so professors. But what if, for a moment, we take this as true?


When Michelangelo Antonioni died earlier this summer and the obituaries rolled out of all the major newspapers, his seventy-some years of age and his thirty-odd films were boiled down to 900 words or less. “The Poet of Ennui,” “A Chronicler of Alienated Europeans in a Flimsy New World,” or “The Father of Modern Angst and Alienation,” were some of the headlines that ran in circulation.

What strikes me is the simultaneous power and insignificance of one idea. One idea, obsessively explored through an unrelenting curiousity, is a force to be reckoned. It is a force for no other reason than its self-propelling conviction. It is, however, only one idea. Like leaves of grass, each one is infinitely miraculous yet, when you scale back, sadly trivial. When history scales back on the giants of our field, like it did upon Antonioni, we’ll remember even the most important and complex and rich architects or artists for only one idea. You will be lucky if you can fight and argue your way through one idea.


It is through this discouraging scale of existence that any ounce of conviction gains its strength. To fully believe in something, in opposition to all of the conflicting evidence, of which there is undoubtedly no lack of surplus for, or the relativistic plurality of nature in general, is a feat indeed. Antonioni, to be necessarily reductive, explored distance: the distance between people, the distance between man and his environment, and the distance between an idea and its realization. Antonioni was originally trained as an architect, and it’s his sensitivity to space and landscape which makes him so resonate with architects.


So as the Eisenman studio wandered around Rome, talking about Deleuze, partial figures, part-whole relationships, and undecideability through the physical examples of Bramante, Borromini, Moretti, Pagano & Piagentini, like less glamourous (but certainly funnier) characters in an Antonioni film, the real discussion was about our ideas, their relation to us in this time and place, and our relations to each other. We were discussing distance and proximity, ideas and things. If we are lucky, we’ll find our ideas and argue for them beautifully.

As a note: the three films by Antonioni generally referred to as his “trilogy” are, in order: L’Avventura is the first film, La Notte is the second, and L’Eclisse is the final installment.

originally written October 2, 2007

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