By Michael Webb
For centuries, architects sketched their work and recorded their impressions of the places they visited, and the Beaux Arts curriculum was based on a mastery of drawing. Software and digital cameras have eroded that tradition, but a few architects (Frank Gehry and Steven Holl are notable examples) still prefer pen and brush as tools to express their ideas. Andrea Ponsi is a Florentine architect whose watercolors of his native city are on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood through October 31. The exhibition, Andrea Ponsi: Florence, A Map of Perceptions, was organized by IIC Director Michela Magri, and it provides an insider’s perspective on the cradle of Renaissance architecture.
Here is Brunelleschi’s Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile, and Vasari’s Uffizi–but Ponsi gives equal attention to the urban fabric, from irregular stone pavers to jutting cornices, and narrow streets framing fragments of celebrated monuments. God is in the details, and that is especially true of cities that were built up, over many generations, as works of art. As an architect, Ponsi locates the structure behind the facade, and explores the plans of churches and public buildings. Seductive representations of architectural elements alternate with abstract diagrams of ways in which buildings come together, like the rooms in a house.
In Florence, most tourists are blinkered sheep, herded around a crowded circuit of certified masterpieces, before being bused off to the next historic destination. Ponsi is intimately familiar with every corner of his home city and he appreciates the juxtaposition of old and new, mundane and marvelous. Many of the sketches are included in a book, also called Florence: A Map of Perceptions, and a similar collection of images and texts on San Francisco, where Ponsi lived for ten years, will be released at the end of October. Both are published by the University of Virginia Press.
Italian Cultural Institute, 1023 Hilgard Avenue, Westwood.