The architecture of the details is also characterized by a reliance on the architectural 'language' of the classical tradition. But it is, to extend the metaphor, a peculiar use of the language. Isolated 'words', or motifs, are applied in an exaggerated, overblown manner, almost to the point of caricature. On the other hand, it is debatable to what extent the classical rules of composition, its 'grammar' and 'syntax', are used. The effect is partly expressionistic, occasionally oneiric - as in a dream, certain details loom larger than life and are obsessively repeated. But the result is at the same time comically corrupted and solecistic.
Leaving aside the use of details in order to consider the large-scale arrangement of the masses in the landscape, the residential character of the property is emphasized by extending the clean green lawns of the grand, continuous park into the interior spaces. This green amphitheatre is surrounded by a wide colonnade of exposed concrete, covered with climbing vines, which reinforces the calm horizontality of the project and stresses its unity. On a more intimate scale, the two interior squares are similarly treated like small green courtyards.
For Bofill, apparently, the functionalist claim that a building's objectives must be consistent with its technology and the lifestyle of its users is merely a superstitious dogma. And Saint Christophe tests this theory.
Bofill makes us think again about our ideas of what sort of architecture is appropriate for today, as well as the very meaning of 'appropriateness' in architecture, now that the 20th century is drawing to a close. He also makes us reflect on the stagnation in their programmes that housing projects demonstrate.
Les Colonnes de Saint Christophe has a purportedly therapeutic aim: to salvage its inhabitants from the boredom of post-indus-trial technology and bureaucracy; to restore the sense of security that comes from belonging to a community; and to induce a collective consciousness in their behaviour. Bofill remarked in a 1983 interview to Jane Holtz Kay of the Christian Science Mon i to rib at 'from the social point, the problem I'm interested in is not the lone block or single-family home, because that produces an individualistic
society and confines the range of alternatives to the amassing of housing units which exclude the more fundamental constituents of programmatic innovation.' But this kind of innovation is achieved neither in this project nor in most housing of the last twenty years. What Saint Christophe does achieve is a higher density combined with a collective configuration implanted in a landscape, where the collective units are not modernist blocks but palatial prototypes heavily loaded with histori cal citations. Whether this new hybrid of architectural composition fulfils its therapeutic objective, only time will tell. Ironically, the project appears to be still burdened with the deterministic presuppositions of modernist architecture, that a building can have a salutary effect on our way of thinking.
Saint Christophe is neither the best known nor the most publicized of Bofill's 'as-if classical projects, but it is probably the most relaxed and well-balanced example of a rare architectural talent operating in a period of affluence, an affluence given expression in terms of its architectural means, but which remains paradoxically poor in its vision of architectural programmes.
(Top) Detail of the facade
(Right) View across the semicircular court
Estudio Rafael Moneo
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