‘The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space’.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Imagine going to a London market to buy some apples. Moving from one stall to another, the eye may linger on a polka dot surface drawn by some circular plastic bowls – sometimes wicker ones, other times colanders dressed as food containers – in which fruit and vegetable is harvested, embedded and adjusted to the tight and round space of a holder. The eye might decide to continue on his inquisitive journey of discovery strolling along the alley that distinguishes sellers from buyers. The search for apples would escape the bowls control jumping on rectangular wooden crates arranged next to one another in a carful system, so that they themselves appear like a natural surface that raise from the ground. The support that sustains them vanishes from sight, hidden underneath the assemblage of countless rectangular forms.
It is important to pause on this point, shifting attention from the apples to the plane on which they lie, thus reflecting on the ground rather than considering only the object. Think of drawing on a sheet of paper the bowls layout: a table – assumed rectangular – will be traced first, then an undefined number of circles may complete the picture and, to be even more precise, a few small spots might be added inside every circle/bowl so to include fruit and vegetable to the composition. In the case of the crates matrix, a similar gesture would lead to a quite different design. A flat surface will again be drawn on a blank page so as to support – in theory – the wooden crates, then a series of rectangles horizontally and vertically aligned would allow us to display as many dots as we like thus eventually covering the entire available area.
By analysing the two drawings, it might be realised that in the first case the rectangular plane on which the bowls are placed is still clearly visible, as between bowls a void has been shaped. The circles have filled a space remaining essentially individual elements, separated from each other but also distinct from the surface on which they rest. In the second case, the wooden crates have given shape to a puzzle that is itself a space, as there is no distinction between the bearing table and the carried containers; there are no voids as every single part is a fragment of the whole; solid and collective.
Such a study has not yet driven to purchasing any apple probably because that is not the main purpose of this short piece of writing. If everything we talked about so far it is not thought as the mere design of a fruit and vegetable stand, but as the structure of the cities we live in; if the horizontal plane on which bowls and crates quietly laze was instead the ground on which the buildings we dwell stand; if the containers held people instead of fruit and vegetable, then we would find ourselves facing two different city models: the modern city made of plastic bowls and the traditional city made of wooden crates.
At this point we might want to push the analysis ever further. In the selling per bowl is usually set an a priori price; in London markets most of the products are sold for £1 so that the price determines the quantity of apples a person may afford to buy. The seller chooses the fruit and vegetable in the making of a bowl, so that he might cunningly decide to hide the rotten apples on the bottom and put on display the most beautiful ones. The buyer does never select the apples he wants, he just purchases what someone else has chosen for him. The wooden crates do not keep the bad apples out of sight as a bottom does not exist; all the apples have the same visibility thus they might be consciously picked by the buyer. The latter decides the quantity he needs and a price will be set a posteriori.
Le Corbusier – Saint-Dié, figure-ground plan Parma, figure-ground plan