Spolia and the Open Work
This article discusses the possibilities of signification in architectural interventions involving historical remnants, focusing on the notions of spolia and of opera aperta. The notion of spolia has been the province of art history since the Renaissance. In bringing it to the field of architectural design, the focus will shift from the historical realm to the conceptual possibilities opened up by spolia in architectural practice. The aim is to analyse the association between the creative reuse of and intervention in historical remnants and the multiplication of possible significations through various examples. Methodologically, the article expands the linguistic drive of the contemporary debate on spolia to the structural linguistics upon which Umberto Eco built the poststructuralist concept of open work. More precisely, the essay resorts to the notions of ‘sign’ and ‘sign structure’ as a vehicle to explore the possibilities for the semantic and syntactical openness of spolia. Toning in with Eco’s arguments on the open work, the openness associated with spolia will be seen as dependent on the loosening of the formal and typological structures of established architectural codes.
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