AN ARCHIVE AS AN ENGINE OF CULTURAL ACTIVITIES: THE ARCHIVE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT PIETRO PORCINAIIN FIESOLE
The working archive of landscape architect Pietro Porcinai (1910-1986) was the beating heart of his professional studio, meticulously organized by name of client and maintained daily in an almost maniacal way. All information useful for a work in progress had to be found with certainty and rapidity, and all that was considered significant flowed into the dossier of every single client. Client dossiers included working correspondence between Porcinai and his client such as notes, appraisals and copies of drawings. It also included correspondence between Porcinai with suppliers, contractors and professionals involved in different aspects of the work such as architectural or structural design, and with officials responsible for issuing building permits. Dossiers could even include telegrams notifying clients of site visits or Christmas greeting cards. Additional work agendas, client addresses, administrative files from personnel employed in the project, as well as files organized for collaborators and suppliers served as the nucleus of the original dossiers and drawings connected to them. Porcinai also cataloged photographs of construction sites and construction progress for many of his projects. Documentation of his professional projects was only part of Porcinai’s collection. He filed his correspondence of relevant relationships with other landscape designers and cultural associations, and maintained a large library of design and technical books and magazines written in a myriad of foreign languages as well as Italian.
Porcinai’s archive was, therefore, a perfectly functioning “engine”, one that contemporary archive specialists would call a “current archive.” It was essential to the performance of his business, with reference cards treated from the beginning, even if unknowingly, as if this information was not the end, but a future cultural asset. And that is what it has become.
According to Italian law, since 1997 the Pietro Porcinai Archive has been designated as a cultural asset in all respects, as the archive was declared of cultural interest and subjected to protection by the Archival Superintendency for Tuscany. Recently it received another important recognition that speaks of its cultural relevance: on 31st August 2012 the archive was awarded the European Garden Award of the European Garden Heritage Network (EGHN).
Porcinai himself was aware of the value of culture. When the discipline of landscape architecture in the Italian universities did not exist, he held the dream of founding a school for landscape designers to promote the culture of landscape design, philosophy and art. He wished to do this at the Villa Rondinelli in Fiesole, where in 1957 he moved his professional practice and where today his archive is still located. After his death, his collection of books, magazines, client dossiers and drawings were transferred by his heirs from his villa studio to greenhouses on the same property which Porcinai himself had restored many years prior. Thus began the Pietro Porcinai Association, established in 2010 to promote knowledge of Porcinai’s work.
The wealth of material, cared for by his heirs, makes possible a variety of research and activities today. Since Porcinai’s death, studies on his work have begun, becoming more numerous with time. There are many channels through which this important archive remains an engine of culture today as researchers, designers and artists consult its holdings. In fifty years of professional activity Porcinai produced more than 1300 projects. In Italy alone there are 1131. His work extends outside of Italy to four continents, from Europe (Albania, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Principality of Monaco, Spain, Switzerland), Africa (Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast, Egypt, South Africa), the Americas (Canada, United States, Costa Rica, Peru) to Asia ( Japan, Iran, Lebanon). For example, we could travel to see the Temples of Abu Simbel, which, on commission from UNESCO Porcinai helped relocate when threated by flooding from the Aswan Dam project. We could travel to _(describe one other special project outside of Italy ____. Or we can simply stay in the archive and savor the quiet, looking out towards the garden he designed, and across it to the Florentine landscape that spreads below. Among the cards and folders we can meet many of the great exponents of architectural and landscape design culture of the twentieth century: Albini, Helg, Belgioioso, Niemeyer, Morandi, Piano, Rogers, Scarpa, Viganò, Zanuso, Jellicoe, Colvin, Sorensen and many others.
Text by Cristina Sanguineti
Interior of the archive at Villa Rondinelli in Fiesole – ph. Alessio Guarino