Manfredi Nicoletti. Sergio Musmeci. Organicità di forme e forze nello spazio. Universale di architettura, 54 (Turin: Testo & Immagine, 1999). 95 pp.; 75 b&w illustrations; 11 color illustrations.
Reviewed by Alessandra Capanna
Sergio Musmeci's very cultured and refined activity is the answer to those who believe that the studies concerning the relationship between architecture and mathematics are much too theoretical. Musmeci is one of the most daring and transgressive engineers born in the twentieth century; he was master equally of music, astronomy, aeronautics, mathematics, and philosophy, all of which informed his structures, whose shape was determined by the spatial distribution of static actions. Musmeci thought that he could reach the expression of "modernity" through science. He is the designer of a project for the bridge on the Strait of Messina that has been only recently understood and appreciated, more than twenty years after its conception.
The book consists in two parts that complement one another. The first part is the exposition of his research subjects and the explanation of their geometrical and scientific characteristics. The second part reviews Musmeci's works. His works are substantially of two types. The first ones are referred to as "geometry of the continuous", as in the constructive technique of the lightweight stressed skin structures and improved in Musmeci's "form with no name" elaborated for the bridge on the Basento (pages 60-67). This bridge is better illustrated in this book than in earlier publications about it, written in the fifties. "The forms can be truly defined as three-dimensional because they are endowed with a different kind of curvature and orientation in space, in every point, because in space the intensity and the direction of strength at each point will be different" (p. 23). So Musmeci conceives, in a definitive way, an overcoming of the structural empirism of the nineteenth century. During that period the construction of spatial forms was obtained through automorphic transpositions of symmetries through the rotation or the traslation of plane figures, so that the volume was directly connected with the concept of structural minimum.
This subject of research, crisscrossing through Musmeci's studies, is testified to from the very first pages on, beginning with the story about the solution of a scientific problem in which he was engaged since he was a student, the determination of the arch-limit shape. "Its equation is y = log cos X (a part from some multiplicative constants depending on the resistance of building materials)" and it looks like a very extended parabola. This curve has some very interesting properties, particularly that the angle between the median axis of the parabola and the horizontal line is proportional to its abscissa, that is, the distance from the vertical axis. The limit span of this arch is that distance corresponding to a 90° angle.
The other subject of Musmeci's researches concerns those aggregated structures that are the expression of a geometry of discontinuity, represented by the crystallographic conformation of trussed structures. In 1979 in piazza San Salvatore in Lauro, Rome, Musmeci exhibited his works on aggregated structures (pages 43-52), illustrating the "enigmatic and sharp space frames", that are trussed systems geometrically constructed through the same formative process of regular and irregular polyedrons and their reciprocal transformation from one into the others. His studies on polyedrons culminated with the definition of the anti-polyedron, a potentially unlimited and undetermined geometrical figure, even though it was generated from regular figures (pages 19-22).
Nicoletti's homage to his friend is particularly important in light of the fact that there are very few publications about Musmeci, and that Musmeci's research is often hardly understood, with the exception of a very interesting monographic number of the italian review Parametro (n.80 - October 1979) written by Musmeci himself, explaining his aesthetic and philosophical theories, illustrating the scientific and mathematical basis of his researches and finally bringing to light the historical origins and the processes for obtaining ever greater knowledge from which his architectures come.
Alessandra Capanna is an Italian Architect living and working in Rome. She has taken her degree in Architecture at University of Rome 'La Sapienza', from which she also received her Ph.D, discussing a thesis entitled "Strutture Matematiche della Composizione", concerning the logical paradigms in music and in architecture. She is the author of Le Corbusier. Padiglione Philips, Bruxelles (Universale di Architettura 67, January 2000), on the correspondence between the geometry of hyperbolic paraboloids and technical and acoustic needs, and its final and aesthetics consequences. Among her published articles on mathematical principles both in music and in architecture are "Una struttura matematica della composizione", remarking the idea of self-similarity in composition; "Musica e Architettura. Tra ispirazione e metodo", about three architectures by Steven Holl, Peter Cook and Daniel Libeskind; and "Iannis Xenakis. Combinazioni compositive senza limiti", taken from a lecture given at the Dipartimento di Progettazione Architettonica e Urbana at the University of Rome.
Copyright ©2000 Kim Williams Books
Book Review Editor Michael Ostwald