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Issue 44 G
ISSN 2634-8578
Curated By:
critique to empiricism, land rights, Luigi Moretti
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Figure 5 - Exhibition 'Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica', Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 5 – Exhibition ‘Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica’, Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Luigi Moretti: The Unity of Algorithmic Language
algorithmic fitness, Algorithmic Language, critique to empiricism, generative algorithms, Luigi Moretti, parameters, probabilistic outcomes, search space
Marco Vanucci, Marco Vanucci
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Read Article: 9464 Words

“The new art must be based upon science, in particular, upon mathematics, as the most exact, logical, and graphically constructive of the sciences.” Albert Durer

In the newfound spirit that emerged at the end of the Second World War, Rome became the epicentre of a cultural renaissance. Beside the swinging high life impeccably captured by Fellini in La Dolce Vita, the Eternal City shone as a cultural hub, not just attracting actors and film makers to Cinecittà but, rather, gathering artists, scientists, philosophers, architects and engineers.

The Valadieresque Piazza del Popolo was one of the epicentres of the city’s cultural life. At number 18, next to Antonio Canova’s studio and in front of Caffe Rosati, home to the literati, were the headquarters of Civiltà delle Macchine, a magazine directed by Leonardo Sinisgalli and house organ of Finmeccanica (an Italian company specialising in aerospace, defence and security), promoting the new technological and scientific zeitgeist. Nearby, in via Sistina, L’Obelisco gallery hosted Giorgio Morandi and Alberto Burri’s shows as well as the first exhibitions in Italy of René Magritte and Robert Rauschenberg. The second wave of La Scuola Romana (or Scuola di via Cavour) was also in full swing: the Caffè Aragno, on via del Corso, and the art gallery Cometa hosted discussions and exhibitions that challenged classicism in favour of new art forms, such as expressionism. The Italian “economic miracle” was thriving under the pressure of industrial development and the prosperous growth of the real estate market. The development of new infrastructure went hand-in-hand with the expansions of the cities through the construction of entire new neighbourhoods for the affluent working class. The deployment of a new apartment block typology, la palazzina [1], stretched far and wide in many parts of Rome and, beyond, across the country. Many notable examples were designed by the protagonists of a new generation of architects and engineers who, while promoting the ideas of modernism, were keen to establish a link between the new city and its architectural history. In the work of Ugo e Amedeo Luccichenti, Vincenzo Monaco, Pier Luigi Nervi, Mario Ridolfi and Luigi Moretti, the formal principals of Mannerism and Baroque evolved using reinforced concrete. They experimented with a new formal approach and often expressed new structural possibilities: the autonomous articulation of the façade, its depth, the expressive qualities of exposed concrete, as well as the daring structural solutions, were some of the characteristics of this new repertoire.

It is within this context, characterised by the productive tension between the innovative language of the modern avant-garde and the tradition of humanism, that Luigi Moretti became a central figure in the cultural landscape of the Italian post-war period, certainly one of its brightest interpreters.

Besides its lively cultural scene, Rome remained a place filled with traditional values, rituals, and multiple contradictions. The Italian novelist and Federico Fellini’s long-time screenwriter, Ennio Flaiano, described Italy as “the country where the shortest line between two points is an arabesque”. The paradox and inconsistencies of the Italian bureaucracy proved daunting to foreigners and newcomers, however, they were daily routine to the Roman citizens. Moretti navigated this intricate context with pleasure and ease. Many traits of his persona reflected this contradictory environment: he was physically imposing but elegant and refined; eloquent, charismatic and capable of attracting strong feeling of love and hatred; extroverted yet reserved, egocentric but generous with youngsters; an artist with a passion for science, coherent and multifaceted; a keen student of human nature with a strong temperament, which made discussions with him difficult and intimidating.

Moretti, however, had an eccentric side to his character. He rode with his chauffeur through the narrow street of Rome in a black and white convertible Chevrolet with bright red upholstery. One of his collaborators recalled that “he would enter the Roman trattoria like a Renaissance prince, … give precise instructions to waiter and chef…[and] unilaterally decide the menu for all”. [2]

Luigi Walter Moretti was born in via Napoleone III, on the Esquiline Hill, in the same apartment where he lived almost his entire life. He was the son of Luigi Rolland (1852-1921), an architect and engineer of Belgian origins. Having graduated in 1929 from the Royal School of Architecture in Rome, while assisting Professor Vincenzo Fasolo at the chair of restoration, Moretti won a scholarship for Roman Studies. He then worked with archaeologist and art historian Corrado Ricci at the Trajan’s Market, not far from via Panisperna, in Rione Monti, where he later established his first studio. Born one year before the publication of Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism, [3] Moretti absorbed the futurists’ conviction in the “magnificent and progressive fate” of technological innovation and translated it into his own theory and practice. His intellectual approach reflected the profile of a nineteenth-century polymath, a mixture of positivistic idealism and passion for the opportunities offered by the new technologies. He paired creativity with methodological rigour; he rooted his knowledge in the humanistic tradition, drawings inspiration from the late Renaissance and the Baroque, while cultivating a sensibility for mathematics and science. [4] For him, mathematics was the field of “purest contemplations” and “applicative wonders”, [5] so art was “to make humans rise to contemplation, to a sort of vivid bewilderment”. [6]

A New Humanism

Unlike the Futurists, who saw history as too heavy a burden to carry, Moretti considered the history of art and architecture as primary sustenance. He understood history as a continuum and Modernism as part of this long narrative. Luigi Moretti thought of himself as the epigon of that ‘mathematical humanism’ that flourished between Urbino and Florence in the quattrocento [7] Seminal figures such as Luca Pacioli and Piero Della Francesca were from San Sepolcro, half way between the Medici court and the Montefeltro, and each authored treatises on mathematics. Pacioli studied mathematical and artistic proportion, the golden ratio and its application to architecture. He taught math to Leonardo da Vinci who, in turn, drew the illustrations of the regular solids in De Divina Proportione [8] . History has it that Pacioli also introduced Albrecht Dürer to the study of the human body which, in the 20th century, inspired D’Arcy

Thompson’ series on the morphogenesis of forms. On the other hand, Piero Della Francesca was trained in mathematics and wrote three treatises [9], covering subjects such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, solid geometry and perspective. As a young scholar, Piero visited Florence to study Masaccio’s crucifixion in Santa Maria Novella, where Brunelleschi drew the perspective. This collaboration possibly inspired his work for the Madonna di Senigallia where he sought the collaboration of Bramante to help with the perspective. It is not a chance if Piero Della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ is considered the first ‘scientific’ perspective ever realised. It was still in Urbino where Francesco di Giorgio Martini mastered the art and science of fortifications, designed following the ballistic trajectories of the new firearms technology [10]. In Rome, this tradition spanned from Apollodorus of Damascus to Michelangelo, all the way to Borromini’s divine geometry where the influence of mathematicians such as Kepler and Leibniz cannot be confirmed but it’s likely have played a role. Moretti considered himself to be the incarnation of the baroque spirit. His passion for and study of the Baroque was deeply rooted in the cultural climate in Rome following the First World War, which was the result of a broader re-discovery of baroque architecture, especially by German and Austrian historians [11]. He also had the chance to study with Fasolo and Giovannoni, who were renown scholars of the Baroque. Moretti considered Michelangelo Buonarroti as his spiritual father. Particularly interesting are Moretti’s studies of one of his less known but most emblematic works: the Sforza chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, which, according to Moretti, was configured as “the fullest expression of [his] architectural genius”, a “living archetype of architecture [in which] the constructive feeling is one with the construction [and where] the material, in every aspect of its nature, is … folded, transformed into a work of art, since … it is ‘felt’ by the architect as something of his own blood”.[12]

In 1964, at the 25th edition of the Venice Film Festival, while Deserto Rosso [13] won the Golden Lion as best movie, the Art Film section (boasting a jury presided over by Giulio Carlo Argan and including Gio Ponti) awarded the 50-minute long Michelangelo [14], directed by Charles Conrad and Luigi Moretti. In the movie, the work of Michelangelo is analysed through a series of unusual shots and points of view on his art and buildings. Moretti explained that “the first purpose [of] it is the right figurative reading of the work, above all to shake from the eyes those thin, abstract and now worn images of Michelangelo’s masterpieces; images [which are] already false in themselves, since photographs [taken] with wide angle [lens … present] images that are almost always impossible in real life. The second purpose … is that of reading according to a true order that illuminates the compositional spirit of the works … [This] is of course the most arduous, and the commentary of the film [is to] try to facilitate it”.[15] In the documentary, Moretti made use of dramatic lighting, in the manner of Caravaggio’s paintings, to accentuate the theatrical atmosphere, and avoided symmetric shots to render the work from an unusual angle. Particularly interesting is his reading of the Cappella Medicea in Florence, where he placed the camera on the ceiling, offering the opportunity to view the compressed interior spaces. Here, the director seems to be influenced by his professor Vincenzo Fasolo, who used to work through axonometric sectional views to unveil the tectonic character and planimetric sequences of space. A similar critical approach would be used by Bruno Zevi, a few years later, to produce the models and the drawings that punctuated Michelangelo’s exhibition at Palazzo delle Esposizioni [16].

Figure 1 - Study on visibility - Studies on visibility for the football stadium (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 1 – Study on visibility – Studies on visibility for the football stadium (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 2 - Study on visibility - Studies on visibility for the tennis stadium (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 2 – Study on visibility – Studies on visibility for the tennis stadium (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)

The New Century of Science

Moretti’s work and approach can be understood by examining the cultural context within which he operated and where a new alliance between art and science was being defined.

At the turn of the century, the proliferation of new scientific theories challenged the axioms of modern physics and introduced ideas of complexity and chaos. Babbage’s first programmable calculator, Ada Lovelace’s first computer programs , and Boole’s binary code, together with the dissemination of Hollerith’s punched card tabulating machine, marked the beginning of the new era of mechanized binary code and semiautomatic data processing systems. In 1936, Alan Turing published On Computable Numbers,[17] describing what will become the Turing machine, and, in turn, his focus on neurology and physiology will eventually pave the way for artificial intelligence. On the back of this experimentation with the first computational machines, multiple applications became possible: fractals, theory of complexity, chaos theory, thermodynamics, neural networks, generative algorithms, etc.

Moretti was also aware of the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and, on the pages of the USL Paris Review [18], among a collage of images of Antonelli, Guarini and Botticelli, he laid out images of the morphological evolution of biological specimens taken from D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form.[19] Moretti’s fascination for biology and natural systems supported his ideas that form can be mathematically described and computed, which became a founding principle in his further search for a new aesthetic in architecture and the arts. These scientific breakthroughs deeply influenced Moretti, who was searching for a more objective approach to the problem of architecture and city planning in the context of the post-war reconstruction.

In 1951, in the pages of Civiltà delle Macchine, Sinisgalli synthesises the new spirit [20]:

“Today, science comes to draw the skeleton of a crystal and to identify the weak points of a beam … These surveys beyond the visible, these searches for comparative phenomena in tools and materials, they allowed us to clarify the meaning of certain provisions which only seemed owned [by] the spirit, and are instead virtues of matter. Art must retain control of the truth, and the truth of our times is of a subtle quality, it is a truth that is of an elusive nature, probable more than certain, a truth “on the edge” which borders on the ultimate reasons … Science and Poetry cannot walk on divergent roads. Poets must not have [a] suspicion of contamination. Lucretius, Dante and Goethe drew abundantly [on] the scientific and philosophical culture of their times without clouding their vein. Piero della Francesca, Leonardo and Dürer, Cardano and della Porta and Galilei always … benefited from a very fruitful symbiosis between logic and fantasy.”

Moretti shared with the futurists his political views, which were aligned with the fascist ideology. At the end of his university career, in 1932, he met Renato Ricci, then the president of the Opera Nazionale Balilla [21] (ONB), who appointed him ONB’s technical director, succeeding architect Enrico Del Debbio. In this role, Moretti designed several youth centres in Piacenza, Rome (Trastevere), Trecate, and Urbino. In 1937, he took over the design and masterplan for Foro Mussolini (now renamed Foro Italico), where he created one of his masterpieces, Casa della Armi (1933), a rationalist structure subverted by the elegant use of curved lines and the masterful control of natural light. In 1938, Moretti participated in the design of the EUR (Esposizione Universale Romana), a planned (but never completed) development in the Southern part of the city, intended to host Rome’s world fair.

In 1942, Moretti disappeared from public life. Once he reappeared, he was briefly imprisoned in 1945 for his collaboration with the regime. In the prison of San Vittore, in Milan, he met Alfonso Fossataro, an entrepreneur and builder with whom he partnered to build several developments, right after the war. Fossataro and Moretti established the developing company Cofimprese, under which Moretti worked on a series of hotel buildings, and realised the Corso Italia complex in in Milan. The il Girasole house , in the Parioli neighbourhood in Rome, belongs to this period (1949) and is considered an early example of postmodern architecture. [22] The Roman palazzina captured the attention of Robert Venturi, who included it in Complexity and Contradictions as an example of ambiguous architecture, halfway between tradition and innovation. In turn, years later, the Swiss architectural theorist Stanislaus von Moos argued that the broken pediment of Vanna Venturi House is a clear reference to Moretti’s project. [23] In the same period, Moretti designed some villas along the Tirrenic coastline: the most famous of which, La Saracena and the nearby La Califfa, are fine examples of mid-century modernism.

During those years, Moretti entertained a relationship with the Roman aristocracy, the cultural elite, and the Vatican. Studio Moretti was in Palazzo Colonna, in Piazza Santi Apostoli, a regal palace in the heart of Rome which housed the famous Galleria Colonna. Prince Colonna occupied the most important secular position in the Vatican, and he constantly received important visitors: from monarchs to cardinals to prime ministers. Moretti’s office overlooked the main cortile of the palace, so that he and his staff (mostly architects and geometri) would enjoy a daily parade of celebrities and authorities, some of who would become clients.

Figure 3 - Architettura parametrica 1960. Football stadium: Diagrams of the curves identifying optimal lines of sight (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 3 – Architettura parametrica 1960. Football stadium: Diagrams of the curves identifying optimal lines of sight (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 4 - Architettura parametrica 1960. Cinema hall: Diagrams of the curves identifying optimal lines of sight (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 4 – Architettura parametrica 1960. Cinema hall: Diagrams of the curves identifying optimal lines of sight (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)


The post-war period was the golden age for Moretti: his architectural production blossomed in the context of a striving economy which propelled real estate developments across the country. This is also the period of his intellectual maturity, where Moretti developed his sharpest and most relevant reflections on architectural theory.

Moretti’s reputation with the Roman intelligentsia was compromised by his right-wing political views. Bruno Zevi was probably the one who best understood his talent, but he was also his harshest critic. The world of architecture in Rome was dominated by these two figures, so distant and yet so very close. On the one hand, Zevi:

a Jew and a socialist, exiled during the war by Mussolini; an academic historian, an acute scholar and supporter of the Modern Movement with a predilection for Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto. On the other hand, Moretti: a conservative catholic, a supporter of the Fascist regime and an active practitioner banned from academia. They each edited an architectural journal which they used as a means to trumpet their architectural ideas. Zevi was, at one time, Moretti’s best interlocutor and strongest enemy. Despite their rivalry, their relationship could be, at times, relaxed and even civil. What is certain is that they probably shared more than they were ready to publicly admit: Zevi secretly hoped that Moretti would join the Association for Organic Architecture (APAO), a movement founded in 1945 by Zevi himself, Luigi Piccinato, Mario Ridolfi, Pier Luigi Nervi and others, aiming at creating a new school of thought, in open opposition to the reactionary model of the Faculty of Architecture of Rome. Legend has it that Zevi tried to convince Moretti to join APAO, promising to make him the greatest Italian living architect. Moretti refused and was for many years condemned to oblivion by the cultural elite. Despite the antagonism of his many detractors, in 1950, Moretti founded the magazine Spazio, [24] with a clear mission to find connections between different forms of art: from painting to architecture, from sculpture to film and theatre. Spazio burned bright in the Roman intellectual scene and, despite the stigma surrounding Moretti, became a beacon for the visual culture of the time, an elegant cultural project that nobody could dare ignore.

Spazio represents one of the most important moments in Luigi Moretti’s theoretical output. Although the magazine only published seven issues (ceasing publications in 1953), his writings published in the magazine represent his most relevant critical framework and constitute the heart of his theoretical production and cultural legacy.

Moretti was editor, editorial director and writer of most of the articles in the magazine. The opening editorial of the first issue of the magazine is titled “Eclettismo e unità di linguaggio” [25] (eclecticism and unity of language) and can be considered Moretti’s programmatic manifesto. The “Unity of Language” was not intended as a fusion of different artistic languages but rather their consonance: Moretti was aware of the differences between artistic languages, and he knew that, despite some emerging points of contact, they remained separate due to their “algorithmic and close” nature. He used the term algorithmic to describe the tendency of different systems to form the general structure of a building or piece of art. The way, for instance, a particular building deals with the modulation of light, the organisation of space and its bearing was considered by Moretti the algorithmic DNA of that structure. In other words, he conceived of architecture as a “reality of pure interrelations”.[26] Moretti believed that the algorithmic nature of the various artistic languages could finally converge and speak in unison.

“There are some periods of civilization that take shape and character from the splendour of a single language; others, very rare, in which the various expressive languages find harmony (…) and together they reach a dense maturity; they are the happy times of Pericles or of the early Renaissance or of the extraordinary seventeenth century. A unitary language is born, formal process of sorting and classification of the infinite parameters of reality and their relationships. Space thus becomes unitary, resolvable, and expressible in every point, and [a] mirror of a new balanced unity of mankind”. [27] [28]

Then in “Genesi di Forme dalla Figura Umana”,[29] in Spazio’s second issue, Moretti described the role of the human figure in the history of art. While these first two articles for Spazio were concerned with general topics, from the third issue onwards he started to explore more specific aspects that would unveil his operational approach to architecture. In “Forme Astratte nella Scultura Barocca”,[30] Moretti discusses how the non-figurative elements of baroque sculptures present a formal richness that could be subtracted from the composition and yet retain their autonomous aesthetic value as abstract forms. Analysing the Baroque sculptures, he noted that “they reveal some areas of their plastic application resolved in purely formal terms, far from any pre-eminent reference to an objective reality, so that it does not seem arbitrary to know that they belong to the abstract formal world”. A case in point is the sculptural palimpsest accompanying the four figures in Bernini’s Fontana dei Fiumi in Piazza Navona, where the landscape surrounding the human figure retains an autonomous aesthetic value.

The contemporaneity of historical art forms and the relevance of history in the world of today was often questioned and studied by Luigi Moretti. In “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie”[31] and “Valori della modanatura”[32] he presented a “close reading” of architectural elements: in the first article he tackles the figurative abstraction of mouldings in Romanic architecture, which he considered to be the most abstract in their pictorial simplicity, and yet very concrete in their constructive logic. Moretti juxtaposed on the same page the images of the Duomo di Pisa and Mondrian’s paintings. Signs, traces, geometric textures used in the pictorial compositions become, therefore, precious matrices to compose architectural plans, sections, and elevations. In the second article, Moretti questioned how cornices and profilescould be considered, rather than decorative elements, as pure form, as the only non-figurative elements of architecture that determine its plasticity and volumetric articulation. In “Discontinuità dello Spazio in Caravaggio”[33] and “Spazi-Luce ell’Architettura Religiosa” he continued to explore the role of light in the dynamic articulation of space. He argued that Caravaggio’s figures are always portrayed from the side, never frontal nor symmetrical, deconstructing mass and space through the interplay of light and shadows, with dynamic results. Here, Moretti made a subtle reference to his project for Corso Italia in Milan where he grafted a cantilevering mass protruding sideways from the urban street front.

Perhaps it is with “Strutture e Sequenze di Spazi”[34] that Moretti produced one of the most relevant critical studies for the culture of his time. In it, Moretti delved into the problem of reading and describing space. If the focus in considering Caravaggio was on perceptive glimpses of space, here the aim was to precisely investigate the relationship between the parts and the whole by studying the sequence of rooms articulated through the compressions and dilations of space. He systematically studies and analyses these aspects through a series of

historical examples: Villa Adriana, Guarino Guarini’s church of San Filippo Neri in Casale Monferrato, Laurana’s Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, and many others. For each of these projects, Moretti produced a series of models where the interior space is represented as a volumetric extrusion. With these, he developed an autonomous spatial reading of architecture not dissimilar to what Eisenman developed in the 1960s and 1970s, with the study of forms as pure architectural syntax. Alongside the models are a series of drawings and diagrams describing the density of the different spaces. Here, the form, the structure and the space itself are represented as a dynamic tension between the immaterial nature of space and its material representation.

It is, however, in “Struttura come Forma”[35] that Moretti elaborated the relationship between structure and form (critiquing the approach that prioritises form over structure) and, for the first time, talked about parametric architecture. Starting from the Vitruvian triad (stability, utility, beauty), Moretti argued that, historically, architecture oscillated between prioritising structure (Brunelleschi, Gothic and Roman architecture) or form (Baroque, Renaissance and 19th Century architecture). He then reflected on the direction function>form, pursed by the Rationalists and the Bauhaus. He considered the “function” as parameters determining the space and its concatenation. These parameters are either very limited, so that space can be easily deduced with scientific rigour, leading to the realm of pure technique (an extreme case of what he called parametric architecture); or these parameters are multiple and not clearly definable, so that the function is necessarily approximate, and only further articulation of the structure can define it more precisely. Here we return to the structure>form approach, where structure is, once again, understood as a complex set of relationships. The text is accompanied by an illustration by a young architect, Guido Figus, who worked on an iterative series of roof structures articulated through folded plates resembling origami. Figus’ drawings are fascinating: rather than proposing an optimum solution, they are exploring a series of possible (parametric) permutations for the structure.

Figure 5 - Exhibition 'Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica', Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 5 – Exhibition ‘Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica’, Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 6 - Exhibition 'Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica', Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 6 – Exhibition ‘Architettura Parametrica e di Ricerca Matematica e Operativa nell’Urbanistica’, Milano, XII Triennale, 1960. View of the exhibition space (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)

An Other Art

The movement initiated with Spazio continued after the magazine ceased publication. On June 26 1954, in via Cadone, Rome, Galleria Spazio opened its doors with its first exhibition titled Caratteri della Pittura d’Oggi (Characters of Today’s Painting). The gallery was established through a collaboration between Luigi Moretti and the French art critic Michel Tapié de Celeyran. Jazz musician, curator, art critic and all-round cultural agitator, Tapié entertained close relationships with art galleries across Europe and North America that allowed him to promote and showcase his roaster of artists. He was also the author of Un Art Autre[36], a compendium about a “new art” of signs and matter, where he promoted and gave wide currency to the French style of abstract painting popular in the 1940s and 1950s called Tachisme. This movement was developed as a reaction to Cubism and was characterised by informality and an absence of premeditated structure, conception or approach (sans cérémonie).

The turning point in Tapié’s career was his friendship with artist George Mathieu. This would soon lead to his meeting with Moretti, through the Roman artist Giuseppe Capogrossi, whose large canvases filled with cryptic glyphs and dynamic forms were disseminated across Moretti’s studio and acted as an inspiration to his architecture. [37]

Moretti was seduced by Tapié; he comprehended his great potential and, with him, he seized the opportunity to promote contemporary art, pursuing the unity of languages and his eclectic vision. Under Moretti’s directorship, the art critic became “artistic consultant” of Spazio gallery. For the first exhibition at the gallery, among the large group of selected artists there were some on the brink of becoming internationally acclaimed: Pollock, Francis and Tobey from the States; Capogrossi and Dova from Italy; Appel and Jorn who, with Wols, formed the CoBrA Group; and Mathieu and Riopelle from France. In the catalogue of the exhibition Moretti wrote:[38] “The intensity, the splendour, the explosion of signs given to the surfaces, the brightness and power of relations, the pure relations these signs compose, are its justification”. He also wrote of “The dramatic beauty, the desperate egoism of these adventurous facts that today occur in art”.

Here, Moretti claimed that painting was of importance only to itself, “only tied to the personal algorithm, to the personality of the artist”. The joint venture between Moretti and Tapié, together with artists such as Mathieu and Capogrossi, represented a clear attempt to find new aesthetic and philosophical ways to make art and science converge.

In 1954, in the pages of the US Lines Paris Review,[39] Tapié claims:

It is time to reconsider the notion of rhythm, no longer by way of the only possible system of whole numbers, but rather by way of real and hypercomplex numbers; the notion of structure, no longer bound irrevocably to the ruler and compass, but to the richer and more general notions of continuity and contingency of present topology, within which classical geometry is now only an extremely specialised little chapter; the notion of content, no longer as a more or less theatrical subject-pretext, but as complying with the norms of scientific psychoanalysis; the notion of space and composition, no longer tied to a static formalistic logic and to an “equilibrium” of the same order, but rather to Galois’ Theory of Groups, to Cantor’s Theory of Wholes, to the present metalogic and to Lupasco’s dynamic logic of the contradictory.

Moretti and Tapié would often wander through the streets of Rome searching for artists and “new voices”. Among them was artist Carla Accardi who, years later, recalled visiting villa Saracena in Santa Marinella with Moretti, Tapié and the American artist Claire Falkenstein who was commissioned to design the villa’s gate.

The Roman architect and the French critic shared a common vision and a commitment to evolve the artistic language. After Spazio, they continued to collaborate for many years, far beyond the closure of the gallery, each of them following their artistic language, but sharing a precise vision: the critic called it Morfologie Autre, while the architect refers to Strutture di Insiemi, a term that Moretti borrowed from the study of Galois’ theory of groups[40]. In 1960, they co-founded the International Centre of Aesthetic Research in Turin, Italy, a facility for the study and exhibition of art, as well as for the publication and dissemination of critical, investigative, or theoretical works on art.

In 1965, they co-authored the book Le Baroque Generalisé: Manifeste du Baroque Ensembliste[41], a beautiful and rare publication where the language of the Baroque is articulated through mathematical formulas. This book synthesises Moretti’s fascination for a more scientific approach to architecture with his love for art, the Baroque and the unity of language.

However, Moretti continued to foster collaboration and intellectual exchange. One such association was with French poet Pierre Pascal, son of chemist Paul Pascal, anti-Gaullist and collaborator with the Vichy government, sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. Pascal left France in 1944 and took refuge in Italy, where Mussolini initially offered him hospitality at the Vittoriale on Lake Garda before he later moved to Rome. There, he found accommodation at Palazzo Caetani, which became the seat of the Éditions du Cœur Fidèle, a publishing company that Pascal co-founded with Moretti. The Cœur Fidèle would publish a forest of hendecasyllabic and alexandrine verse, and rhythmic prose; from the Persian quatrains of Omar Khayyam to Le Corbeau by Poe (deciphered in his arithmetic, geometric and gematric keys), from the Livre de Job to the Apocalypse of St. John[42]. The last is certainly the most significant: it is an interpretation in French Alexandrine, with sixteen prints of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypsis cum figuris[43] taken from the original woodcuts used for the prints of 1498 and 1511. The book is of exquisite quality and it represents the apex of Moretti’s erudition which borders into exoterism, a testament to the belief that his intellectual work was rooted in the line drawn by the great masters of the past. Ricerca Operativa Moretti’s passion for science and mathematics led to a friendship with the engineer and mathematician Bruni De Finetti. They may have first met in Via Panisperna, in Rome, where Moretti, as a young graduate from the school of architecture, opened his studio and where De Finetti, enfant prodige and graduate in applied math from the University of Milan, attended the seminars at the Institute of Statistics. At the time, Enrico Fermi was there leading the ‘Panisperna boys’: Edoardo Amaldi, Ettore Majorana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti, Emilio Segre [44], a group of bright and young scientists who opened the door to nuclear reaction and, later, to the atomic bomb.

Before collaborating with Moretti, De Finetti had been involved in studies on the economic viability of construction. In the magazine La Città,[45] the architect Giuseppe De Finetti (Bruno’s cousin), invites him to develop a mathematical approach where, thanks to a series of formulas and by establishing a relationship between land value, cost of construction and rental value, they calculated the optimum composition of the building. Such an approach would be further investigated by De Finetti in his collaboration with Moretti. Having spent many years at the University of Trieste, De Finetti arrived in Rome in 1954 as a professor of Mathematics at the Faculty of Economics. was one of the first scholars to lecture on Ricerca Operativa, [46]

(operational research), a branch of applied mathematics which was making its way into the Italian academia and intellectual environment. It consisted of analysing and resolving complex decisional problems through the development of mathematical models and quantitative methods (simulation, optimization, etc.) to provide supporting insights in the decision-making process. It is worth noting that, around the same period and with different purposes, Bruno Zevi was elaborating his theory on Critica Operativa[47], a pedagogic and cultural enterprise which aimed to create a bridge between history and modern architecture. Zevi was advocating the actualisation of those immutable characteristics of historical architecture, read and reinterpreted in a contemporary key. [48].

The problem of establishing a link between theory and practice, between thinking and making, was clearly a defining trait of the Italian culture in the post-war era.

During those years, Moretti was developing his studies on parametric architecture, an approach that consisted in the application of mathematical theory to architecture and urbanism. However, having asked De Finetti to bring his collaboration to this new field of research, Moretti wanted to go beyond the declaration of theoretical principles and, in 1957, they became respectively president and vice-president of the newly founded Institute of Mathematical and Operations Research for Urbanism (IRMOU). With them were a group of young mathematicians, architects and engineers: Anna Cuzzer (then married to Paolo Portoghesi), Giovanni Cordella, and Cristoforo Sergio Bertuglia. Moretti’s idea was to apply a more scientific approach to the challenges of post-war reconstruction in Italy. IRMOU, in turn, aimed at employing mathematical and statistical methodologies to provide solutions that were considered quantitatively and qualitatively more effective for a truly modern country. Bruno De Finetti played a particularly important role, not just as a prestigious scholar but also because he introduced the Institute to the use of computational machines, such as the IBM 610, a fixed-point decimal electronic calculator used for probabilistic computation. De Finetti purchased the machine for the University and installed it in via Ripetta, establishing the institution’s first computing centre. At the time, Moretti was involved in some of the most important commissions of his career. In 1958 he led the team involved in creating the new Olympic Village for the XVII Olympics in Rome (1960).[49] Between 1960 and 1966, following up on the masterplan developed for the Olympics, together with Cafiero, Guidi and Libera, Moretti designed and built the housing project Quartiere INCIS Decima, where the buildings were arranged following the roman castrum.

Abroad, Moretti built the Watergate Complex in Washington (which would become infamous in the wake of the 1972 political scandal) and Montreal’s Stock Exchange Tower, both projects commissioned by the insurance company Generale Immobiliare.

In 1968, he was commissioned to design a sanctuary at Tagbha, on Lake Tiberias in Israel. The project was approved by the Vatican, but was never built due to the outbreak of war between Israel and Palestine. Moretti also had commissions in Kuwait (including the headquarters of the Bedouin Engineers’ Club and Bedouin Houses s) and in Algeria (Hotel El Aurassi, the Club des Pines and a series of schools and residential projects).

Moretti was also involved in the new masterplan for the city of Rome and, with IRMOU, carried out studies to analyse and alleviate traffic in the capital. These projects led to the plan for the new subway branch Termini-Risorgimento, which culminated in the realisation of the Pietro Nenni bridge over the river Tiber, as well as the new carpark under Villa Borghese which opened in 1973. Around the same period, he also realised the project for the Thermal Bath in Fiuggi, where he mastered the used of reinforced concrete.

Figure 7 - Study on Borromini: Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza Roma, 1967. Spatial interpretation: Juxtaposition interior and exterior space. (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 7 – Study on Borromini: Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza Roma, 1967. Spatial interpretation: Juxtaposition interior and exterior space. (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 8 - Study on Borromini: San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane Roma, 1967. Spatial interpretation: Juxtaposition interior and exterior space. (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 8 – Study on Borromini: San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane Roma, 1967. Spatial interpretation: Juxtaposition interior and exterior space. (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)

Architettura Parametrica

Having spent about 20 years searching for the new relationship between architecture and mathematics, in 1960, Luigi Moretti was invited to the Milan Triennale to present the work and studies carried out with IRMOU on Parametric Architecture. While IRMOU’s work mostly focused on urbanism (urban planning, urban flows, etc.), for the exhibition in Triennale, Moretti developed parametric studies on sport and leisure facilities: a football stadium, an aquatic centre, a tennis arena and a cinema. At the time, football stadiums andsports arenas in general were relatively new typologies. In addition, unlike many of today’s venues, they were mono-functional. For this reason, stadia were the perfect typology to establish parametric relationships between different components: the position of the spectators in relation with the goals, the sightlines between every seat and different areas of the pitch, etc. Moretti and his collaborators elaborated mathematical formulas to describe these dependencies. The mathematical models produced data points representing the optimum viewing areas of the stadium. The data points were elaborated using an IBM 610 Auto-Point computer.

Moretti explains the “necessity to formulate new logical chains aimed at identifying new architectural forms and their concatenation, dependent on various and complex functions”.[50] For Moretti, “each logical area that makes up the sequence of this new formulation of architectural thought must be the receptor and projective of mathematical thought, that is to say, it needs to be quantifiable … The solution is based on the determination of the elements conditioning the forms as a consequence of the functions that are required of it. That is to say: solutions based on qualifiable parameters, parameters that, one by one and in their quantifiable interrelation, fix the limits within which we identify and draw the forms that fulfil those functions”. And again, “the definition of the parameters must be called upon to assist the techniques and instruments of the most current scientific thought; mathematical logic, operational research and computers. To the study of this approach and to the new method and theory specified in its schemes and verified by the first exciting results, I gave the name of Parametric Architecture”. Moretti elaborated his parametric manifesto on the pages of Moebius magazine, in an axiomatic text which established the heuristic principles of parametric architecture.[51]

Bruno Zevi was intrigued by this new approach. However, confirming his opposition to Moretti, he was far from being convinced. Following the opening of the exhibition, Zevi wrote a sceptical review of it on the pages of L’Architettura Cronaca e Storia:

“Everything that serves to give us distance from empiricism and rationalism in design should be applauded. Especially in a moment like the current one in which the characteristic of the [working method] of most Italian architects is careless … A parametric method encompasses the tools, procedures, and objectives, but to what end? For these questions, electronic brains are barely useful, brains are needed. If parametric architecture is not to remain a brilliant intellectual exercise, it is indispensable that research is sustained by a high moral inspiration. For now, the idea surprises and fascinates us; tomorrow, it may convince”. [52]

Here, Zevi aired a certain dissatisfaction for the unfulfilled promises of parametric architecture. A scepticism that, beside the great advances in parametric and algorithmic design, many still share today.

However, Luigi Moretti was aware of the “high moral inspiration” required to pursue the new course of architecture. In a lecture at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, in 1964, he claims that “the new basic meaning” of making architecture must be identified with the “genius of a new morality, of an interior commitment to working in accordance with justice, in a superior economy, for our fellow men. This imposes a dedication, a seriousness in research and investigations and, above all, an underlying humility”. [53]

Figure 9 - Spazio, n. 7 Rome, December 1952 – April 1953 - Michelangelo. Model of the church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome. Representation of the internal volumes (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 9 – Spazio, n. 7 Rome, December 1952 – April 1953 – Michelangelo. Model of the church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome. Representation of the internal volumes (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 10 - Spazio, n. 7 Roma, December 1952 – April 1953 from 'Strutture e sequenze di spazi', article by Luigi Moretti. Model of Guarino Guarini's church of S. Filippo Neri in Casale Monferrato. Representation of the internal volumes (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)
Figure 10 – Spazio, n. 7 Roma, December 1952 – April 1953 from ‘Strutture e sequenze di spazi’, article by Luigi Moretti. Model of Guarino Guarini’s church of S. Filippo Neri in Casale Monferrato. Representation of the internal volumes (Archivio Moretti Magnifico)


Moretti passed away suddenly in 1973. In his obituary, Zevi didn’t spare words of either admiration or criticism for his beloved enemy: “He possessed an authentic artistic temperament integrated with a notable if non-methodical culture and an extraordinary professional capacity. He could have assumed a determining role in the depressed Italian atmosphere; but a spasmodic desire for individual affirmation associated with an intellectualism like that of D’Annunzio, greedy for refinements and luxuries, reduced his creativity to insufferable conventionality. A waste in civil and human terms”.[54]

Moretti remained a controversial figure for many years after his passing. His legacy was long ignored or undervalued. However, much of the research and many of the questions raised by Moretti during his architectural life remained relevant and some still haunt architects today. What is the role of history in designing the city of today? What is the relationship between architects and technology? Is technology merely a tool to make or also a tool to think?

Moretti was aware of the necessity to not parametrise all things. He warned against “the dictatorship of the algorithm”. The Roman architect knew that his research was still far from the government of complex phenomena with suitable complex algorithms. He knew that architects “will have to educate the mind to scientific rigor knowing how to leave [their] imagination and expressive freedom intact, since free formal expression, personal lyricism, will always find a place in the spaces that the parametric functions will leave free”.[55]

One year before his departure, Luigi Moretti offered an interesting insight. In this brief excerpt from a conference titled “Technology and the ecological problem”,[56] he warned about the uncritical endorsement of new technologies, exposing the limits of his own thinking. While he seemed to have no doubt regarding the computational turn in architecture, he seemed to distance himself from any technocratic orthodoxy.

The authentic humanism in ancient civilization … was indeed a synthesis and integral consciousness of abstract thought … It is with the Enlightenment that an approximate rationality has entered, the production of algorithmic thought as something absolutely proper, acceptable, indeed dutiful and characteristic of man. … The whole critical situation of today’s world, from ecology to ethics, economy, politics, religion and spirituality is the result of two errors … Precisely:

1) the logic of algorithmic developments without limits;

2) [the validity of] this logic …, whatever the dimensions of the empirical field on which it operates.

Technologies produce mechanisms [that are] expressions of particular logical chains, dependent [on] or aroused by other logical chains. … Everyone now feels that it is not possible to continue with them indefinitely. This is obvious; … in the laws of technological development there is a need for a limit. … There is an asymptotic point for any technology beyond which it is in vain, it is foolish to proceed. … The limit of a technology is always inherent in it; it is equivalent to its death and death is an inseparable moment of the vital process in every organism …: we take logic and its algorithmic developments as valid whatever the dimensions of the empirical field on which they operate. This is false: the logical structures are NOT valid for each dimension of the field on which they are affected.

When I was preparing the exhibition of parametric architecture, which had this statement as a conducting background, Prof. De Finetti, one of the most acute intellects in today’s world, suggested to me as a slogan and introduction a stupendous step by Galileo, which roughly says: “if you want to make an animal fifty times bigger you will not have to enlarge the bones and structures fifty times, you will have to change material and study another completely different structure, otherwise you will make a fantasy monster” …

Now, in today’s world, the dimensions are enormously changed; … we continue to use concepts and logic, in the empirical life of our global community … and mustn’t the exceptional dimension of our empirical world lead to a completely new formation of knowledge (of thought)? How can we have logical chains that conclude with certainty as a good old syllogism? As we know, they will be only probable conclusions and consequent statistically verifiable situations. This concept of truth according to probability and statistics has for some time now come alive in every beat of our thought. [57]

On the one hand, he warns against the application of algorithmic processes to all the dimensions of knowledge, establishing boundaries to what can be known through algorithms and what should be left in the hand of the architect. On the other hand, the critique to empiricism leads Moretti to re-affirm a new form of scientific thought that advances by probabilistic attempts rather than by absolute truths. Thus, not dissimilarly from the logic of generative algorithms, Moretti understood that, in the new world, the algorithmic fitness of different parameters is to be found within the boundaries of a “search space” where truth is constantly fluctuant and, far from being univocal, has multiple probabilistic outcomes.


1 “Palazzina. This term, which came into use in the Renaissance as a term of endearment for palazzo, originally designated small buildings located within parks and gardens intended to offer asylum during parties and hunting parties … La Palazzina … thus began its disruptive parable towards the city in the 1920s, replacing the continuous fabric typical of the ancient city [with] a discontinuous fabric in which the building volumes are placed side by side without any formal relationship connecting them, divided only by a thin strip of green, usually divided by the high walls erected on the boundaries of the lots.” (P. Portoghesi, The Angel of History, [Bari: Laterza, 1982])

2 Adrian Sheppard, “Luigi Moretti: a testimony” (Montreal: 2008)

3 Marinetti wrote the manifesto in the autumn of 1908 and it first appeared as a preface to a volume of his poems, published in Milan in January 1909. It was published in the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dell’Emilia in Bologna on 5 February 1909, then in French as Manifeste du futurisme (Manifesto of Futurism) in the newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909. Luigi Moretti was born in Rome on 2 January 1907.

4 “To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Da Vinci

5 B.Baldi, Le Vite de’ Matematici, 1587–1595, cit. in F.Abbri, E.Bellone, W.Bernardi, U.Bottazzini, P.Rossi (eds), Storia Della Scienza Moderna e Contemporanea. Dalla Rivoluzione Scientifica all’eta’ dei Lumi 1, 136, TEA, 2000

6 Luigi Moretti, Forme Astratte Nella Scultura Barocca, Spazio n.3, 20, October 1950

7 Andre Chastel introduced the notion of “mathematical humanism” in his book Centri del Rinascimento: Arte italiana 1460-1500 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1965). Chastel identifies three strands of humanism and specifies that the mathematical one “finds its most important base in Urbino” (41), noting that “the case of Luca Pacioli is not isolated: on the contrary, it well represents the intellectual environment of the quattrocento, an environment in which theory and practice walk hand in hand without, however, adapting themselves to one another perfectly” (47, 49).

8 Luca Pacioli, De Divina Proportione, Aboca Museum, San Sepolcro, 2009

9 Trattato d’Abaco (Abacus Treatise), De quinque corporibus regularibus (On the Five Regular Solids) and De Prospectiva pingendi (On Perspective in painting).

10 Scaglia, Gustina, Francesco Di Giorgio: Checklist and History of Manuscripts and Drawings in Autographs and Copies from Ca. 1470 to 1687 and Renewed Copies, Lehigh Univ Pr, 1992

11 Literary works of architectural history such as Der Cicero by Jacob Burckhardt (1855), Studien zur Architektur geschichte des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts by Robert Dohme (1878), Renaissance and Baroque by Heinrich Wölfflin (1888), and Barock und Rococo by Auguste Schmarsow (1897), prepare the ground; added to them at the beginning of the twentieth century were Michelangelo als Architekt by Heinrich von Geymüller (1904) and Die Entstehung der Ba rokkunst in Rome by Alois Riegl (1908). In the aftermath of the Great War, came Michelangelo-Studien by Dagobert Frey (1920) and the volume on Borromini by Eberhard Hempel (1924).

12 L. Moretti, op. cit. in Casabella LXX (2006), .78-79.

13 Red Desert, director M.Antognoni, written by M.Antognoni, T.Guerra, starring M.Vitti, R.Harris, C.Chionetti, Italy, 1964

14 Michelangelo: The Man with Four Souls, directors: L.Morfetti, C.Conrad, Italy, 1964

15 L. Moretti e Charles Conrad, presentation to the premier of the movie ’Michelangelo‘ at Circolo del P Greco, Roma, Hotel Hilton, 14 Luglio 1964 (Archivio Moretti Magnifico).

16 P. Portoghesi, B. Zevi (eds.), Michelangiolo architetto (Torino: Einaudi, 1964), with Giulio Carlo Argan, Franco Barbieri, Aldo Bertini, Sergio Bettini, Renato Bonelli, Decio Gioseffi, Roberto Pane, Paolo Portoghesi, Bruno Zevi, and Lionello Puppi.

17 A. M. Turing, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 1937

18 A.Imperiale, “An ‘Other’ aesthetic: Moretti’s Parametric Architecture”, Log 44 (2018)

19 D’Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form, Cambridge University Press, 1917

20 L. Sinisgalli, “Natura, Calcolo, Fantasia”, Pirelli 3 (1951) 54-55.

21 Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was an Italian Fascist youth organization functioning between 1926 and 1937, when it was absorbed into the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (GIL), a youth section of the National Fascist Party.

22 Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.

23 Stanislaus von Moo, Venturi, Rauch, & Scott Brown: Buildings and Projects (New York: Rizzoli, 1987),244-246

24 Spazio made its debut in July 1950 taking the form of a grandiose project, capable of combining typographic and contributor quality, investments (editorial staff in Milan, Rome, and later Florence and Paris), international screening (abstract in English, French and Castilian). The director’s writings are numerous and of absolute importance. The editor-in-chief, Agnoldomenico Pica, is the author of several texts and is flanked by recurring collaborators: Umberto Bernasconi, Angelo Canevari, Gino Severini, Sisto Villa, Ugo Diamare. Over the course of 7 issues the magazine has promoted artists and architects such as Carlo Mollino, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Alberto Burri, Renzo Zanella, Antonio Gaudi, Adalberto Libera, Ugo Carrà, Vico Magistretti, Carlo De Carli, Ettore Sottsass, Atanasio Soldati, Gianni Monnet, Vittoriano Viganò, Franco Albini, Carlo Pagani, and Luciano Baldessari. The layout was masterful, governed with skilful technique, taste and originality by the director himself

25 L.Moretti, “Ecclecttismo e Unità dei Linguaggi”, Spazio1 (1950)

26 “For me personally, the search for this secret fabric as a link between the various elements of a work, which renders, or attempts to render, the single forms as interrelated parts to the others, in a consciously inseparable fabric, is the habitual way of consider a work (descendant) above all from the eighteen pages of Galois that opened the new objective world to us as a reality of pure interrelations”. “Ultime Testimoninaze di Giuseppe Vaccaro”, L’Architettura Cronaca e Storia,201(1972).

28 L.Moretti, “Ecclecttismo e Unità dei Linguaggi”, Spazio 1, (1950).

29 L.Moretti, “Genesi di Forme dalla Figura Umana”, Spazio 2 (1950).

30 L.Moretti, “Forme Astratte nella Scultura Barocca”, Spazio 3 (1950).

31 L.Moretti, “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie”, Spazio 4 (1951).

32 L.Moretti, “Valori della modanatura”, Spazio 6 (1952).

33 L.Moretti, “Discontinuità dello Spazio in Caravaggio”, Spazio 5 (1951).

34 L.Moretti ”Strutture e sequenze di spazi”, Spazio 7 (1953)

35 L.Moretti, “Struttura come Forma”, Spazio 6 (1952)

36 Un Art Autre Ou il s’Agit de Noveaux Dévidages du Reel (Paris: 1952).

37 In the article “Structure comme forme”, published on the United States Line Paris Review, Moretti defines the mathematical equivalent of what he sees in Capogrossi paintings as the theory of differences, which he develops into a method to design dynamic architectural forms.

42 Pierre Pascal (curated by) Apokalypsis Ioannoy ou la Revelation de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ a Saint Jean, more often titled Apocalypsis Iesu Xristi / for the first time paraphrased in Alexandrian verse by Pierre Pascal (A l’enseigne du Coeur Fidele, Roma 1963)

43 The Apocalypse (Latin: Apocalipsis cum figuris) is a series of fifteen woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer published in 1498, depicting various scenes from the Book of Revelation, which rapidly brought him fame across Europe.

44 The Via Panisperna boys (Italian: I ragazzi di Via Panisperna) were a group of young scientists led by physicist Enrico Fermi. In Rome, in 1934, they made the famous discovery of slow neutrons, which later made possible the nuclear reactor and subsequently the construction of the first atomic bomb.

45 The magazine La Città: Architettura e Politica was founded and directed by Giuseppe De Finetti in 1945. Only four issues were published between 1945 and 1946. The aim was to discuss “the study of the future city”. The magazine mainly discusses the problems of reconstruction, the fate of the cities destroyed by the two wars, and the problems of traffic; “the task of rebuilding the city, of giving it back its usefulness and beauty”.

46 B. De Finetti, “Gli strumenti calcolatori nella Ricerca Operativa”, Civiltà delle Macchine, 5, 1 (1957), 18–21.

47 B. Zevi exposed his ideas regarding the relationship between architectural history and contemporary design in the opening lecture of the
academic year, held in the Aula Magna of the Rectorate of the University of Rome, on the 18th of December 1963.

48 In addition to Moretti, the team for the new Olympic Village in Rome was formed by Vittorio Cafiero, Adalberto Libera, Amedeo Luccichenti and
Vincenzo Monaco

49 L. Moretti, “Ricerca Matematica in Architettura e Urbanistica”, letter to Giulio Roisecco, director of Moebius magazine

50 L. Moretti, Moebius, IV, 1 (1971), 30–53.

51 B. Zevi, “Cervelli Elettronici? No Macchine Calcolatrici”, in L’architettura Cronaca e Storia VI, 62 (1960), 508-509, (translation A. Imperiale)

52 L. Moretti, “Significato attuale della dizione Architettura”, in Spazio, Fascicoli(1964). See also: Luigi Moretti, “L’Applicazione dei metodi della
Ricerca Operativa nel campo dell’urbanistica”, in Spazio, Fascicoli, (1960); Luigi Moretti, “Strumentazione scientifica per l’urbanistica”, in : Cultura
e realizzazioni urbanistiche, Convergenze e divergenze, conference proceedings, held at Fondazione Aldo Della Rocca, Campidoglio, Consiglio
Nazionale delle Ricerche, (Rome: 1965).

53 B. Zevi, “Computer inceppato dal dannunzianesimo,” L’Espresso (July 29, 1973), reprinted in Cronache di Architettura 2, 982 (Bari: Laterza,
1979), 145.

54 L. Moretti, “Architecture 1965: Évolution ou Révolution”, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, 119 (1965), 48.

55 “Tecnologia e problema ecologico”, round table with the participation of V.Bettini, S. Lombardini, L.Moretti and P.Prini. Civilta delle Macchine 3-
4 (1972)

56 Ibidem

Suggest a Tag for this Article
[4] Infrastructure for subsurface ecologies. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland).
[4] Infrastructure for subsurface ecologies. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland).
Governing the Ground: Architecture v. the Rights of the Land 
Biological Diversity, Governing, land ownership, land rights, Rights of nature, Sustainable Development
Andrew Toland
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Read Article: 4382 Words

Until recently, nature was wholly outside the law.[1] At most, it was property of one sort or another – to be bought and sold, securitised and commodified, and especially, in the old-fashioned phrase of the English common law, “improved”. Other “laws” – of physics, chemistry and biology – are not of consequence in this realm of capital “L” Law,[2] exempted because of their exceptionalism. Humans are distinct from and superior to other animals, a situation the Canadian environmental lawyer and academic David R. Boyd describes as “at odds with reality … any biologist will tell you that humans are animals”.[3] Black’s Law Dictionary, the dominant legal lexicon in North America, is at pains to point out that the legal definition of animals “includes all living creatures not human”.[4] Similarly, architecture presented itself as standing apart from nature. “Architecture, unlike the other arts, does not find its patterns in nature”, claimed Gottfried Semper in 1834.[5] Or Louis Kahn in 1969: “What man makes, nature cannot make.”[6] In what is ultimately a form of the cosmology of the modern, law and architecture sit apart from and superior to nature. Design, like the economic activities to which law gives its support, is about subduing nature and turning it to productive ends. In this model, both are methods of human governance of the natural world. Indeed, for centuries, architecture was among the key pieces of evidence cited for human exceptionalism – buildings and cities, just as in Laugier’s original parable of the hut as the first example of architecture, allowed humans to transcend the state of nature.[7, 8] At times, this line of Western thought had deeply pernicious consequences for other peoples throughout the world, as the presence or absence of architecture, as well as agricultural cultivation, became one of the key legal determinants that permitted European colonisers to expropriate the lands of indigenous peoples.[9] Architecture was thus enfolded into the law’s methods for imposing governance over unfamiliar lands and peoples, just as it structured the dominance over nature. But what would it mean, for architecture no less than for the law, if – as one of the provocations suggested by the editors of this journal proposes – nature were to govern itself? Developments in legal theory over the past several decades, as well as a handful of legal cases that have received wide media coverage, now allow us to consider this novel possibility. This article considers the rise of this “rights of nature” jurisprudence from the perspective of architecture and landscape architecture, with particular attention paid to the emergence of the (literal) law of “the land”, as well as what this emerging way of thinking about the natural world and its life and systems might mean for the design of the very ground itself. 

Media reporting on high profile lawsuits or settlements where legal standing has been claimed (and in some cases recognised) for landscapes, ecosystems and rivers, to enable them to sue as plaintiffs, has drawn attention to the rights of nature and related claims as strategies to protect ecosystems or seek accountability for environmental damage and destruction. This has involved instances as diverse as the Whanganui River in New Zealand,[10] the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers in India,[11, 12] the Colorado River in the United States,[13] the Amazon rainforest in Colombia,[14] and the Paraná Delta wetlands in Argentina.[15] In addition, by the start of 2021, 178 legal provisions derived from rights of nature legal theory had been documented in seventeen countries across five continents, with an additional thirty-seven under consideration in ten more countries. Rights of nature has also found expression in a range of international legal instruments, such as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.[16] These approaches have their origins in the relatively recent fields of “earth jurisprudence” and “wild law”.[17] Many of their arguments derive from the disjunction that has emerged between the law and advances in the ecological sciences; a critique of legal doctrines trapped in the discrete and mechanistic model of the natural work developed during the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when these foundational areas of the law were also fundamentally consolidated.[18] In contrast, earth jurisprudence and wild law seek to orient the law towards a scientific model of the world as made up of dynamic organic and material interrelationships, and away from anthropocentrism, subordination of the environment in the form of “property”, and economic notions of ever-expanding “growth”.[19] 

Figure 1 – Elements of the subterranean biome. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland). 

Beyond this, the legal presumptions that give rise to the longstanding juridical status of nature also provide the basic conceptual structure within which the basic actions of modernity, including design, occurred. The basic systems of procurement of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and landscape planning and design all fundamentally depend on the system of property; on who has legal control or dominion over land, and the right to “exploit” its resources (a much more neutral term in legal parlance, but one which, nonetheless, opens the door for acts with much more negative and damaging consequences). Whether issued by individuals, corporations or the state, any design commission granted to an architect or landscape architect requires the commissioner to have the right to “improve” (again, in the sense of the archaic language of the law) the land in the first place. Before embarking on a further consideration of what the rights of nature might mean for design disciplines concerned with built and natural environments, it is worth examining in some detail how the very legal conceptualisation of the ground itself also involved the basic activities of architecture and landscape design. 

From the sixteenth century onwards, in English common law, one of the fundamental precepts governing land (and who had the right to do what; on, under, and above the ground) was encapsulated in the Latin legal dictum, Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad colem et ad infernos: “Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell.”[20] The earliest recorded judicial authority for this approach has its origins in a basic architectural dispute. Sometime around 1586, an English landowner somewhere in Oxfordshire constructed a house blocking the light and views his neighbour had enjoyed for some three to four decades. The neighbour sued. The record of the judgment in that lawsuit, Bury v Pope, is a scant 123 words long and can be quoted in full:  

“Case for stopping of his light.-It was agreed by all the justices, that if two men be owners of two parcels of land adjoining, and one of them doth build a house upon his land, and makes windows and lights looking into the other’s lands, and this house and the lights have continued by the space of thirty or forty years, yet the other may upon his own land and soil lawfully erect an house or other thing against the said lights and windows, and the other can have no action ; for it was his folly to build his house so near to the other’s land: and it was adjudged accordingly. 

Nota. Cujus est solum, ejus est summitas usque ad cœlum.”[21]

The final nine words echo down the centuries, certainly in the areas of the world touched by English common law, from mineral rights in Native American lands to mining leases in postcolonial Africa to tricky jurisdictional questions over carbon capture and storage. The careful reader will note that “et ad infernos” (“and to hell/the underworld”) does not appear in the original Latin maxim at the end of the report of the original judgment. And yet by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the common law doctrine, which has variously been claimed to have its origins in Roman or Jewish Law, had come to be accepted as applying to rights both above and below an owner’s land. It is no coincidence that by this time claims and rights related to the extraction of mineral resources were of huge economic importance. In English common law, the parameters of land and land ownership, as originally conceived, emerged as spatially absolute – it could not conceive of more intricate frameworks of interests or custodianship in which different parties or, indeed, different beings might share in the rights and responsibilities for the use and care of a given territory.  

Figure 2 – Surface/subsurface reciprocities. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland). 

A few decades later, this fundamental principal of the law of Land (Terra, as presented in its Latin formulation), was elaborated in telling detail by the great systematiser of early modern jurisprudence, the Elizabethan jurist Sir Edward Coke. Again, it is worth scrutinising how Coke first presented this legal approach to the land; in essence, it depends on a set of presumptions of human habitation within the material environment that we can also see establishing the modern foundations of designing, dwelling and designing the land in which that dwelling occurs (with land that can be built upon being accorded a special privilege): 

“Terra, in the legal signification comprehended any ground, soil, or earth whatsoever; as meadows, pastures, wood, moores, waters, marshes, furses and heath. Terra est Nomen generalissimum, et comprehendit omnes species terra; but properly terra dicitur a terendo, quia vomere teritur; and anciently it was written with a single r; and in that sense it includeth whatsoever may be plowed; and is all one with arvum ab arando. It legally includeth also all castles, houses, and other buildings: for castles, houses, &c. consist upon two things, viz. land or ground, as the foundation or structure therewith, so that in passing the land or ground, the structure or building thereupon passeth therewith. Land is anciently called Fleth; but land builded on is more worthy than other land, because it is for the habitation of man, and in that respect hath the precedency to be demanded in the first place in a Præcipe, as hereafter shall be said.”[22] 

It is habitation that conveys rights; that is the source of law and governance over land and the expropriation of its material resources: 

“And therefore this element of earth is preferred before the other elements: first and principally, because it is for the habitation and resting-place of man; for man cannot rest in any of the other elements, neither in the water, are, or fire. For as the heavens are the habitation of Almightie God, so the earth hath he appointed as the suburbs of heaven to be the habitation of man; Cœlum cœli domino, terram autum dedit filiis hominum. All the whole heavens are the Lord’s, the earth hath he given to the children of men. Besides, every thing, as it serveth more immediately or more meerly for the food and use of man (as it shall be said hereafter), hath the precedent dignity before any other. And this doth the earth, for out of the earth cometh man’s food, and bread that strengthens man’s heart, confirmat cor hominis, and wine that gladdeth the heart of man, and oyle that makes him a cheerful countenance; and therefore terra olim Ops mater dicta est, quia omnia hac opus habent ad vivendum. And the Divine agreeth herewith for he saith, Patrium tibi & nutricem, & matrem, & mensam, & domum posuit rerram Deus sed & sepulchre tibi hanc eandem dedir. Also, the waters that yeeld fish for the food and sustenance of man and are not by that name demandable in a Præcipe.”[23] 

The ownership of control of the surface of the land is then expanded into a fully three-dimensional envelope of property, governance and control: 

“… but the land whereupon the water floweth or standeth is demandable (as for example) viginti acr’ terræ aqua coopert’, and besides, for the earth doth furnish man with many other necessaries for his use, as it is replenished with hidden treasures; namely gold, silver, brasse, iron, tynne, leade, and other metals, and also with a great variety of precious stones, and many other things for profit, ornament, and pleasure. And lastly, the earth hath in law a great extent upwards, not only of water, as hath been said, but of ayre and all other things even up to the heaven; for cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum, as it is holden.”[24] 

Although the subsurface is not explicitly mentioned in the Latin dictum, it has always been the presumption that the rights of land extend down as well as upwards, which is made plain by Coke’s express discussion of mining (an increasingly important economic activity in both Elizabethan and Jacobean England) and the expanding global conquests of the European empires. 

Figure 3 – Sydney basin soil sampling. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland). 

Less than a century later, the importance of subsuming any disorderly expressions of nature on landed property – a theory of landscape design that had been developing across the course of the seventeenth century – was famously crystallised in Joseph Addison’s influential essay on the landscape garden, “On the Pleasures of the Imagination”;[25] property and design fused in his dictum: “a Man might make a pretty Landskip of his own Possessions.”[26] Over subsequent centuries, and especially in the context of European colonialism, it became almost an imperative that land be improved by “art” in order to justify its expropriation and its incorporation into a totalising world economic system.[27] As Sir William Blackstone, Coke heir’s as juridical systems builder and the most influential legal systematiser from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, wrote: “The Earth, and all things herein, are the general property of mankind, exclusive of other beings, from the immediate gift of the creator.”[28] 

Blackstone himself was a great architectural enthusiast and, indeed, an architectural critic and draftsperson, author of An Abridgment of Architecture (1743) and Elements of Architecture (1746-7).[29] In classical architecture, Blackstone saw the highest expression of a system of universal laws that surpassed the disorderliness of the natural world. Here, his model was the science of mathematics, not the natural sciences; it was the former that gave architecture access to a plane of being beyond the worldly, the realm of Beauty and Nobility, “the flower and crown of all sciences mathematical”. Classical architecture provided Blackstone with his model for his efforts to renovate and remodel English common law, to rescue it from its fate, “like other venerable edifices of antiquity, which rash and unexperienced workmen have ventured to new-dress and refine, with all the rage of modern improvement … it’s [sic] symmetry … destroyed, it’s proportions distorted, and it’s majestic simplicity exchanged for specious embellishments and fantastic novelties”.[30] Just as the architect must work to restore symmetry, proportion, and majestic simplicity to a grand manor fallen into decay, “mankind [sic]” was duty-bound to elevate “his [sic]” property of the entire earth through the improvements of art and science. Blackstone’s distaste for “modern improvement” did not preclude him from writing elsewhere of the inherited law as “an old Gothic castle” that needed to be “but fitted up for a modern inhabitant … converted into rooms of convenience, … chearful [sic] and commodious”.[31] 

Figure 4 – Infrastructure for subsurface ecologies. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland). 

The totalising thrust of Western property law as a law of land has resulted in more recent efforts by designers focused on the environment and ecology, unlike the theorists of earth jurisprudence and wild law, to find spaces outside of the law itself, rather than to attempt to find space within it. The landscape architect Gilles Clément has deliberately sought out land literally outside the jurisdiction and operations of the law and its various systems of governance and administration. His notion of le tiers paysage is about land:  

“… forgotten by the cartographer, neglected by politics, undefined spaces, devoid of function that are difficult to name; an ensemble … located on the margins. On the edge of the woods, along the roads and rivers, in the forgotten corners of the culture, in the places where machines do not go. It covers areas of modest size, scattered like the lost corners of a field; unitary and vast like peat bogs, moors and wastelands resulting from recent abandonment. 

There is no similarity of form between these fragments of landscape. They have only one thing in common: they all provide a refuge for diversity. Everywhere else, diversity is driven out. 

This justifies bringing them together under a single term. I propose ‘Third Landscape’ …”[32] 

The passage is striking, especially when we compare it to Coke, whose aim was to bring those very landscapes – “meadows, pastures, wood, moores, water, marshes, furses and heath” – within the remit of the law. For Clément, it is the very fact that the latter types of landscape, especially, have been so difficult to govern, to bring within law’s jurisdictional ambit, that makes them such rich sources of biodiversity – nature’s outlaw territories. It is these territories that ought to provide a model for designers (and his preferred model for the designer in question is not the architect or landscape architect, but the gardener, who “creates a landscape by following it over time, using horticultural and environmental maintenance techniques. … But above all, it is about life”).[33] 

Figure 5 – Infrastructure for subterranean biodiversity. Alex Duff, University of Technology Sydney, Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, 2021 (supervisor: Dr Andrew Toland). 

But if nature itself has rights, if it is recognised as having agency and self-determination in the manner put forward by the earth jurisprudence and wild law movements, then designers may not need to – and, increasingly, cannot – escape into a third landscape. As other theorists have pointed out, nature is always part of the social. Beyond the well-known position of Bruno Latour in We Have Never Been Modern, other theorists have noted the ways in which “the entities that compose arrangements have a physiochemical composition and are, accordingly, part of the greater physiochemical stratum in which material entities are linked”.[34] In other words, society and culture have a “physicality”, and a large part of that physicality is defined by the bio- and physiochemical processes of “nature”. In this sense, even anthropogenic climate change is a kind of revenge of nature, whose processes have turned against us. In a more everyday sense, “The properties of wood, for instance, lay down sequences of actions that must be followed if trees are to be felled, axe handles produced, animals clubbed, houses built, and paper produced”.[35] 

There is no escaping our material realities and the dynamics they define. The question is how to enter into and think of ways to reconfigure those “sequences of actions” – in other words, how to design. Material properties are not absolutely deterministic. It is not just a matter of asking the brick, à la Louis Kahn.[36] Instead, the design possibilities that come from the rights of nature simply begin to open up the field for a set of political claims about the appropriate status and interrelationship between humans, societies and the non-human environment, by codifying those claims in a form that other models of organising human activities are forced to recognise. As in debates over the political, social, economic and cultural rights of humans, the language of rights is simply part of an ongoing political contestation over claims and obligations.[37] We might begin, for example, by using the very same premises as Coke, considering what design might mean in the realm of terra itself – “ground, soil, or earth whatsoever” – if that very ground also had self-determining rights, and could govern itself, irrespective of what our “designs” upon it might be. A recent piece in Nature Climate Change draws attention to the extent to which subterranean ecosystems have generally been overlooked in biodiversity and climate change mitigation agendas.[38] This zone, “likely the most widespread non-marine environment on Earth,” remains largely a terra incognita. In cities, the upper layers of the urban soil (the “A and B horizons”) are highly “disturbed” and often “depaupurated”, if not directly contaminated with anthropogenic chemicals and other wastes.[39] Various projects have drawn attention to the task of recovering urban and other post-anthropogenic soils.[40] But an equally important shift may simply be in opening up the legal definition of “land” and the cluster of rights and obligations that have been constructed around it. Instead of a conceptual tabula rasa simply to be built upon, if we instead came to recognise it as the lively subterranean biome it in fact is, and if that biome might be recognised as having rights and claims of its own, then design might be forced to take a very different turn. Even the most vacant of plots will come to seem not so vacant, after all. 


[1] Admittedly, this assertion is phrased in a universalist register. The reality is that what is being referred to is Western, and, latterly, international, legal constructs, that have provided the dominant model for legal thinking across almost all jurisdictions that form the basis for land law in the early twenty-first century. 

[2] C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 4. 

[3] D. Boyd, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2017), xxv. 

[4] Ibid, xxv. 

[5] Quoted in A. Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), 220. 

[6] Ibid, 220. 

[7] O. Verkaaik, “Creativity and Controversy in a New Anthropology of Buildings”, Ethnography 17(1) (2015), 135–143. Recent work in anthropology has explicitly challenged this premise, as in the work of Tim Ingold discussed by Verkaaik: T. Ingold, “Building, Dwelling, Living: How Animals and People Make Themselves at Home in the World”, 172–188. In Tim Ingold, ed., The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London: Routledge, 2000). 

[8] M. Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, trans. Wolfgang Herrmann and Anni Herrmann (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977). 

[9] S. Banner, “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia”, Law and History Review, 23(1) (2005), 95–132 at 107. 

[10] Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 (NZ). 

[11] Mohd Salim v State of Uttarakhand & others, WPPIL 126/2014 (High Court of Uttarakhand), 2017. 

[12] Lalit Miglani v State of Uttarakhand & others, WPPIL 140/2015 (High Court of Uttarakhand), 2017. 

[13] Colorado River Ecosystem v State of Colorado, 1:17-cv-02316 (U.S. Colorado Federal Court), 2017. 

[14] Demanda Generaciones Futuras v Minambiente, STC4360-2018 (Supreme Court of Colombia), 2018. 

[15] Asociación Civil por la Justicia Ambiental v. Province of Entre Ríos, et al., (Supreme Court of Argentina), 2020. 

[16] C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 2. 

[17] As represented, especially, in the work of T. Berry, “Rights of Earth: We Need a New Legal Framework Which Recognises the Rights of All Living Beings,” 227–229. P. Burdon, ed., Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence (Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2011); C. Cullinan, Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, 2nd ed. (Totnes, UK: Green Press, 2011); and P. Burdon, Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment (London: Routledge, 2014). 

[18] C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 4–5. 

[19] D. Boyd, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2017), xxii–xxiii. 

[20] Jackson Municipal Airport Authority v. Evans, 191 So. 2d 126, 128 (Miss. 1966). 

[21] Bury v Pope (1586) Cro Eliz 118; 78 ER 375. 

[22] Coke on Littleton (1628–1644), 4a. 

[23] Ibid. 

[24] Ibid. 

[25] J. Addison, Spectator, III, Nos 411–421 (21 June–3 July 1712), 535. 

[26] Ibid. 

[27] For example, the first landscape designer in Australia, Thomas Shepherd, advocated for the use of English “landscape gardening” principles to be used to improve Crown land in order to attract foreign capital investment: see T. Shepherd, Lectures on Landscape Gardening in Australia (Sydney: William M’Garvie, 1836). 

[28] W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, Book III (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893; orig pub 1765), 2. 

[29] C. Matthews, “Architecture and Polite Culture in Eighteenth-Century England: Blackstone’s Architectural Manuscripts” (unpublished dissertation, School of History and Politics, University of Adelaide, 2007); W. Prest, “Blackstone as Architect: Constructing the Commentaries,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, 15(1) (2003), 103–133. 

[30] W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, Book I (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893; orig pub 1765), 8. 

[31] Ibid, Book III, 268. 

[32] G. Clément, Manifeste du tiers paysage (Paris: Éditions du commun, 2016), 14. 

[33] G. Clément, Gardens, Landscape and Nature’s Genius, trans Elzélina Van Melle (Risskov, Denmark: IKAROS Press, 2020), 19–20. 

[34] T. Schatzki, “Nature and Technology in History,” History and Theory 42(4) (2003), 88–89. 

[35] Ibid, 89. 

[36] Quoted in S. Turkle, Simulation and its Discontents (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), 86 n 4. 

[37] Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, “Human Rights Talk and Anthropological Ambivalence: The Particular Contexts of Universal Claims,” 17–32. Olivia Harris, ed., Inside and Outside the Law: Anthropological Studies of Authority and Ambiguity (London: Routledge, 1996). 

[38] D. Sánchez-Fernández, D. Galassi, J. Wynne, P. Cardoso and S. Mammola, “Don’t Forget Subterranean Ecosystems in Climate Change Agendas,” Nature Climate Change 11 (2021), 458–459. 

[39] R. Forman, Urban Ecology: Science of Cities (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 91–93. 

[40] See, for example, the projects of the landscape architect Julie Bargmann and her D.I.R.T. studio. 

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Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
The Apparatus of Surveillance  
Algorithmic, Apparatus, Biopower, Climate Migrants, Necropolitical, Public Engagement in the Apparatus
Nora Aldughaither
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Climate Migrants in the Algorithmic Age 

Technological developments have induced the parallel discourse of the bond between ethics, exploitation and data. Advancements in technology have allowed for a contemporary form of resource extraction and appropriation, normalising the extractive practices of data resources from users, often without their knowledge. Through our increased dependence on technology and connected devices, we are faced with the ubiquitous effects of an algorithmic mode of governance operating on predictive processes that limit our options and control our choices. Indeed, data provides progress and development while simultaneously controlling, governing and abandoning. The algorithmic influence creates new concentrations of power in the hands of institutions and corporate entities that own and collect data.[1] 

“It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.”[2] 

A planetary-scale disaster is looming, falling unevenly on the unprivileged of the world, displacing them due to its impacts on their territory. This catastrophic event will create large numbers of climate migrants who will simultaneously face the obstacles of our modern world’s algorithmic governance. Climate change is a planetary problem, but its consequences are felt differently around the world, creating a climate injustice, as some areas, especially in the global south, are more vulnerable than others (Figure 1). “We face the ugly reality of planetary scale ecological disaster, one that is falling unevenly on the world’s underprivileged and dispossessed populations.”[3] 

Today’s concern is about those who represent the margins of society, such as refugees and climate migrants, who struggle to function under this new mechanism of algorithmic domination. Since they are perceived as incalculable, it will place discriminatory impacts on their habitability by utilising methods of exclusion that are biased towards the system, creating controlled spaces based on an algorithm marked by segregation and surveillance. They have been exposed to extraction and predation but are later drained and excluded; reducing people who have been exhausted to mere data, as their behaviours, desires and dreams become predictable, thus making them expendable.[4] These governance technologies produce new power instruments that facilitate modes of prediction and calculation, which treat life as an object calculable by computers.[5] 

The research will explore the necropolitical impacts of an algorithmic governance on climate migrants. It will then investigate the notion of the apparatus and how digital technologies extend Michael Foucault’s idea of the apparatus as a tool for capturing and controlling. Since technology has the quality of being planetary, this research will speculate on the role of a participatory digital system in the lives of climate migrants, following the Fun Palace principles, which aim to operate on autonomous and non-extractive policies and the opposition to surveillance and control.  

Figure 1 – Dotdotdot, Planet Calls – Imaging Climate Change (2021), Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon. 

Necropolitical Effects on Climate Migrants 

Novel resource extraction and exploitation practices have emerged with technological acceleration, where data is considered a vital material to harness. Usman Haque asserts that the addiction of collecting more data to make the algorithm work better leaves behind a surplus of the population who are reduced to matter.[6] Data is often extracted from people and consumed by institutions to be utilised and commodified, “reducing all that exists to the category of objects and matter”, according to Achille Mbembe’s notion of Necropolitics.[7] The governance mode is shifting from humans to technology that can dehumanise people, turn them into data-producing tools, and reduce others who are deemed surplus into superfluous bodies, abdicating any responsibility towards them.[8] This is a mode of authority that leaves behind a portion of the population deemed useless, including climate migrants, who are incapable of being exploited under this mode of governance that is dependent on user-generated data. Threatened by climate-induced catastrophes, these climate migrants fled, as their part of the world has become inhospitable, occupying an in-between borderland space incapable of navigating the contemporary world of algorithmic governance. 

Ezekiel Dixon-Román states that algorithms examining our data shape and form our lives.[9] The raw data extracted is analysed by processes that are owned by companies and then relayed back to humans, making them passive receptors with minimal participation. This creates a system that breaks what we perceive as necessary, reduces our perspectives, and transforms humanity into the category of matter and objects, in what Mbembe defines as Brutalisme.[10] Mbembe draws this term from architecture to describe a process of transforming humanity and reducing it into matter and energy. As technology threatens to change people’s perceptions and turn them into artefacts through processes of exploitation, appropriation and Brutalisme, we confront the necropolitical consequence of what the algorithm deems as superfluous in the algorithmic age, which is reducing humans to a state where they are expendable. It is through Brutalisme that Necropolitics is being actualised. 

Haque argues that institutions have a growing tendency to abdicate responsibility for the sake of decisions generated by the algorithm,[11] but this poses a considerable concern when employed in necropolitical systems that decide who lives and who dies. As in the case of self-driving military drones, Rosi Baraidotti echoes the worry, stating that in the Netherlands military academy they are deeply concerned about the code of conduct of drone firing.[12] Humans are reduced to pixels on a screen, where missiles are fired to eliminate a pixel on a grid. What happens when Necropolitics is adopted in the digital world is what Ramon Amaro describes in the process of an algorithmic design; there will always be a contingency, indicating that something or someone will be left behind.[13] That occurs through a process of optimisation or the skilful removal of waste, whether that waste is time, effort or human.[14] The algorithmic process will mostly fail to consider climate migrants who have been displaced due to the calamities of anthropogenic climate change on their territory, thus making it uninhabitable.  

Biopower Tool 

This algorithmic governance is operated by digital devices, a form of apparatus of surveillance and control. Apparatus in this discourse references both Foucault’s definition and Giorgio Agamben’s interpretation – a translation of the French word dispositif, used by Foucault in 1970 to describe “a series of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, … that work as a technology of power and subjectivation”.[15] Agamben further describes apparatus as “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine … the gestures, behaviours or discourses of living beings”.[16] He does not limit it to instruments whose connection with power is evident but also includes computers and cellular telephones, amongst others. 

Digital devices function as an apparatus by capturing our data and controlling our behaviours, operating as an instrument of power in the hands of the people who own this algorithmic mode of governance. In Foucauldian terms, they are a form of disciplinary tool and a biopolitical technique of “subjectivation” that appeared from the capitalist regime to place a novel model of governmentality on the people. Thus, a new form of capitalism appears, filled with control apparatuses in the hands of the powerful few, as the technologies of this capitalistic culture have the power to become embedded in our body, capturing our behaviours and controlling our actions. “Foucault claims that a dispositif creates its own new rationality and addresses urgent needs.”[17] These needs are apparent, as capitalist institutions aim to collect more data, monetising from people’s lives, with the excuse of providing a better service. 

Public Engagement in the Apparatus 

Data collection and extraction is a massive profit to data collectors that sometimes comes at the users’ expense; the power of algorithmic authority should be used to facilitate justice, autonomy and transparency. The focus is on exploring a participatory system, responding to the extractive technologies and how they progressively influence the lives of vulnerable individuals such as climate migrants. Adopting these practices would allow for co-designing future digital technologies that would otherwise stand in the way of mobility. Participation should be an extensive involvement and contribution – such as in the “Fun Palace” concept by architect Cedric Price, where the users became the designers. A similar approach could be utilised in a participatory system where climate migrants could be more involved in the systems that dictate their future. 

Exploring a Virtual Fun Palace 

The Fun Palace is a social experiment which opposes those forms of social control that inevitably influence the usage of public spaces. Exploring a participatory system that could ensure autonomy and flexibility by analysing the application of the Fun Palace’s principles virtually is required. Its fundamentals could permit autonomy, thus undermining current structures of power and control. Digital platforms could apply the same notion of accessibility, flexibility and autonomy to the user, and oppose control and surveillance. Technologies that underpin current forms of control could allow novel methods of cooperation if their use were to transform.[18] 

Price pioneered the integration of recent technologies to inform his architecture; however, in this case, the Fun Palace can be used to inform technology. Price’s concept aimed to use a bias-free technology that learns solely from its users, not for profit gain but for participation and transparency – creating a participatory architecture with the ability to respond to its users’ needs and desires: “His design for the Fun Palace would acknowledge the inevitability of change, chance and indeterminacy by incorporating uncertainties as integral to a continuously evolving process modelled after self-regulating organic processes and computer codes.”[19] 

Cybernetics and Indeterminacy 

Price enrolled Gordon Pask, an expert cybernetician, whose involvement in the Fun Palace allowed Price to achieve his goals of a new concept that integrated his interest in change and indeterminacy.[20] Pask was interested in underspecified and observer-constructed goals that oppose the goals of technologies of control. The Fun Palace program accommodated change, as it could anticipate unpredictable phenomena that did not rely on a determined program.[21] These methods of granting freedom, participation and sharing scientific knowledge to the users were meant to overrule authoritarian control for the sake of an autonomous one.  

Adaptability and flexibility in responding to users’ needs required cybernetics for participants to communicate with the building (Figure 2). Pask’s conversation theory was the essence of the program, moving a step closer to authentic autonomy in a genuinely collaborative system.[22] Underspecified goals oppose systems where the designer initially programs all parts and behaviours of a design, limiting the system’s functions to the designer’s prediction of deterministic goals. Predetermined systems keep the user under the control of the machine and its preconfigured system, since they can only respond to pre-programmed behaviour. These systems eliminate the slight control users have over their surroundings and necessitate that they instead put their trust in the assumptions of the system’s designers.[23] 

Currently, as Haque states, “Pask’s Conversation Theory seems particularly important because it suggests how, in the growing field of ubiquitous computing, humans, devices and their shared environments might coexist in a mutually constructive relationship”.[24] A model that ensures the collective goals of users are reached through their direct actions and behaviours – and that those goals are desired and approved by the users – is the kind of model that digital technologies should aim for. The program of the Fun Palace was autonomous in that there was no authoritative hierarchy that dictated the program and space usage.  

Transparency, Control and Participation 

Designed as a machine with an interactive and dynamic nature, the Fun Palace implemented novel user participation and control applications. Cybernetician Roy Ascott proposed the “Pillar of Information”, which was an accessible electronic kiosk placed at the entrance that could search for and reveal information. “This system was among the earliest proposals for public access to computers to store and retrieve information from a vast database.”[25] As implemented in the Fun Palace, “a cybernetic approach does not reject or invalidate the use of data; instead, it suggests that a different role for data needs to be perceived in the process of intervening in disadvantages and creating social change”.[26] 

Price’s concern related to the effect architecture had on its users. He was convinced that it should be more than a shelter containing users’ activities, being also a supporter of them, with the users’ emancipation and empowerment as its true objectives. The control is thus shifted from the architects to the users, allowing the users to be responsible for constructing the world around them. Digital technologies should not divert their objective of ensuring convenience and empowering the people for the sake of data extraction for profit, surveillance and control.  

Climate Migrants in a Participatory System  

A platform cooperative for climate migrants that aims to ensure the interest of all, and to increase transparency and democracy, would be a departure from the extractive and authoritative system. A participatory and open digital design would allow the freedom of climate migrants from the restraints of their preconceived, biased, incorrect digital profiles created by algorithms. This system would contribute to the rise of autonomy, privacy and freedom for climate migrants. It would be a cooperative, transparent and user-centred approach for seeking common objectives that minimises concerns about profiling, collection of personal data and surveillance. 

Climate Squatters 

The implementation of a virtual participatory platform for climate migrants was explored in the design project “Climate Squatters” by The Bartlett AD Research Cluster 1, 2021-22, Team 2. Climate migrants from the village of Happisburgh would utilise a participatory digital platform that enables them to travel intelligently as modern squatters, allowing them to be active agents in their relocation, habitation and migration process. A non-extractivist and autonomous communal unity without fixed habitation, the project forms around the idea of granting climate migrants autonomy, flexibility and empowerment in their continuous relocation process triggered by the existential threat of coastal erosion. Climate Squatters’ platform aims to address the issues of decreased ownership and control by reconceptualising the user’s roles, acting as an active contributor in the process.  

Happisburgh is a village on the eastern coast of the United Kingdom. It lies in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal erosion in the UK, where it is estimated that Happisburgh will lose around one hundred metres of its coastal land during the next twenty years (Figure 5). The erosion rate has significantly increased due to rising sea levels and climate change. The current governmental coastal management plan is No Active Intervention, which means no investment will be made in defending against flooding or erosion. This plan signifies that there is no sustainable option for coastal defences, due to current coastal processes, sea level rise and national policy, which fails to respond to the people’s needs and makes them feel disregarded.

Figure 5 – Happisburgh Coastal Erosion (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

Using Climate Squatters’ platform would empower the climate migrants in the various aspects of the migration process. The platform allows autonomy by granting the users the option to participate in the process and vote on where they would like to relocate from a list of suitable land options. Placing a heavy value on the community, the platform starts by decoding the village’s typology, material and identity using machine learning. Happisburgh is “decommissioned” by disassembling what is salvageable from the houses into voxelised masses. The constant migration of the climate squatters requires a unique construction that optimises space and material and allows for easy assembly and disassembly. The recoding of the future habitat of climate migrants operates by utilising wave function collapse to generate their new typologies. The live platform will also sustain the community by analysing relevant incentives and taking advantage of them, giving the users a live view of their performance and future expectations to maintain or enhance their position. 

Figure 6 – Decoding with Heatmaps and Machine Learning (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).
Figure 7 – Beyond Voxels (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 7 – Beyond Voxels (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).
Figure 8 – Platform House Generation and Allocation (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

The platform aims to instil trust in the user and grant them autonomy and flexibility by operating as a non-extractive tool, without predetermined goals, that will empower the user in their journey and ensure their secure habitation in a world of uncertainties. It also aims to learn from the users’ behaviours and to operate on a method of buildable knowledge, continuously evolving based on users’ objectives. By redistributing the roles between the users and the platform, the model ensures that the platform will function as an enabler and supporter of the user. Following Price’s model, the employment of uncertainty and indeterminacy would help climate migrants navigate a journey filled with unpredictable events, thus advancing the dialogue between users and the digital platform. Climate Squatters’ platform seeks to enhance autonomy, flexibility and freedom, and to create a community of climate squatters that represent a response to an ever-changing world due to the consequences of climate change. 

Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

Digital technologies could challenge traditional models that place a dichotomy between designer and user. Instead, a method can be realised where the user can take a primary role within the system in which they participate, contrasting the prevailing approach of predefined and predetermined systems that restrict the users. “It is about designing tools that people themselves may use to construct – in the broadest sense of the word – their environments and, as a result, build their own sense of agency.”[27] The control is then transferred to the users, where the users are responsible for constructing the world around them. 

Utilising the Fun Palace principles in digital technologies will benefit climate migrants by delivering them a neutral and virtual space to navigate the world without the intrusion of biased algorithms. Non-extractive technologies will prove helpful for climate migrants as they aim to be mobile once climate change has rendered their current home unfit for habitation. Giving the users control of their data will create a transparent digital platform to counter the current extractive and control apparatus. 

A new platform cooperative for climate migrants should be considered to protect their future with transparency, empowerment and equality. Centred around bias elimination and avoiding the harvesting of personal data, this new system would prove more beneficial than capitalism’s current apparatus. This method could enable new modes of freedom, security and emancipation for climate migrants; a system that reduces data extraction, exploitation and bias, promoting a safe, flexible and autonomous approach. A participatory method could potentially alter the biased and surveillance-ridden systems that dominate the digital world. 


[1] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[2] S. Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2019), 8. 

[3] L. Likavčan, Introduction to Comparative Planetology (Moscow: Strelka Press; 2019), 11. 

[4] J. Confavreux, “Long Read | Africa: Strength in reserve for Earth” (online), New Frame, 2020 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from:

[5] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[6] U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from:

[7] S. Bangstad, T.T. Nilsen, A. Eliseeva, “Thoughts on the planetary: An interview with Achille Mbembe” (online) New Frame. 2019 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from:

[8] A. Mbembe, Necropolitics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 97. 

[9] E. Dixon-Román, “Algo-Ritmo: More-Than-Human Performative Acts and the Racializing Assemblages of Algorithmic Architectures”, Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 2016, 16 (5), 482-490. DOI:

[10] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[11] U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from:

[12] R. Braidotti, “Posthuman Knowledge” (online), Harvard GSD, 2019 (accessed 24 November 2021). Available from:

[13] R. Amaro “Data Then and Now” (online), University of Washington, 2021 (accessed 29 November 2021). Available from:

[14] Ibid. 

[15] P. Preciado, Pornotopia (Zone Books, 2014). 

[16] G. Agamben, “What Is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays (Stanford University Press, 2009). 

[17] S. Lee, “Architecture in the Age of Apparatus-Centric Culture” (online) TU Delft, 2014 (accessed 2 February 2022). Available from:

[18] M. Lawrence, “Control under surveillance capitalism: from Bentham’s panopticon to Zuckerberg’s ‘Like’” (online), Political Economy Research Centre, 2018 (accessed 29 January 2022). Available from:

[19] S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 40. 

[20] Ibid, 40. 

[21] Ibid, 44. 

[22] U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61, 58. Available from:

[23] Ibid, 60. 

[24] Ibid, 55. 

[25] S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 45. 

[26] G. Bell, M. Gould, B. Martin, A. McLennan, E. O’Brien, “Do more data equal more truth? Toward a cybernetic approach to data,” Australian Journal of Social Issues, 2021, 56 (2), 213-222, 219. 

[27] U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61. Available from:

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