Tag Archive for: Windows on the World

An essay by Colum McCann published in World Unfurled by Matteo Pericoli
(Chronicle Books, 2008)

Matteo-Pericoli-Skyline of the World-JFK

The American Airlines mural by Matteo Pericoli at JFK International Airport in NY (Photo by Richard Slattery, May 2007)

We leave: it’s inevitable. We sometimes come home: that’s our choice. In the process, we can bring our home country to another land, or we can cart that other, distant country back toward our own and sometimes make it new. And so, every building we have walked through begins to walk through other buildings. Every city skyline we see is informed by the skylines we have glimpsed before. All that we have met meets all that we will meet.
We are connected and remade by what we have seen.

I grew up in suburban Dublin, Ireland. I can still hear the ticking of the white radiators. The back door slammed when the front door opened. A house of open windows, I was always flying out of them.

I first left home when I was seventeen. I went to Mayo, less than one hundred and fifty miles away. The newspaper building where I worked was down a cobbled laneway. I loved the creak of the stairs, and the rattle of the printing presses below. I took the train back to Dublin only once that whole summer. It seemed to me like an enormous journey and I recall how thrillingly new my doorstep felt when I returned: it was like stepping onto brand new territory.

Not long afterward, I broke the border of home again, and went to New York. My heart thumped in my cheap white shirt. I got a job as a cub reporter in the Time Life building and, fired up on innocence and a brash enthusiasm, I ran down Avenue of the Americas, then stopped and lay flat on the ground—for an instant, passersby had to step over me. It was the only way for me to glimpse the panorama. The skyscrapers dizzied me. It seemed impossible that there could only be a small scrape of blue sky.  Later that same evening I brushed the dirt off my trousers, ran to catch the D train, got out at Brighton Beach, and rented a tiny room in a clapboard house that smelled of roach spray and sea breeze. I flopped down on the dingy mattress. How, I wondered, could two such diverse settings exist in one city in a single day?

It seemed to me, even then, that sometimes we have to go far away to explore the dynamic possibilities of our own naivety.

A few years later I took a bicycle across the United States. I rode the little blue highways and the back roads. The stars were my ceiling. Camping out, in forests and by riverbeds, I spent eighteen months learning the roof of the world. From there it was on toward Japan. The sun caught the top of a Kyoto shrine. My wife and I rented a six-tatami-mat room. Later we found an apartment in the shadow of a Kyushu mountain. Then it was back to New York once more: countless windows outside our window.

There have been so many places since. The clean steeples of Singapore. A villa in Capri. A wooden hut in Slovakia. A church in Saint Petersburg. The tall pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge, strung with wires like a harpsichord. Some of these places have been the sites of fleeting visits, others are regular haunts. My memory is decorated by a series of mirrors that throw color and sound onto yet other mirrors: these places flash across my mind and collide into each other, touch at odd angles, then mingle and disperse.

It strikes me now that the purpose of remembering—and perhaps even the final purpose of travel—is to depict, and therefore render forever present, that which is absent. We return by leaving. Travel is a process of deep renewal. Every time I go away, I am back on my New York doorstep. Every time I am on my New York doorstep, I am stepping away into all those other places I have gone and will go.

I am a citizen of my own imagined elsewhere.

It is difficult to find a grand public adventure these days. This is both good and bad news. Newspaper editors aren’t really captivated by an eighty-day journey around the world. Scaling the world’s highest mountains is easy enough if you’ve got the money for it. It’s hard to find a place where a foot hasn’t already been placed, a field that hasn’t been trampled. The Earth is as mapped and documented as never before. On the other hand, adventure has become an acutely democratic notion. A lot of us are lucky that the world has shrunk: we can go places our forefathers couldn’t even have dreamed about. But the primary adventure occurs now in our imaginations.

Passing through the automatic doors into the vast white space of Terminal 8 in New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, one is immediately drawn to Matteo Pericoli’s mural, “Skyline of the World.”  Here, in a sense, is the beginning of travel. The eye finds no resting place. The mural runs along the swooping roofline, the full length of the eastern wall, a block and a half. It is 52 feet in height, and covers almost 16,000 square feet. A viewer might feel as if he has one foot in the vanished past, the era of high-ceilinged railroad stations, and another foot in the open terminal of tomorrow.  

Place and time are bundled together. Seventy cities and four hundred and fifteen buildings merge into one. Each place dissolves into the next. The Sydney Opera House nudges up against Toronto’s City Hall. Stroll down the hill from Los Angeles and you’re standing near the Jantar Mantar Observatory in New Delhi. A canal slips around the Foshay Tower: how is it that the waters of Venice have suddenly migrated to Minneapolis? The Fred and Ginger building in Prague rises up to meet Bangkok. And the Brooklyn Bridge stretches out like a great hand that wants to reach inside your ribcage and twist your heart a few notches backwards.

The content of Pericoli’s work, if I may dare to state it in a single word, is memory. For him, recall is a creative act. He invites us into a landscape in which the viewer can thrust his or her own past, and at the same time he allows us to step beyond the boundaries of our lives. Remembering becomes an act of the imagination, a process without borders or gateposts. Here’s another city—indeed, another country— but we’ve all been there already.  Still, it’s a city made entirely new, as if it has gone through the process of radical recycling. There is a sort of madness here too, a shrinking of the world through the marks of a pencil. Perspective is shifted. The geometry is jagged. Yet the drawing maintains a form that we recognize, a series of intimate lines and well-known landmarks that are both stunning and perplexing at the same time.

Pericoli has created a trance city, in hues of gray, blue, orange, and white, built on our own memories of previous travel and expectations for the journeys we are about to embark on.

Fittingly, we don’t always know where we are when we examine it. Walk down off the Brooklyn Bridge and enter the city of Zurich. Turn left and you’re in Kingston, Jamaica. Swivel around and you’re in Bogotá.

Some of the buildings are instantly recognizable despite their jumbled placement, as if a surreal postcard has just landed, undated, on a terminal wall. But others are relatively unknown. Pericoli has even included his grandmother’s house from a small Italian village, and an imaginary building by artist Saul Steinberg.

“A memory of a journey is a memory in which time and space are mixed up,” Pericoli has written. “They both seem to vanish, as distances and places tend to be compressed into a single, intense yet detailed blur. After a trip, the famous landmark you just visited will be imprinted in your brain as much as the undistinguished building you saw from your hotel room window.”

Although the buildings are chosen for their architectural and aesthetic value, there is surely an understated political intent in play: the buildings are placed beside each other almost as if they could—and should—learn from each other. East meets West. South meets North. They learn from one anothers’ curves and angles. They don’t feel forced or sandwiched in. This statement of potential compatibility takes place not only in a geographical context but also in a manner that’s refreshingly anti-chronological: so that the Azadi monument in Tehran, for instance, built in 1971, is in sight of the Kremlin, which dates back to the fourteenth century, which in turn is just down the hill from La Pedrera, the astonishing “sculpture house” created by Antoni Gaudí in 1912, and now designated a World Heritage Site.

This ability to cross through periods of time, and to create a believable international landscape, and then to invite us to inhabit it—and maybe even to re-inhabit it—is something not many artists, let alone politicians, have ever contemplated. Pericoli demonstrates that nothing original is created through predictability. Even cities might want something better than what they already have, a new perspective, a surprising neighbor.

After looking at “Skyline of the World” for a long time, I began to wonder if Dublin might be represented somewhere, tucked away at the edges, or maybe even in the foreground? I recognized a good deal of the landscape. Seattle’s Space Needle. The Empire State Building. The Jubilee Church in Rome. Still, many of the mural’s buildings mystified me. I wanted to peep over the shoulders of the cornicework and discover what was on the other side.

What would happen if my mind were able to pull the drawing apart, allowing me to climb inside?

I found myself walking into the drawing, turning the corner around a mosque toward a citadel, up the street to a glass tower, down an alleyway toward a mysterious house in the shadow of a water tower. Suddenly there were birds and weather and people around me—all things that are absent from the public face of the mural. The further I walked, the more I saw. But so much of the landscape remained foreign to me. On one street, I was lost. On the next I was found. It was like seeing an old friend and then waving good-bye.

And then, suddenly, there was the inner city of Dublin, right in front of Pittsburgh, just next to Valparaiso, on a hill above the Seattle Public Library. I could almost smell the water off the Liffey, see the traffic trundling down along Burgh Quay, hear the hawkers in the alleyways of my youth. I heard footsteps. The opening and closing of doors. I realized then that I am constantly leaving, trying to discover new places, both imaginatively and physically, and yet always coming closer to home.

But let’s face it—even the best airports are exercises in contemporary vulgarity. Travelers are tense. Officials are on edge. Security guards are suspicious. We take off our belts, our shoes, and our jewelry and are shunted through a metal detector. We leave behind water bottles, lighters, key chains. The flight announcements sound out around us. The cell phone user behind us seems to think that “etiquette” is a village in France. The departure screens hold news of delays. We invariably end up in the longest line, listening to inescapable tinny Muzak floating through the air.

At the worst of times, it seems as if there might be no escape. Travelers are locked in. Most airports break up the sight line with ads, or blankness, or a crass nod to the corporation itself. But somehow, when it came to designing the interior of Terminal 8 in JFK—possibly one of the last airports where one might expect it, given the distinct lack of imagination most of the older terminals display—American Airlines managed to avoid slapping its own back. They refused the temptation to even put a plane in the skyline. The terminal itself can be seen in the far left-hand corner, but this seems more like a postmodern wink than an advertisement.

The mural came about through an odd collision of mistakes, reconsiderations and brave imaginative gestures. The terminal was originally supposed to be much larger, but after 9/11 the plans were scaled back and American Airlines were faced with the prospect of a blank wall almost 400 feet long. Airline officials had seen Pericoli’s previous work and they contacted him in January 2005. They wondered if he’d be able to fill the space somehow. Pericoli loved the challenge of combining his architectural background with his artistic instincts. Trawling the Internet and his memory both, Pericoli began to sketch. He assembled photos from cities all around the world and then copied them meticulously into place. His battery-powered pencil sharpener sat at the ready on his desk. He used 2B pencils on vellum, allowing him to excavate the drawing with what he terms “a fresh palette.” He found an order in chaos and beauty. He never once used a ruler. Of course, it would have taken many years to do the drawing directly on to the wall, so instead he toiled at home in Queens on a drawing that was one thirty-second the size of the final mural.

Month after month, his dreamscape grew.

When the drawing was finished, it was sent to Professional Graphics in Illinois, where it was photographed in sections using a Hassleblad camera with a Sinar digital back. The trick was to enlarge the drawing without destroying it. Every inch would be almost three feet high. Suddenly every window ledge had a potential jumper, an art critic at each precipice. If Pericoli had gotten it wrong, they’d leap. But it was here that the artist’s attention to detail paid dividend. Pericoli is, I feel, the sort of artist who could be entrusted with the last grain of sand, perhaps one of the few who’d be able to capture its complexity. With “Skyline of the World,” he was so careful with his pencil work that the intimacy could be blown, quite literally, sky high.

Professional Graphics printed the drawing on almost one hundred vinyl panels, which ranged in height from 30 to 52 feet high. The printing process alone took the better part of ten days. The installation—the application of the massive sheets to the wall of the terminal—took months of planning. Of course, the drawing, as in any good work of art, really took a lifetime.

The mural went up in May 2007. Applause rang out from architects, security guards and travelers alike. From some parts of the terminal the view of the mural is obstructed: rather than a mistake, it seems like a conscious attempt to interrupt the sight line, as might happen in any real city. Even the slits on the walls, where the drawing must give way to the air conditioning vents, seem to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fantasy at play here: a strange wind blows around this landscape.

Ukranian writer Vitali Vitaliev has said, “A good traveller doesn’t know where he is going, but a perfect traveller doesn’t know where he comes from.”

Pericoli’s work is both tactile and clued in. He is very much an artist of the world. He is known for his compelling drawings of the Manhattan skyline and of the view from Central Park “outward.” But his imagination also seems to live in a gyre—for him, cities appear to spin in elaborate circles. He can induce a sort of vertiginous tornado in the viewer. There is turbulence and then there is a touchdown.

We are in a place we knew, but he has made it different for us. In this sense, even more than a traveler, Pericoli is a perfect guide. He leaves people out of his drawings precisely because he knows that they will eventually walk themselves in. They will find their own Dublin. Or Tokyo. Or New York. He opens up the windows of all these cities and invites us to fly outward from them. The skyline, therefore, is our own. He has allowed us that most revelatory moment of creativity when we look up and think that, even if we have once been in that place and have left it, we would one day like to return.  

We leave. And we sometimes come home.

Occasionally the walk is only the length of a city block. A departure, if you will. A moment away from the security gate.

Matteo-Pericoli-Skyline of the World @ JFK

Final sketch of Skyline of the World

Visit Colum McCann’s website

Just received in the mail: the two great Taiwanese editions of Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views and The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York by Marco Polo Publishing.

Looking Out, Looking In
By Jessica Gross

LA Review of Books, December 1, 2014


EARLIER THIS YEAR, I interviewed the children’s author Lois Lowry for The New York Times Magazine. My favorite bit of our conversation, which didn’t make it into print, came when I asked her to describe what she sees out her window when she works.

“My house here was built in 1769,” she said. “I look out from it onto a meadow and gardens and apple trees and sometimes deer in the meadow and sometimes wild turkeys walking through the grass.” It was this image of Lowry — who in my mind had been a supernatural force — that made her appear to me as real.

It was with great excitement, then, that I learned Penguin would publish a book called Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views. Authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Teju Cole, and Sheila Heti have written short texts to accompany line drawings meticulously executed by artist Matteo Pericoli. The writers live in towns and cities across the world, and their windows look out on treetops, rooftops, mosques, churches, private gardens, and other people’s windows.

This project, conceived of by the artist, ran on The New York Times’ Op-Ed page from August 2010 through August 2011, and continued in The Paris Review Daily as well as in other venues. Pericoli, who was born in Milan and moved to New York in 1995, is trained as an architect; his background comes through in his work, rich and exacting, drawn from many images of each window. In every illustration, the window floats on the white space of the page, absent surrounding walls and details. “It is crucial that these window views should be rendered in pen and ink, in lines, rather than in photographs,” Lorin Stein rightly notes in a lovely short preface.

Labor, it seems to me, is one of Pericoli’s hidden subjects. That is part of the meaning of the hundreds of leaves on a tree, or the windows of a high-rise: They record the work it took to see them, and this work stands as a sort of visual correlative, or illustration, of the work his writers do.

While Pericoli’s mission is clear and uniformly expressed, it seemed to me, at first, that the writers could have been given more direction (a frame, if you will). We don’t know how Pericoli chose or approached them or what he had in mind: in his introduction, he states that he simply asked writers “to describe their views.” The result is that the whole lacks cohesion, and some texts complement the drawings better than others.

But perhaps, in a way, this is appropriate to the material: what comes through is how differently these writers approach their varied windowscapes — which comes down to their approach to the work itself. Some intentionally avoid looking out the window in order to dwell in their imaginations. Daniel Kehlmann writes from Berlin: “I try to ignore this view. When I’m at my writing desk I turn my back to it.” Etgar Keret, in Tel Aviv, does the same: “When I write, what I see around me is the landscape of my story. I only get to enjoy the real one when I’m done.”

This approach is best described by Nadine Gordimer:

My desk is away to the left of the window. At it, I face a blank wall. For the hours I’m at work I’m physically in my home in Johannesburg. But in a combination of awareness and senses that every fiction writer knows, I am in whatever elsewhere the story is in. […] I don’t believe a fiction writer needs a room with a view. His or her view: the milieu, the atmosphere, the weather of the individuals the writer is bringing to life. What they experience around them, what they are seeing, is what the writer is experiencing, seeing, living.

Other writers live somewhere in between: they shun the window while they work, but use it to reset. “I turn away from the window. My desk faces a wall covered with images, notes, timelines, vaudeville photographs, and playbills,” Marina Endicott writes from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. “When my eyes blear and I cannot focus any longer, the window is a way for my mind to blink, to clear my vision.” And from the late Elmore Leonard, who lived in Bloomfield Village, Michigan: “Distractions are good when I’m stuck in whatever it is I’m writing or have reached the point of overwriting. The hawk flies off, the squirrels begin to venture out, cautious at first, and I return to the yellow pad, my mind cleared of unnecessary words.”

Of course, no one can simultaneously look outside and write, an act that requires the mind be elsewhere and the eyes be pointed toward the page or screen. But some writers purposefully use their views for inspiration. In Lagos, Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie claims, “When my writing is not going well, there are two things I do in the hope of luring the words back: I read some pages of books I love or I watch the world.” She describes her view as “choked with stories, because it is full of people. I watch them and I imagine their lives and invent their dreams.” And Andrea Levy confides:

When I was young my mum used to complain that I spent too much time daydreaming. That was because I liked to stare at the sky. She thought that while I was dreaming I could be doing something useful as well, like knitting. Now that I am a writer, I have the privilege of daydreaming as part of my job. And I still love to gaze at the sky. The view from my workroom in my North London house has a lot of sky, and I couldn’t work without it. There are never any structured thoughts in my head when I look up. They just come and go and change shape like the clouds.


My attraction to Windows on the World is part of a larger obsession with artistic process. Often, when I interview a writer or comic or actor or singer or chef, I harp on the how: How did you know where to begin the story? How did you learn to sing in a southern accent? How many versions of this joke did you go through before you hit on the one that worked?

Admittedly, I’m analytical by nature, but this proclivity to investigate the mechanics of creativity appears to be widespread, as evidenced by the excitement that accompanied last year’s publication of Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, and the fact that Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings post on writers’ daily routines was the most read and shared in her website’s history.

The obvious motive — to discover how artists work, as if we might successfully copy their routines — is only part of our fascination; we’re also driven by fear. Art holds sway over us in ways that we don’t understand. This is what gives it power, of course. But the urge to deconstruct it, to decipher not only its meaning but also the conditions in which it was created, is a way for us to wrest some control — or to imagine that it’s possible to do so. We want to know how the trick is done.

Then, too, it’s reassuring when artists allow us to see their imperfections: perhaps there is hope for us after all, despite our many faults. At their best, the drawings and texts in Windows on the World make writers real and human — the Lois Lowry effect — while still leaving room for mystery and fantasy. Shelia Heti, a writer I particularly admire, lives in Toronto. Pericoli has drawn her rectangular, double-hung window, with what look like vines stretching across its panes. Beyond them is a street, and on the other side of it is a house with a planting bed in front of it. “Can you see that beautiful shrub?” Heti writes. “It has no bald patch, right?” She tells us that the “shy, moustached Portuguese man” who lives across the street has stood staring at the hedge’s bald patch for hours a day, and Heti would periodically look out at him looking at the shrub. Finally, this summer, the patch disappeared. “He stares at his shrub as I stare at my computer,” Heti writes. “Our bodies are opposite each other every day, and we stare at things, and wait for the emptiness to fill in.”

This seems as apt a companion to the drawing as any, and as apt a description of the writing process. Heti’s window, pictured on the opposite page, stands alone, urging us to imagine the wall space and the room that surround it. We imagine the man, who is not depicted; we imagine Heti, writing. There is no color, so while the lines are meticulous, they also urge us to fill in the view in our minds. Heti’s text, short as it is, presents a snapshot of her, looking over the screen of her laptop at her companion, the stranger — but only that. We know enough to feel reassured our writers are real, but not so much we can’t fold them into stories of our own.

Read from the LARB website: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/looking-out

di Manuel Orazi

Il disegnatore italiano svela l’intimità di cinquanta viste dagli studi di scrittori d’ogni continente, da Al Aswany a Pamuk

Siccome gli uomini non sono monadi, per questo hanno bisogno di molte finestre. Ci scuserà Leibniz se forziamo il suo noto ragionamento, ma certo mai come oggi le finestre occupano la nostra vita dallo schermo del computer (magari con un sistema operativo Microsoft Windows) a quello dell’iPad, allo smartphone, finanche ai nuovi modelli digitali e interattivi di smartwatch e occhiali Google che ci dicono tutto e subito: fuso orario, umidità, se l’Udinese ha vinto, l’ultima dichiarazione di Putin e se domani c’è lo sciopero dei mezzi. Tutte metaforiche finestre sul mondo, plasmate a immagine e somiglianza di quelle tradizionali. Il grande architetto americano Robert Venturi, vent’anni or sono, ha scritto che la finestra è l’elemento architettonico decisivo per definire di primo acchito lo stile di un’epoca, di un singolo autore o di una regione (finestra barocca, a nastro lecorbusieriana, veneziana, ecc.). E giustamente Rem Koolhaas ha dedicato agli infissi una sala intera della sua mostra Elements alla Biennale di architettura ancora in corso a Venezia.

Quasi nessuno però si è soffermato sul verso più intimo delle finestre, quello interno, come invece fa Matteo Pericoli in Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views (Penguin Press, $ 18,33). Un libro dedicato alle finestre di cinquanta scrittori di ogni continente, appena uscito a quattro anni da The city Out My Window: 63 Views on New York (Simon & Schuster 2010, $ 31,44) che ritraeva piuttosto solo finestre di residenze illustri della Grande Mela, dove Pericoli ha vissuto e lavorato a lungo prima come architetto e poi come illustratore. Entrambi i libri consistono di disegni di finestre al tratto e in bianco e nero corredati da didascalie che diventano spesso brevi racconti dei proprietari. Scrive l’autore che è difficile prestare attenzione alle cose della nostra vita quotidiana se non quando le perdiamo. E la vista da una finestra, per quanto banale, è unica e insostituibile. In ogni caso, scrive ancora Pericoli, «sono arrivato a pensare che una finestra sia, in definitiva, più di un punto di contatto o di separazione con il mondo esterno. È anche una sorta di specchio che riflette le nostre occhiate all’interno, a ritroso sulle nostre stesse vite».

È una riflessione penetrante che accomuna anche i protagonisti di due grandi film della storia del cinema indissolubilmente legati a una finestra, anche perché entrambi costretti su una sedia a rotelle sebbene per motivi diversi: il dottor Pino Barillari de La lunga notte del ’43 che, osservando dagli scuri la noiosa routine del corso principale di Ferrara, esorcizza così la guerra e la malattia; o ancora La finestra sul cortile, il capolavoro di Hitchcock per cui sono state avanzate mille interpretazioni compresa quella psicanalitica, dove il fotografo Jeff-James Stewart è alle prese con i problemi di coppia cui cerca di sfuggire seguendo un giallo in gran parte immaginato. In ogni caso il fascino di queste cinquanta finestre, in parte pubblicate negli ultimi anni sul New York Times e The Paris Review e in parte inedite, risiede proprio in questo misto di osservazione e riflessione intimista. Ciò non toglie che dietro ogni disegno ci sia un lungo studio delle linee e delle distanze cercando la giusta profondità, che spesso e volentieri sconfinano nella veduta paesaggistica. Nuova Delhi, Giacarta, Il Cairo, Mogadiscio, Skopje, Reykjavik, Porto Alegre, Alberta e non solo le solite grandi città globali sono le protagoniste del libro (si possono vedere sopra, da sinistra, le viste di: Xi Chuan a Pechino; Orhan Pamuk a Instambul; Maria Kodama a Buenos Aires; Joumana Haddad a Jounieh in Libano; Alaa Al Aswany al Cairo). Ad esempio la splendida vista sul Bosforo e il Corno d’oro di cui gode Orhan Pamuk non lo distrae dalla scrittura, anzi: vedere che là fuori c’è sempre un inafferrabile paesaggio pieno di vita incessante, «rassicurazione del fatto che uno scrittore ha bisogno di continuare a scrivere e un lettore di continuare a leggere».

Pagina99, 22 novembre 2014

By Maddie Crum

BOOKS, HuffPost, November 18, 2014

Matteo Pericoli is an architect and illustrator. He began sketching window views after moving out of an apartment he’d lived in for nearly a decade, and realizing that he’d never gaze out at the same spot again. His latest book, Windows on the World, collects his drawings of writers’ window views, accompanied by their short descriptions of the views’ importance. Some capture the quotidian — power lines and garden supplies — while others feature major historical landmarks. Pericoli spoke with The Huffington Post about his project and his favorite window views.


My Window View

What inspired you to begin your Windows on the World project?
After all these years spent drawing window views, I’ve come to the conclusion that contemplating a window view isn’t so much an action directed outward, but inward, one of reflection. The view looks back at you, and asks: “Why are you here? Is this really the place (in the world, in your life) where you want to be? How did you get here? (Both practically and metaphorically.)”
That’s what happened to me ten years ago when I was moving out of our Upper West Side apartment and suddenly realized that I would have lost forever the window view I’d been looking at (mostly unknowingly) for seven years. That’s when I realized that that particular view symbolized my life path and decisions made up to that point. And that’s when I told myself, “Now I have to draw all of the window views of the city!” Obviously I never did that, I just drew 63 (out of a hundred plus I had visited) that were after published in a book called The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York. In the seven years prior, I had worked on long scrolls depicting Manhattan as seen from its surrounding rivers and from Central Park. My goal had always been to try to draw the whole city, yet I never imagined that what I had been looking for was instead the reverse process, i.e. to draw how people see the city, rather than what the physical city looks like.
I decided that there are two kinds of window views: active and passive. If you feel that your choices have brought you to where you are at that very moment in time and space (i.e. the viewpoint provided by your window), then the narrative around the view is active. If that’s not the case, it’s a passive view. Children’s window view drawings and texts are among the most telling because theirs are quintessentially passive views, thus we can infer a great amount of information about how children perceive their place in the world from their particular perspectives (literally).
When I was working on the New York window view book, I realized that writers had a similar relationship to their views as mine. Mostly stuck at their desks, they would either position themselves near a window in order to take in as much as possible, or would consciously choose to protect themselves from it. And when I asked them to describe their views, something extraordinary happened: all the elements that I had been able to capture in my drawings were complemented — even augmented — by their words. This was the simple premise of the Windows on the World project: drawings of writers’ window views from around the world accompanied by their texts — lines and words united by a physical point of view.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s view in Lagos, Nigeria

You’ve said that photographing the windows didn’t always suffice. What you wanted to capture was the way you emotionally perceived your view, too. So what was the process of drawing writers’ windows like? (Did you ask them to submit photos, describe them with words, etc.?)
Back to my Upper West Side view from ten years ago. When I realized that I couldn’t leave the view behind, that it was too much a part of me, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could peel an imaginary film off the window and take everything with me, window frame, glass, view, and all?” I tried photographing the view, but (perhaps I am a bad photographer, or maybe for technical limitations) what I was getting was either the window itself or what was beyond the glass, not both, or at least I was not getting my mental image of it. If you open the window and take a picture, you see an urban landscape; if you photograph the frame, you mostly see the frame. A window view is both.
So just like with my long skyline drawings, the only way for me to reproduce a window view is to obtain as many photographs as possible, use them to mentally reconstruct the view, i.e. the space between the sheet of glass and all the physical elements that constitute the view, and rebuild it as a line drawing. Often the writers’ photos came with descriptions, but often it would end up the other way around: i.e. I would be the one describing the window views to them with my drawing.
Drawing (and especially hard line drawing) is first and foremost a process of synthesizing information. Each line is the result of a selection, a series of omissions in order to tell the most with the least. It’s a process that requires a lot of preparation and investment and yields a “low artistic return,” so to speak. For example, Saul Steinberg’s drawings are among some of the most beautiful works of art, and yet the majority of them are “simple” line drawings with most of the effort made before each line was placed on the paper.

Sheila Heti’s view in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Do you find that there’s often a disconnect between the way we conceptualize a space and the way it “actually” looks?
This is an interesting question. Prior to forming a concept of space, it must first be perceived. And we do that all the time. I am doing it right now, as the artificial light just in front of me is reflecting by the walls around my tiny workspace and the sound of my typing on the keyboard also reverberates off them. With my peripheral vision I monitor the light coming from a not-so-close window to my left. And we do the same when we walk out in the street or through a square (by subconsciously selecting to walk closer to the buildings rather than in the middle of the open space). Whenever we encounter a space (which happens hundreds of times a day), we take it in via our senses. So we actually experience and therefore know architecture much more than we think we do, because space — i.e. nothingness — is constantly being perceived. We see what’s constructed; we perceive what’s not there: space.
In fact, when we talk about what a space “looks like,” we often refer to the physical, tangible aspects of architecture — i.e. what forms space: walls, openings, glass walls, slabs, roofs, etc. — rather than space itself. Just as in other disciplines, what is not physically there is often as important as what is there. A window view is nothing but a hole in the wall through which we can form an idea of the world we live in.
I teach a course called Laboratory of Literary Architecture (LabLitArch.com) in which we imagine removing all the words from literary texts and look at what is left. As in architecture, once you remove the skin — the “language” of walls, roofs, and slabs — all that remains is sheer space. In writing, once you discard language itself, what’s left? What we discover is that the use of architectural metaphors to describe literature (e.g. the architecture of a novel) is not a coincidence: the effort of writing, putting a word after the other in order to build sentences, is very similar to that of constructing a building. The words are used to envelop a literary space that is perceived by the reader, very much like architectural space. By building an architectural model of the literary structure we simply reveal this process.

What were some of the most compelling responses you received from authors?
Receiving the texts from the writers, especially after they had seen my drawing of their window views, was always a truly exciting moment. It was like the closing of a circle; everything made sense. All the things I had stared at, and then drawn, trying to make sense of every single detail, would finally come together. Sometimes, and when it happened it was a lot of fun, someone would thank me for having revealed his/her window to him/her. I recall Marina Endicott, who had doubts about her view being as good as the others, telling me, “You were right, I no longer have view envy.” That was so nice. It’s as if we judge views only by how photogenic they are. Until Ms. Endicott had the chance to write about her view, it had not been so visible to her.
It does happen that sometimes we need to be shown things that are near us to notice them. Or that we notice them when they are gone. And often that’s the case with a window view. It’s hard to sit down in front of it and pay full, true and dedicated attention to it. I mean, it’s always there, I can do it any time I want, why take the time to pause and look? And that’s when things slip by in life. That’s why I would love to go back to my view when I was a little kid growing up in Milan and look at it now, with this recent window obsession of mine. I am sure that, like the sudden resurfacing of a familiar smell, a wave of past and intense feelings would rush through me. Isn’t that nice?

What does your own workspace look like? Do you have a view that you enjoy?
My workspace is the former inside of a walk-in closet. Actually, it’s no longer the inside of the closet as the space now opens up into our bedroom. When we moved in, we tore down a wall between the closet and the bedroom to create my workspace, so technically I am neither in the bedroom nor inside the closet, but kind of in between. My computer desk, i.e. where I am now, is right in front of the door of the former walk-in closet, which can’t be opened now. The most beautiful thing about my workspace is that I had someone cut out a small 14” x 10” glass-less opening in the door just in front of where I sit. This “window” has a small door of its own which can only be opened from the inside, i.e. by me, with a little latch and it’s exactly at the height of my daughter Nadia, who is eight now. So when I hear “knock, knock” and I open my small “window,” I see her smiling face occupying the whole view. Should we ever leave this place, this is the view I’ll miss more than any other.

Orhan Pamuk’s view in Istanbul, Turkey

Orhan Pamuk’s view of the Aya Sofia is breathtaking — he writes that he’s often asked if he grows tired of such a beautiful view, and he says no. On the other hand, Karl Ove Knausgård says he enjoys repetition, and prefers his more mundane view. Do you think an ideal view is awe-inspiring, or commonplace and meditative — a way of clearing our minds?
I don’t think there is an ideal view. There are probably ideal views for different occasions and for different people. For example, if I am happy someplace, at that very moment in time, I know that I’ll absorb the view I am looking at (whatever kind it may be) and turn it into a fantastic view, one that I’ll associate with a positive moment in my life. I think that views do serve as a kind of reset button, the same as when we blink; we need a moment to pause to then move on. For that purpose, all views are the same, because we don’t actually pay attention to them when we look at them, we are just using them.
If you want instead to spend time observing, obviously expansive and photogenic views are great. But being awe-inspiring means that they are often great landscapes, and as a result do not necessarily make great drawings, because a line drawing will not add anything to the landscape. If I have to draw a view, I look for intricate, unexpected, urban (more often than rural, but it’s not a rule) views that offer unique perspectives onto the world. Orhan Pamuk’s view has the compositionally incredibly important mosque right there, just outside the window. Yes, beyond it it is breathtaking, but without the mosque and the two minarets just beyond the terrace, it would be much less interesting (for me). For the New York window view book, I visited an amazing apartment overlooking Central Park. The view from the living room window was so spectacular that I realized I couldn’t draw it. I knew the drawing wouldn’t have added anything that we didn’t already know about how beautiful Central Park is when viewed from a high floor. On the other hand, a friend almost refused to open the curtains to show me his view of a derelict fire escape above a small courtyard facing other windows and another fire escape. I spent days drawing all the bricks of the opposite building and all the squiggly lines of the fire escapes and, well, he ended up loving his view afterwards. He even told me that he started keeping the curtains open in order to take his view in!

Do you have a favorite window or view?
Of course. I see it every day when my daughter returns from school and knocks on my mini closet-door-window.

Read from the HuffPost website: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/windows-on-the-world-book_n_6173178

Sam Roberts interviews Matteo Pericoli on “Windows on the World” for the NY1 show “The New York Times Close Up” – November 15, 2014

by Karl Ove Knausgård

I love repetition. I love doing the same thing at the same time and in the same place, day in and day out. I love it because something happens in repetition: Sooner or later, the heap of sameness, accumulated through all the identical days, starts to glide. That’s when the writing begins.

Karl Ove Knausgård’s window view (from “Windows on the World”, Penguin Press)

The view from my window is a constant reminder of this slow and invisible process. Every day I see the same lawn, the same apple tree, the same willow. It’s winter, the colors are bleak, there are no leaves, and then it’s spring, the garden is bursting with green. Even though I see it every day, I’m not able to notice the changes, as if they take place in a different time frame, beyond the range of my eye, in the same way high-frequency sounds are out of reach of the ear. Then the slow explosion of flowers, fruits, heat, birds, and insane growth we call summer is here, then there’s a storm, and the apples lie in a circle under the tree. The snowflakes melt the instant they touch the ground, the leaves are brown and leathery, the branches naked, the birds all gone; it’s winter again.

Windows on the World (Penguin Press)

In my youth, I considered Cicero’s claim, that all a man needs to be happy is a garden and a library, utterly bourgeois, to be a truth for the boring and middle-aged, as far as possible from who I wanted to be. Perhaps because my own father was somewhat obsessed with his garden and his stamp collection. Now, being boring and middle-aged myself, I have resigned. Not only do I see the connection between literature and gardens, those small areas of cultivating the undefined and borderless, I nurture it. I read a biography on Werner Heisenberg, and it’s all there, in the garden, the atoms, the quantum leaps, the uncertainty principle. I read a book about genes and DNA, it’s all there. I read the Bible, and there’s the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. I love that phrase, “in the cool of the day,” it awakens something in me, a feeling of depth on sunny summer days that hold a kind of eternal quality, and then the winds from the sea come rushing in the afternoon, shadows grow as the sun sinks slowly on the sky, and somewhere children are laughing. All this in the cool of the day, in the midst of life, and when it’s over, when I’m no longer here, this view will still be. This is also what I see when I look out my window, and there’s a strange comfort in that, taking notice of the world as we pass through it, the world taking no notice of us.

Read from The Millions website:

By Lorin Stein

This essay prefaces Matteo Pericoli’s Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views, out this week. We’ve featured Matteo’s work for years on the Daily, and his sketch of the view from our old office graced the cover of our Summer 2011 issue. To celebrate his new book, we’re offering that issue for only eight dollars, and only until Thanksgiving. We’re also holding a Windows on the World contest—submit a photo of your view and you could win a sketch by Matteo.

Pericoli’s drawing of The Paris Review’s view from our former office on White Street, as seen on the cover of Issue 197

Can you picture John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces? I can’t. Say his name and I see his hero, Ignatius Reilly. How about Willa Cather? What comes to mind isn’t a person at all—it’s raindrops in New Mexico “exploding with a splash, as if they were hollow and full of air.” What did Barbara Pym look like, or Rex Stout, or Boris Pasternak, or the other writers whose paperbacks filled our parents’ bedside tables? In most cases we have no idea, because until recently, the author photo was relatively rare. You could sell a million copies and still, to those million readers, you’d be a name without a face.

Things are different now. Nearly every first novel comes with a glamour shot, not to mention a publicity campaign on Facebook. The very tweeters have their selfies. We still talk about a writer’s “vision,” but in practice we have turned the lens around, and turned the seer into something seen.

Matteo Pericoli’s drawings recall us, in the homeliest, most literal way, to the writer’s true business, and the reader’s. Each window represents a point of view and a point of origin. Here’s what the writer sees when he or she looks up from the computer; here’s the native landscape of the writing. If you want an image that will link the creation to its source, Pericoli suggests, this is the image you should reach for. Not the face, but the vision—or as close as we can come. To look out another person’s window, from his or her workspace, may tell us nothing about the work, and yet the space—in its particularity, its foreignness, its intimacy—is an irresistible metaphor for the creative mind; the view, a metaphor for the eye.

It is crucial that these window views should be rendered in pen and ink, in lines, rather than in photographs (even though Pericoli works from snapshots, dozens per window). In his own writing and teaching, Pericoli likes to stress the kinship between draftsman and writer, starting with the importance of the line. His own line is descriptive, meticulous, suspenseful—one slip of the pen and hours of labor could be lost, or else the “mistake” becomes part of the drawing. Labor, it seems to me, is one of Pericoli’s hidden subjects. That is part of the meaning of the hundreds of leaves on a tree, or the windows of a high-rise: They record the work it took to see them, and this work stands as a sort of visual correlative, or illustration, of the work his writers do.

Of course, most writers tune out the view from day to day. In the words of Etgar Keret, “When I write, what I see around me is the landscape of my story. I only get to enjoy the real one when I’m done.” I think Pericoli has drawn the views of writers at least partly because they are seers as opposed to lookers—because they blind themselves to their surroundings as a matter of practice. The drawings are addressed, first of all, to them, and their written responses are no small part of the pleasure this book has to offer. Each of these drawings seems to contain a set of instructions: If you were to look out this window—if you really looked—here is how you might begin to put the mess in order. Yet the order Pericoli assigns is warm and forgiving. His omniscience has a human cast. His clapboards wobble in their outlines. He takes obvious delight in the curves of a garden chair, or a jar left out in the rain, or laundry flapping on a clothesline. He prefers messy back lots to what he calls (somewhat disdainfully) “photogenic views.” He knows that we are attached to the very sight we overlook, whether it’s tract housing in Galway or a government building in Ulaanbaatar. These are the everyday things we see, as it were blindly, because they are part of us.

Some of the writers in Windows on the World are household names. Many you will never have heard of, and a few live in places you might have trouble finding on a map. That, it seems to me, is part of the idea behind this book. Here are streets and alleys you won’t recognize that someone else calls home and takes for granted; look long enough and they will make your own surroundings more interesting to you. In Pericoli’s sympathetic—you might say, writerly—acts of attention, the exotic becomes familiar, and the familiar is made visible again.

Read the essay directly from The Paris Review Daily:

La Stampa, Società & Cultura, 7 novembre 2014

Raccolti in volume gli scorci che cinquanta autori vedono dal loro studio

di Mario Baudino

La finestra di Orhan Pamuk a Istanbul


Che cosa vediamo dalla nostra finestra? La risposta di Matteo Pericoli è che spesso vediamo noi stessi. La finestra può essere uno specchio, che soltanto in certe occasioni, magari quando stiamo abbandonandola per sempre, rivela tutta la sua meraviglia, che nella quotidianità ci era sfuggita. Non basta guardarla. Bisogna capirla. Magari con un piccolo aiuto esterno. Pericoli ha disegnato inseguendo il filo di questa convinzione molte finestre di scrittori, cominciando per il New York Times e proseguendo con la Paris Review.

Ha disegnato finestre americane e torinesi (per La Stampa), ha alternato il microcosmo del paesaggio psichico al macrocosmo dei suoi sterminati profili di città, rulli panottici che abbracciano ancora una volta New York, Torino, Londra trasformando col suo tratto continuo, preciso e sottile, la quotidianità in eccezionalità, mettendo a fuoco il senso profondo che vi si cela, la meraviglia, la sorpresa, il viaggio. Ora propone, in un libro appena uscito negli Stati Uniti da Penguin che sarà presentato domani a Torino, Windows of the World, 50 finestre di scrittori sparse per l’intero pianeta, da Città del Messico a Sidney, da Nadine Gordimer a Orhan Pamuk, da Etgar Keret a quella romana di Taiye Selasi.

Si aprono su giardini, piazze, fitti agglomerati urbani, tetti o cortili disadorni, mari e foreste; sono accompagnate da una pagina di commento di ciascun autore, e ci raccontano più che un paesaggio un’interazione. E’ stato un lungo lavoro, un giro del mondo, come dice Pericoli, «virtuale». Per farlo, si è affidato esclusivamente allo sguardo degli altri: ha lavorato, soprattutto da Torino, su una gran quantità di fotografie che gli venivano inviate e, spiega, «ho ricostruito le viste come se fossi lì».

La finestra di Nadine Gordimer a Johannesburg

La finestra è qualcosa di ineludibile, anche se fra i 50 non tutti ne erano convinti. Qualcuno, come Nadine Gordimer, ha chiesto di partecipare dopo l’inizio della serie sul New York Times. Nel commento alla propria finestra nega il principio che lo scrittore abbia bisogno di una «veduta», perché è immerso nelle storie (e quindi nelle vedute) delle persone e dei personaggi. La sua finestra, su una terrazza popolata di grandi piante in vaso dietro le quali l’orizzonte è chiuso d un basso fabbricato, è una conferma. L’israeliano Keret sembra dello stesso parere, perché quando scrive, dice, vede intorno a sé solo il paesaggio della sua storia. Lo fa dunque nel posto più scomodo del suo appartamento di Tel Aviv, «un posto che risulta sopportabile solo a una persona molto impegnata a scrivere». La finestra guarda su una sorta di veranda, piena di cose anzi di «felice disordine». Proprio come le sue storie, aggiunge. Pamuk invece ha uno strepitoso affaccio sul Bosforo. Lo distrae? Neanche per sogno, anzi una parte di lui «è sempre impegnata con una parte del paesaggio» e con il suo instancabile movimento. Non c’è scrittore senza finestra, sia che l’accetti sia che la rifiuti.

In realtà, questa la convinzione di Matteo Pericoli, non c’è essere umano senza finestra, anche quando non lo sa. Ha ideato così, per stamattina, un laboratorio destinato ai bambini di terza elementare. Farà disegnare le finestre di casa loro, perché, spiega, «sono gli osservatori passivi di paesaggi che non hanno scelto ma in cui si sono trovati: un punto di vista ideale per raccontare la città». Ma il percorso tra mondo e città ha ancora una tappa, per l’anno prossimo, cui Pericoli sta lavorando col Comune di Torino: una mostra con gli oltre 70 metri di «skylines» disegnati finora e centinaia di disegni, finestre torinesi, finestre di tutti i Paesi. Per far rimbalzare «nella città che mi ha accolto», una domanda sempre più urgente: «con quanto poco si può dire il massimo?»

Una breve intervista di Marco Lupo

La finestra di John J. Sullivan

Per riuscire a focalizzarsi su quanto la forma e l’architettura siano presenti in un romanzo, basterebbe leggere uno stralcio a caso da un romanzo di Robert Stevenson, di Oscar Wilde, di Dickens. John Ruskin, critico d’arte del periodo Vittoriano, era convinto che gli scrittori e gli architetti fossero artigiani che lavoravano spinti dallo stesso principio: dare una forma personale al tempo e allo spazio.

L’idea delle finestre di Matteo Pericoli si riconnette alla meravigliosa tradizione letteraria e architettonica degli ultimi due secoli, estendendola in uno spazio limitato eppure infinito; lo sguardo. Matteo, come sono nate le finestre degli scrittori che hai disegnato?


Matteo Pericoli.
Sono nate, come probabilmente tutti i miei progetti, da un desiderio, da una curiosità, da una cosa piccola che poi è cresciuta. Guardando indietro, mi pare di intravedere una sorta di percorso che può quasi apparire lineare e causale, voluto. Ma se dicessi che c’era un qualcosa di programmato mentirei.

Dieci anni fa stavo traslocando da un appartamento a cui mia moglie e io eravamo affezionati. Ci avevamo vissuto per sette anni e io, nell’unica stanza da letto che fungeva anche da studio, avevo prodotto dei lavori a cui ero molto legato — su tutti Manhattan Unfurled, i due disegni di dodici metri ciascuno del profilo dell’isola di Manhattan visto dai suoi fiumi. Al momento di andarcene, a scatoloni fatti, mi voltai verso la finestra che quasi toccava il tavolo da lavoro ed ebbi un nodo alla gola, quasi di pre-nostalgia per quella vista di New York che avevo assorbito per sette anni e che non avrei più rivisto. Quella era la mia città, mi dissi, più mia di qualunque altra, e quella vista di New York unica al mondo. Così la disegnai, in grande, su un foglio di carta da pacchi, come se facendo così potessi scardinare la finestra e portare con me infisso, vetri e vista incorporata. Colpito da questo inatteso attaccamento verso un qualcosa di non completamente tangibile, iniziai a chiedere ad amici e conoscenti di dirmi delle loro finestre e di mostrarmele. Fu lì che mi resi conto che volevo raccontare la città disegnandone le viste dalle finestre. E così feci. Ma ricordo che già all’inizio sentivo il desiderio di andare oltre il disegno. Nel senso che un disegno di una bella vista, o un disegno di una vista interessante, dice molto ma non dice tutto. La serie di finestre di New York (uscite nel libro The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York, Simon & Schuster) include un po’ di tutto: viste di conoscenti, di amici di amici, di persone note, tra cui quelle di svariati scrittori.

Quando chiesi a tutti di mandarmi un paio di paragrafi che descrivessero la loro vista, i testi degli scrittori finivano inesorabilmente per ampliare il disegno e allargarne gli orizzonti. L’anno successivo proposi quindi al New York Times di lavorare a una rubrica che sbloccasse una variabile, quella del luogo (cioè non più le viste di una città, ma da tutto il mondo), e ne fissasse un’altra, quella della tipologia di persona (cioè solo scrittori o scrittrici). Così nacque l’idea di Windows on the World: testo e linee che collaborano per raccontare come da una serie di posizioni necessariamente fisse, e aperte sul mondo attraverso un semplice buco sul muro (una sorta di camera oscura), si ottenga sia un viaggio meditativo intorno al mondo che uno specchio su cui riflettere sul nostro.


In un tuo articolo uscito sul New York Times hai scritto:
«I grandi architetti costruiscono strutture che possono farci sentire rinchiusi, liberati o sospesi. Ci conducono attraverso lo spazio, ci fanno rallentare, accelerare o fermare per contemplare. I grandi scrittori, nel definire le rispettive strutture letterarie, fanno esattamente la stessa cosa.»
Che cos’è il Laboratorio di architettura letteraria?


Matteo Pericoli.
Nell’analizzare e spiegare strutture letterarie si ricorre spesso a metafore architettoniche. E non è certo una coincidenza. Lo scrittore è, più o meno consapevolmente, null’altro che un architetto e un ingegnere di testi, un vero e proprio costruttore. “Scrivere è riscrivere”, dicono infatti molti scrittori, riferendosi alla fatica di accostare una parola all’altra, stesura dopo stesura, revisione dopo revisione. Il Laboratorio di architettura letteraria non fa altro che prendere atto del punto di contatto tra il come percepiamo la struttura di un testo e come percepiamo la struttura di uno spazio architettonico, e sovrapporre le due discipline utilizzando principi della composizione architettonica per analizzare e poi creare dei plastici tridimensionali che siano l’interpretazione spaziale, priva di parole, di testi letterari. Ad esempio: Cos’è uno spazio? Cosa sono e cosa possono significare le sequenze di spazi di una qualche architettura? C’è (o anche: è bene che ci sia?) una gerarchia nella distribuzione dei volumi? Nel pensare ai collegamenti tra spazi, potremmo pensare anche ai collegamenti tra gli eventi di una storia, di un racconto o di un romanzo? Nel creare gli spazi o i volumi, si potrebbe pensare che ciascuno rappresenti un personaggio? In che modo sospensioni, attese, sorprese e voce narrante possono essere trasmesse spazialmente?

In breve, in architettura si ha a che fare con problemi quali idee da trasmettere, una struttura che sorregga il tutto, sequenze di spazi, funzioni, e così via. Nella scrittura e nella letteratura, le questioni sono simili, per certi versi, o comunque non molto dissimili. Perché non pensare allora di progettare un’architettura la cui struttura sia basata su un’opera letteraria?


Una storia ha una forma precisa, disegnata a mente o su foglietti di carta vaganti, ha ingressi e uscite, permette di salire o di scendere, di apprezzare la luce che entra di taglio dalle finestre in sala, etc. Una storia, una volta letta – mi hai detto – può anche fare a meno delle parole. Da cosa parti per rendere quella forma intellegibile, e come fanno i tuoi allievi a spogliarsi delle parole di fronte a un libro? Per esempio, raccontami di come è nato il progetto su Gli anelli di Saturno di Sebald.


Matteo Pericoli.
Alice Munro ha spiegato tutto ciò in modo molto chiaro: “Una storia non è una strada da percorrere […] è più come una casa. Ci entri e ci rimani per un po’, andando avanti e indietro e sistemandoti dove ti pare, scoprendo come le camere stiano in rapporto col corridoio, come il mondo esterno viene alterato se lo guardi da queste finestre. E anche tu, il visitatore, il lettore, sei alterato dall’essere in questo spazio chiuso, ampio e facile o pieno di svolte e angoli che sia, pieno oppure vuoto di arredamento. Puoi tornarci più volte, e la casa, la storia, contiene sempre di più di quando l’hai vista l’ultima volta. Trasmette anche un forte senso di sé, di essere stata costruita per una sua necessità, non solo per fare da riparo o per stupirti.” (Selected Stories, 1968-1994)

Credo quindi che una storia già scritta, o un’idea di una storia ancora da scrivere, esista al contempo in un’altra forma priva di parole. Una sorta di pensiero letterario e strutturale slegato dalle parole che poi lo definiscono. Per esempio, “lui ama lei, ma lei ama un altro e lui si dispera e si uccide” è un’idea letteraria che ha trovato smisurate forme nei secoli e in varie culture. Come anche uno spazio poco illuminato con in fondo una fonte di luce è un’idea spaziale poi realizzata in mille modi diversi. Se spoglio quindi un’architettura del suo linguaggio costruttivo, cosa resta? E, allo stesso modo, se spoglio un testo delle sue parole (come peraltro accade quando si traduce), con cosa rimaniamo? Di cosa è fatta una storia? Come fa a stare in piedi?

Quando pongo queste domande durante la prima lezione, gli studenti (tutti, che siano giovani o adulti, scrittori o architetti o di qualsiasi altra formazione) mi guardano sbigottiti. Di cosa sta parlando? Cosa si aspetta da me? Non sono mica un architetto. Non sono mica un letterato, uno scrittore. Così è accaduto anche a Joss Lake, la studentessa della Columbia University che decise di rappresentare architettonicamente Gli anelli di Saturno di Sebald.

Il panico iniziale, comune a tutti, incluso me, ogni volta che parte una nuova edizione del Laboratorio, è in realtà un momento fertile durante il quale tutte le prima idee, generalmente piuttosto letterali (e non letterarie, che sono il nostro obiettivo), ci servono per mettere in discussione sia quanto profondamente si conosce il testo che il bagaglio di immaginario architettonico di ciascuno di noi.

Il bello è che poi, lavorando a ritroso, arriviamo in genere tutti al nocciolo della questione. Troviamo un elemento, un’idea strutturale e spaziale che in qualche modo sintetizza quella che era l’interpretazione iniziale del testo. Tutti viviamo di storie — sappiamo, cioè, cogliere il funzionamento di storie, testi, poesie, racconti, ecc. — e viviamo tutti, o quasi, tutti i giorni della nostra vita all’interno di strutture architettoniche, percependole in continuazione, capendole e facendole nostre col nostro corpo. Quindi sappiamo molto di più di quanto crediamo di sapere, e arriviamo insieme a un momento di epifania in cui la struttura architettonica si manifesta.

Così è accaduto anche a Joss, che ha trovato in uno “spazio alto e stretto, che riflette sia l’ampio respiro del romanzo sia il senso di intimità dell’esperienza della lettura”, la struttura architettonica che meglio racconta, senza utilizzare parole, Gli anelli di Saturno. All’interno dello spazio “è sospeso, sorretto da sostegni metallici, un percorso irregolare che sale e scende attraverso tutta la lunghezza della struttura. L’andamento del percorso è dato dalla frammentaria e sorprendente natura della narrazione, nella quale il romanzo salta da soggetto a soggetto in modi non convenzionali […] L’oscurità dello spazio è interrotta da addensamenti di lampadine luminose. Le costellazioni non sono rassicuranti; sono sconcertanti. Le luci sono appese secondo raggruppamenti imprevedibili, e si addensano in gruppi variabili. Alcune luci circondano il percorso sospeso, altre arrivano fino al pavimento sottostante. Ci sono migliaia e migliaia di luci sospese nello spazio, ma sono luci morbide che non riescono a penetrare il buio. Queste luci sono il cuore del romanzo, sono i dettagli che Sebald e il suo narratore utilizzano per ritrovare il passato. […] Non c’è un senso di stabilità. L’unica costante è il buio. […] La luce non suscita ottimismo o epifania, ma trasmette una sostanziale curiosità, che fa sì che il visitatore voglia proseguire lungo quel singolare percorso.”

Il laboratorio di architettura letteraria: www.lablitarch.com

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