civita_phrenology

Finally, we come to the most subjective mapping criteria I employed for my Civita series—imagining. It’s been said that you can “read” a person’s temperament, speculate how easy or difficult their life has been, by looking closely at their face. I wondered…what if this were true for a place? What if the essence of a city resided not in its statistics and facts but in the development of its character expressed, perhaps, in the configuration of its hills and valleys, tunnels and caves, changes in public and private space? Could we then “read” a city by examining its own particular psycho-geography? Not the outer surface layer that it presents to the world but its true depth?

The concept is fanciful but intriguing. I knew I wanted to make one last map that would attempt to capture something of Civita’s ephemeral essence. As luck would have it, one day, I was browsing in Tony’s library and came upon a small volume that included a profile of Luigi Ferrarese, an Italian physician and a leading proponent of the19th-century pseudo-science of phrenology—the study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities. Here in America, the theory was expounded by Lorenzo Fowler, who created this iconic head.

27 distinct “faculties” and “sub-faculties” controlled certain character traits or intellectual attributes such as Cautiousness, Benevolence, Destructiveness, Love of Animals, Tune, Continuity and Change. Phrenologists worked by touch; they would “read” a person’s character by running the palms of their hands over the surface of the skull, the relative size of each area corresponding to its power.

Getting to know Civita phrenologically required a slightly different approach. It required eyes and feet, time spent walking its streets and hills, the polar opposite of reading about it in a guidebook, visiting for a few hours on a summer day, or checking it out on Google maps. Yet after 8 weeks, I found Fowler’s list of faculties surprisingly easy to apply. And by shifting the city’s north south axis, Civita’s footprint easily resembles a head.

Here’s a little tour: Civita’s rich yet destructive past has left its mark but it remains an industrious city that loves children, families, and animals and delights in showing its wonders to the world. The city reconstructs more than it builds anew, and it is an optimistic place that venerates its past, full of order, wonder and form. Civita’s more colorful stories led me to some fascinating applications, Time resides in the house where Maria has lived for over 80 years. Human Nature extends up the west perimeter, encompassing her garden where taking in the view requires a payment of 1 Euro, which is understandable since human nature must find a way to make a living. Love of Sex dwells in what remains of the opulent home of the legendary Milanese Marquessa above the Porta S. Maria and Continuity and Individuality is of course, housed in the Civita Institute buildings. This is, of course, an idiosyncratic, fanciful exercise by an amateur phrenologist so perhaps the best approach is to visit and draw your own conclusions.

So which Civita is the real one?  The likely answer is one that doesn’t yet exist in what you’ve seen here. Creating a sense of place goes well beyond mapping the physical environment. Way-finding that is envisioned to allow visitors (actual or virtual) to enter new worlds on their own terms—to examine, question, visualize and add to environments on multiple levels can serve not only as tickets to actual territory but as open-ended invitations to go beyond what is visible on the surface, examining instead the many interconnected layers of meaning, culture, and history that invariably exist in one locale. This process was implicit in Civita but it can happen anywhere.
In Latin civitas simply means “city.” My hope is that this project inspires you to create your own Civitas immaginata and to look at those places closer to home that are special to you and imagine the many, varied ways they connect and refer beyond themselves.

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