Naoki Kotaka
Diploma 9

Postcard City : Travelling as Form of Collection

This project explores the relationship between physical construct of the city and its representative image, postcards, to experience the city not through physical entering of space but capture through other means. Political dimension of postcards lies in its profound impurity, regulated by what is chosen to be shown - or not shown, so for this instance images of the city on postcards are provocative lie. It doesn’t just keep the city in its present state but changes them, and highlight reality.

In 18th-century Rome, the city was experiencing the process of transformation from imperial city to modern city. The city was historically mixed, in which the ruins of antiquity, the buildings of Middle Ages and the monuments of the Renaissance all existed side by side. Rome had become Europe’s ‘Urban History Museum’, to which people came, in order to study the sources of both ancient and modern classicism. Popularity of the city was further enhanced by rise of new technologies for the reproduction of printed image. Replicas of Roman art and architecture were broadly disseminated for the first time, using woodcuts and engravings, from mechanical presses. At the time, postcards weren’t  a byproduct of tourism but an epistemological tool, where collectability and portability remained the dominant model of knowing foreign culture. With its great holdings of the Western art, together with its replicas, Rome had become the most visually represented city in Europe, and therefore the most mediated. Piranesi at once architect, archaeologist and master of etching and printing, established a first version of postcards, through his views following the plan of Campo Marzio.  Through rereading of Campo Marzio, my recontexualisation suggests Piranesi collects all this architectural monuments and artifacts of Rome in the Wunderkammer he built in the basement of his house, in which replicated fragments of the city are shrunken and inserted, forming his curated collection of Rome. In order to reorganise and recreate the accumulation of history that constitute his ideal state of Rome, Piranesi travels through time, collecting monuments throughout and bringing them into his Wunderkammer and his drawing of Campo Marzio.In 1762 Piranesi published Campo Marzio, which became widely distributed across Europe. 
Piranesi’s vision of Rome and his drawing and views became what  I consider to be a first version of postcard describing the city of Rome. One epistemological consequence of Piranesi’s postcards is that it came to be associated with the authentic presentation of cityscape. Repeatability of his postcards bred familiarity. Many people who saw the postcards have never been to Rome and so based their expectations entirely on Piranesi’s representation. The city in this context thus is translated both in scale and in format, into an image, into a postcard. The city becomes portable and dislocated from its original urban context, thus creating a newly fabricated picture-perfect reality of the city.  Postcard framed in picture framePostcard view framed in windowProcession towards the frameHere, what was once a white frame of the postcards is now defined by panels of curtain wall glazing, merged within countless guest room and travellers' activity behind. When these framed views are situated within vast interiors of new monuments, existence of exterior diminishes, dislocates the postcard's monuments from original surrounding context to new reconstituted context of the hotel interior. With postcard views internalised, the interior encloses the  collective dream of traveller, postcard-perfect memories of travel.  

Therefore this selective appropriation and erasure of the city, and deliberate collection of postcard views, captures the absolute quality of the city, comprises only postcard monuments, enabling travellers to experience the city without ever entering it. In a same way as urban environment is internalised and displayed through the window, interior activity of the hotels are also displayed and projected towards the exterior. Vertical thresholds between exterior and interior are filled with various entertainment for travellers. It frames the collective existence of travellers and offer to the original residents of the city, an insight into a captivating environment of contemporary tourism. The frame functions to preserve the historical ideal and to stop in time preconceived representation of the city. While the historical ideal of the city is collected in postcard views, the original views of the real city are destroyed. Paradoxically, as the city is occupied by new monuments, and its cityscape gradually dissolves its historical ideal, new monuments have now gained prominence for next iteration of postcards. Our realisation is that the act of collection through architecture is destructive as well as productive. Therefore we should not see this withdrawal of original monuments as an immediate loss to the city, but instead see it as a revitalisation of the city’s historical essences and creation of new urban environment for future development.