The permanence of the idea of wall in contemporary residential architecture

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This dissertation claims that the wall has had a double nature from its very origins, being at the same time frame and continuous masonry. Hence, the dissertation also argues that the constructive and spatial characters of the wall are a synthesis of such duplicity, which makes it possible to go beyond the interpretations that label modernity as the ‘era of the frame’ and pre-modern times as the ‘era of masonry’, which supposedly concluded itself at the end of XIX century. While, on the one hand, the two natures of the wall have generated complexity and polysemy around it, they have also guaranteed its survival as idea, as site of theoretical and creative elaboration, as well as concrete structure. The thesis starts by identifying some fundamental wall types, drawing on the great treatises written between the XV and the XIX century; secondly, it addresses the wall as a surface and eventually the relationship between walls and openings, where the complex connections between the construction and the appearance of the wall emerge. In the second part, the focus shifts on the relationship between wall and space, in particular the urban dwelling space, which is chosen as the field to develop more in-depth analyses because of its condition of “mediocre subject”, i.e. far removed from the experimental and symbolic excesses to be found in monumental, institutional or infrastructural architecture. Some residential types are identified and their spaces are read as the repetition of a certain span (parallel walls systems), as systems of rooms, as a composition of circulations and espaces utiles (following J. Guadet’s nomenclature) connected to Beaux-Arts “plan poché” tradition. In each one of these cases, the elements of wall syntax, which have been previously identified, become the material base that makes it possible to materialize composition principles and spatial intentions. The third part of the thesis considers about one hundred residential projects, mostly contemporary ones, and tries to identify a “conscious combination” of the syntactic and compositional themes that emerged and established themselves over the past centuries: the enhanced syncretism of current times is interpreted as a rich confusion in which the idea of wall, once again, finds a way to regenerate itself.