a writing and architecture workshop
It would be impossible to propose a workshop on writing and architecture without including Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In this book, Marco Polo relates tales of cities he has visited during his travels to the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan. There is little in the way of a familiar linear narrative. Cities are grouped under Chapter titles that repeat themselves ( i.e. Cities & Memory 1, Cities & Memory 2 etc.) and are scattered throughout 9 sections. Each city is told as a sort of allegory, described through the habits of its citizens, the form of its architecture or the myths of its culture. The central deceit (not meant here in a negative way) of the whole enterprise is that Polo is fact referring only to one city: Venice.
Invisible Cities is a book made for numerous reinterpretations and a constant source of inspiration.
Below is an extract that is a personal favourite. This is followers by a pdf of the entire first section for those interested in further reading.
“From now on, I’ll describe the cities to you.” the Khan had siad, “in your journeys you will see if they exist.”
But the cities visited by Marco Polo were always different from those thought of by the emperor.
“And yet I have constructed in my mind a model city from which all possible cities can be deduced,” Kublai said. “It contains everything corresponding to the norm. Since the cities that exist diverge in varying degree from the norm, I need only foresee the exceptions to the norm and calculate the most probable combinations.”
“I have also thought of a model city from which I deduce all the others,” Marco answered. “It is a city made only of exceptions, exclusions, incongruities, contradictions. If such a city is the most improbable, by reducing the number of abnormal elements, we increase the probability that the city really exists. So I have only to subtract exceptions from my model, and in whatever direction I proceed, I will arrive at one of the cities which, always as an exception, exist. But I cannot force my operation beyond a certain limit: I would achieve cities too probable to be real.”