Hemisphere | Antonio S. Río Vázquez

Main Concourse, Grand Central Terminal, NY; Library of Congress


In one of his essays on the classical antiquity, Oddone Longo stands out the relation between space of conquest and architectural space in the Roman Empire[1], a correspondence that can observe  of a representative way in the Domus Aurea, the fastuosa residence of the emperor Nerón that elaborated on four of the seven roman hills.

Between the curious realisations that housed the imperial palace —designated properly Incredibilia Neronis—, stood out the singular «architectural machine» that covered one of the rooms of banquet and that Cayo Suetonio describes in the chapter XXXI of the biography of Nerón:

In at all it spent so much, however, as in his constructions; it extended his house from the palace until the Esquilias, calling to the building that joined them House of Step; destroyed this by a fire, did to build another that called  House of Gold, of whose extension and magnificencia will suffice to say that in the hall saw  a colossal statue of Nerón of ciento twenty feet of height; that was surrounded of porticos of three hileras of columns and of one thousand steps of length; that in her there was a lake imitating the sea, surrounded of buildings that simulated a big city; that they saw  likewise explanadas, fields of wheat, viñedos and forests populated of big number of herds and of fieras. The interior was gilded throughout and was adorned with pedrerías, nacre and perlas. The ceiling of the canteens was formed of tablillas of movable ivory, by some aberturas of which brotaban flowers and perfumes. Of these rooms, the most beautiful was to circulate, and turned night and day, imitating the movement of rotation of the world.[2]

Of all the constructions of the emperor, the cúpula giratoria that simulates the celestial hemisphere turns into the perfect representation of the roman space conception, that finds his paradigm in the big cúpula of the Panteón. Surfacing of the earth, his enormous hemisphere pétreo  contrapone to the dynamism of his domestic antecedent. The static character emphasizes  with the light of the óculo open in his cénit, only witness of the time, as it remembered the historian Dion Casio:

Agripa completed the building called Panteón. This possessed said name like consequence of the images that decorated it of a lot of gods, included Mars and Venus but, in my opinion, the name comes given because his form with cúpula was similar to the one of the sky.[3]

The traveller that arrive of morning to the Grand Central Station of New York also will find  under a big celestial map represented in the vault of the main hall. One of the architects, Whitney Warren, had foreseen initially that the ceiling of the station allowed the entrance of natural sunlight, but problems of time and of budget forced him to refuse this idea. It was then when the proyectista saw  forced to design a simulation to the way of Nerón.

To do reality his project had the collaboration of the French painter Paul César Helleu, who emulated the firmament with his golden constellations on a blue mantle cerúleo. Helleu Had 59 luminarias in the place of the main stars of each grouping, conforming a new «architectural machine» above the random movement of the travellers[4].

Like the room of Nerón, the design of Helleu contained several incógnitas: His painting did not represent the American sky, but his known sky of the Mare Nostrum Roman. Besides, it had drawn it invested. Some intuyeron in this representation a possible error to the hour to move to the cover the information astrográfica. Others, simply, that Helleu had not conceived his work so that they observed it the men, but the gods, as so many cosmic creations along the history.

antonio s. río vázquez . architect

a coruña. november, 2012

Notes:[1] LONGO, O., El universo de los griegos. Actualidad y distancias, Acantilado, Barcelona, 2009, 395

[2] SUETONIO, C., Vida de los doce Césares, Espasa, Madrid, 2003, XXXI

[3] CASIO, D., Historia Romana, Gredos, Madrid, 2004, LIII

[4] The Helleu´s work wass recovered in a restoration of the year 1998. It had remained unseen during almost sixty years. In the restoration placed  LEDs of different intensities, attaining a still greater resemblance with the real firmament.

Antonio S. Río Vázquez

Antonio S. Río Vázquez (A Coruña, 1981) es arquitecto por la E.T.S.A. de A Coruña, master en Urbanismo y doctor por la Universidade da Coruña. Especializado en teoría y diseño, su línea de trabajo se ha centrado en la investigación y divulgación del patrimonio arquitectónico moderno. Ha desarrollado proyectos de modo independiente y ha colaborado con varios estudios de arquitectura. Es socio fundador de Aroe Arquitectura. Es profesor en el Departamento de Proyectos Arquitectónicos, Urbanismo y Composición de la Universidade da Coruña, y ha sido profesor invitado en la Robert Gordon University de Aberdeen (Reino Unido), en la Universidade do Minho (Portugal) y en la Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza (Italia). Es miembro de la red UEDXX Urbanism of European Dictatorships during the XXth Century, del Grupo de Investigación en Historia de la Arquitectura IALA y del Grupo de Innovación Educativa en Historia de la Arquitectura. Ha formado parte del proyecto de investigación FAME Fotografía y Arquitectura Moderna en España, 1925-1965. Los resultados de sus investigaciones, tanto personales como conjuntas, han servido como aportación a eventos de debate y difusión científica y han sido publicados en libros y revistas.

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