Trullo (Enc. of Vernacular Architecture of the World)

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Anyone coming from central Europe landing by plane in the region of Bari, and finds himself for the first time standing in Noci and Alberobello amidst its large districts with 'trulli' <1> will feel as if he has been transformed into a fairy tale setting. Are these dwarfs transformed into stone? Numerous pointed hats one beside the other. Are these dwarfs, for centuries, crouched on the ground deeply involved in their meditations? Or are they strange toy houses of the children of some giant? Could they be tiny volcanoes , extirpations of the earth, put there somehow just for fun, to trouble humans? Or are they tents which have turned to stone, reed huts of a long gone population that have become durable dwellings? Originally houses of a population who had a strange deep structure for the symbolic meaning of its housing. With the latter question we are already at the focal point of the following topic.

At the occasion of the conference 'All origine dell'abitare' at Faenza (Italy) <2>, prof. arch. Angelo Ambrosi and Dr. arch. Enrico Degano kindly invited me to take part in the meeting organised by the Institute of Design of the University of Bari and the commune of Noci. It focussed on the topic 'Corbelled stone architecture' (Architettura in pietra a secco). The studies of Ambrosi which were mailed to me as an introduction to the subject have awakened my enthusiasm, particularly the article 'Case costruite al crudo - Osservazioni sulla singolarita di Alberobello (Corbelled houses - Notes on the singularity of Alberobello) which I have studied properly.

First the review of Necha's 'Albero genealogica dell arte architettonica' (Genealogical tree of the art of building) led me spontaneously to deal with a subject which I had had in mind before but had to put aside for later: Gottfried Semper's theory of metabolism and his architectural evolutionary strategy. Now that I have read Ambrosi's study once again and more in detail my intention seems to fit well. The theses of Semper go in parallel with the discussion introduced by Ambrosi with Pagano and Daniel <3>. They complement the evolutionary questions with a theory which - with its first volume - was published contemporaneously to the first edition of Darwin's 'The origins of species through natural selection'. <4> <5>

If Semper's theses are correctly understood and revitalised with new sources they will have lost nothing of their controversial nature and their potential for development, even though today they are essentially dealt with in archivalic ways by the narrow horizon of the history of art.

If thus a newly supported Semper suggests that built forms in stone are generally related to prototypes with easily manipulated materials, the trulli raise the question why the new form does not follow the new conditions. Why are these house forms so doggedly attached to form criteria handed down in local tradition, producing this strange fossil which in Alberobello survives into a modern urban environment. It is thanks to Ambrosi that this central question has been raised seriously in the above mentioned study. If I am well informed there is no study of this size with similar competence, precise views and engagement to deal with a clearly defined building tradition with the same complexity. That is to say: the study deals not only with architecture, but at the same time historically critical (Goia) in regard to the history of religion, language and history of ideas in a comparative sense <6>. In addition, it amply raises questions of evolutionary theory.

Further, the study punctually touches topics which are essential if one deals with traditional objects of culture. Important, for instance,is the discussion of the originality of cyclic traditions, an important starting point for ethnological architectural research. Evidently the decisions about what has to be preserved are based on the evaluation of this term. It defines what may remain as source and what shall be sacrificed to the destructive tooth of time. Traditional architecture is greatly handicapped in this sense, compared with high architecture highly valued by the art historian because of its historical and artistic 'originality'. Ambrosi shows clearly that traditional architecture does not offer (and does not need) history in the narrow sense. Usually art historians are quickly at hand to deny creative qualities for such traditions. They are considered as 'sunken master's art' (see Goia). They are thus considered without value, support is denied, the houses decay, the sources are lost.

However, this conflict is clearly related to the following points.

On this methodologically critical level too, Ambrosi's study is an important contribution. It shows that a seemingly simple topic like 'trulli between tradition and history' can present extremely important impulses which, however, can only be made fruitful in a decisively pluridisciplinary approach. Ambrosi's study provides the impression to do justice to the true essence of this complex tradition.

To gain an idea of the value of these diachronical sources in regard to an evolutionary view of building we have to consider to what extent most renowned universities globally invest enormous amounts into research projects with often awkward results. Clarke's recent critique of research into human paleontology (1988) is recommendable in this context. On the other hand one can start from the conviction that neolithic revolution, that is, the sedentarisation of man, provided important traits of what today we call culture, particularly regarding the culture of built form and space (see: the Domestication of the Human Species, Wilson 1986). From this perspective it would be immensely irresponsible to withhold these important sources from future research. A particular kind of research which potentially searches with architectural anthropological instruments for a type of man who 'is as he builds and dwells' (Marshall). On this important path of search the trulli of the region around Alberobello, without doubt, belong to the important sources of a constructive past of man.

To conclude this preface I would like to thank to all those who contributed to the scientific and personal success of this important meeting in Nochi. Particular thanks go to Dott. Enrico Degano for all his help. To prof. Angelo Ambrosi I feel closely related in my work.

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