Some Reasons for Travelling to Italy


16 January 2016

Sketch the ruins, marvel at the art and architecture, imbibe the cuisine and follow the landscape from the mercantile north to the rustic south: since the Renaissance, countless luminaries have found creative succour in journeys to Italy.

Architects are no exception. Inigo Jones’ 16th-century trip led to the introduction of the classical style to England, while Le Corbusier visited the country 16 times.

Peter Wilson, one half of Munich-based practice Bolles+Wilson, stands in this lineage. Since 2005, Wilson has worked on two competition-winning projects on the peninsula – the completed Monteluce Quarter development in Perugia (2015) and La Biblioteca Euro-pea di Informazione e Cultura in Milan, which remains unrealised.

While ensconced in the country, Wilson began writing about his predecessors, chronicling their motivations for voyaging to Italy. To accompany these writings, he drew and painted a series of artworks. A handful of these texts and images appeared in AA Files, the journal of the Architecture Association (AA). Impressed, the AA Files’s editor Thomas Weaver commissioned a whole book.

Some Reasons for Travelling to Italy is the result. It compiles dozens of Wilson’s bio-graphical essays and matching pictures. Topics (and their subjects) include ‘to abandon a bikini’ (Brigitte Bardot), ‘to become innocent’ (Aldo Rossi), ‘to start a bromance with Pi-ranesi’ (Robert Adam) and ‘to cure hypochondria, hysteria, mania and melancholia’ (Robert Burton). And it’s the referential style of Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melan-choly, that Some Reasons upholds, bringing together a huge variety of lives to create a compelling miscellany.

Wilson’s art – frequently drawn on little pieces of MDF – evokes another early modern form: the miniature. Often echoing pre-20th-century images of the Italian landscape, Wilsons art serves as a bridge to a semi-real past, one that in the words of architectural histo-rian Kurt W. Forster “would not exist were it not for our present interest in it.”

To accompany the volume, an exhibition of Wilson’s artworks will be displayed in the AA’s Front Member’s Room, a show that Weaver calls “an excursion of the book.” Set within the association’s Georgian interiors, the works seem likely to conjure up the age of the Grand Tour.

For Weaver, Wilson belongs to a 1970s generation of architects who fused technical knowledge with intellectual curiosity and draughtsmanship. “He’s a throwback, but he’s kept going,” says Weaver. He often sends me these atavistic texts, little episodic pieces that revel in their compartmentalisation. The book is basically a Baedeker guide: a pocket book.”

Publishing Some Reasons also stands as a statement of intent. “Publishing this book was a polemical act for me,” says Weaver, who sees contemporary architects as having abandoned the intellectual roving and hobbyistic creativity of the past. “I like the idea of the architect as a public intellectual, or as a gentleman scholar.” With its amassed learning and genial storytelling, Some Reasons certainly goes someway to maintaining this tradition.