The painting above is considered a capriccio – a drawing of an ideal but imaginary collection of buildings by themselves or within a designed rustic landscape. I ran across it the other day looking for something in my iPhoto library. My wife Victoria and I had encountered it in 2009 on a trip to South Beach, or possibly we saw it on a side trip to Miami. Maybe it was hanging at the Fountainbleau, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was a vision of what Miami might have been like had the Depression not interrupted a building boom fueled in part by the designs of Addison Mizner, later Philip Trammell Shutze, and other traditionalists. Can anyone help me identify it?
[Tim Kelly comments: “The painting is a collection of projects and works by Shultz & Weaver. The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables is the far left building. The Sherry-Netherland is at the far right. The name of the firm is just barely legible at the bottom.” Several others have joined Tim in identifying the capriccio in emails.]
Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Robert Adam’s book Classic Columns: 40 Years of Writing on Architecture, which I will review shortly, perhaps after a couple more posts extracting passages from the book. Toward its end are two essays on capricci. Adam writes:
As an expression of a fantasy world where the city is perfect, antiquity is alive, the rustic world is romantic, or ruins are charmingly scattered in a rural arcadia, the paintings depict an unattainable ideal or allow the imagination to range free without the limitations of an often prosaic or constrained reality. For their maximum effect, however, these capricci suggest places that look as if they could have been or even could be real. The culmination of the architectural capriccio is when the imagination of the painter turns into the reality of architecture.
If architecture’s history had not been so rudely interrupted by modern architecture, the entire built world might by now look like a capriccio. Our imaginary idea of what a city could look like is tainted by the interlopement of modernism. It may be difficult but it is nevertheless realistic to imagine creating cities of the future that look like capriccios of the past. Compared with what we must look at today, the past was indeed largely the realization of Adam’s “culmination of the architectural capriccio.”
The capriccio below, drawn in 2005 and near the end of Adam’s book, is by Chris Draper. He was commissioned by Adam Architecture to sketch this capriccio arrayed around Atlanta’s Millennium Gate, the brainchild of Rod- ney Mims Cook Jr. Cook’s National Monuments Foundation organized an international competition. Hugh Petter, of Adam Architecture, was brought in to massage the winning concepts into a final design, which was inspired by the Arch of Titus, in Rome. Cook toured me through the arch and the muse- um on top when I was in Atlanta in 2011 to serve on the jury of that year’s Shutze Awards, founded by the Southeast chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Needless to say, reality being what it is, the setting of the arch today is far from what is imagined in Draper’s capriccio, which includes work by the directors of Adam’s firm. He describes it in the caption:
A town is depiected with Hugh Petter’s Atlanta arch at the end of a long canal. Nigel Anderson’s apartment block is behind the arch and his “pink castle” from Poundbury sits in front of it. A new office building of my design dominates the building group to the right and behind it is my library in Oxford. A baroque country house by Hugh Petter overlooks the composition from a hill behind.