Intertwined Histories and Ecologies: Early architectural and hydraulic treatises and practices in the Venetian Region

Toscani, Chiara (2023). Intertwined Histories and Ecologies: Early architectural and hydraulic treatises and practices in the Venetian Region. PhD thesis The Open University.



Looking critically at ecology, contemporary thinkers such as Bruno Latour, Philippe Descola, and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa make a case that the idea of nature has changed throughout history. This requires a new perspective that overcomes established divisions between humans and non-humans, moving beyond the dualism of nature and culture. Their contributions emphasise a new philosophical framework for an ecological vision that suggests alternate ways of working through them.

To define an imaginary narrative for cities and their territories, the thesis adopts the lens of the Arcadian discourse, meant as a narrative, historical and conceptual tool for unearthing ecological concepts in history according to three dimensions: the physical, the political, and the symbolic. Coined by Donald Worster through reading Gilbert White’s works, and rooted in Virgil’s works, this definition embodies a sympathetic approach towards nature, posing an alternative to imperialist approaches that assert dominion over nature.

This research focuses on the historical period between the 15th and 17th centuries, corresponding to rhetorical Arcadian naturalism in architecture, just before what Manfredo Tafuri defined as Enlightenment naturalism, and to the revival of the Arcadian genre in Italian literary works. Among these, Theogenius by Leon Battista Alberti explores a conception of nature that echoes Arcadian components in terms of their implications for architectural theory. Subsequent comparison with Daniele Barbaro’s Commentary provides an opportunity to move from the world of abstract ideas to the concrete matter of fact of Venice and its surrounding territory, which had always experienced the negative impacts of human beings on their environment.

Situating these discourses and their effects in the reading of early hydraulic theories, projects, visual and graphic representations, laws, and human and non-human stories related to Venice’s practices of land and water management, the re-articulation of contemporary ecological concerns has been prompted through a historical lens.

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