The Madness of King Charles (Monstruous Carbuncles, Green Cities, Inkpots and other Royal Concerns)

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The disappearance of Elizabeth II certainly marked the end of an era. Ascending the throne just past last century’s equator of, she has been not only one of the longest-reigning monarchs -Elizabeth was also Second in the overall ranking, only surpassed by Louis XIV of France-, but also an exceptional witness to events and characters who, since the interwar period, have shaped the world as we know it. Her death and the chronicle of her long life have made rivers of ink flow in recent months -just to use an increasingly metaphorical expression- only partially eclipsed by the fact that her passings also meant, at the same time the unexpected ascension to the throne of the hitherto Prince Charles, a coronation taking place today that many -probably starting with Chuck himself- had many serious doubts he would live to see. Regardless of their political color, all media agreed to point out a main -and real- change, other than the monarch’s gender, in this succession; that is: the very drastic contrast posed by the discretion of the deceased (God save the Queen!) and her septuagenarian offspring. And let’s not enter that episode some of us will surely remember where he dreamed of transmuting into a female intimate hygiene item. In recent weeks, the media have gleefully portrayed Charles as a slightly grumpy older gentleman who accedes to the throne a little worn out, and with a somewhat difficult relationship with stationery — quills and inkpots specifically. All of this only delves into his longtime reputation as a not particularly sympathetic and opinionated character -a trait surely inherited from his father, a Duke of Edinburgh with a certain tendency to slip inconvenient comments (always on the verge of becoming a diplomatic incident which, as it could not be otherwise, earned him my lifelong, unconditional sympathy.

That is why, now that everything important has already been said much better and way more knowledgeably than I could even dream of, I would like to focus on the anecdotal, aware, that I’m doing nothing more than second a whole rosary of varied reflections on the subject that will find a myriad of new and juicy entries today: barely a few hours after the death of the Queen, The Architects’ Journal published an article [“King Charles, monarch with keen interest in architecture, succeeds Queen”] recounting some ‘greatest hits’ regarding the former Prince of Wales’s keen interest in architecture. Similar articles would succeed in the following days, glossing his preferences, as well as the always controversial nature of his statements, in Dezeen, Domus, Architectural Digest, The New York Times, The Guardian, House and Garden, Dwell, Arquitectura Viva… and any media remotely linked to architecture, or not even.

I have to admit that my first contact with Charlie’s architectural opinions happened quite late, through Luis Fernández-Galiano’s 1999 article ‘La Rebelión de los Floreros’ (‘The Flower Vase Revolt’). Making echoes of the Portuguese revolution of 1974 rhyme with Charlie’s rebellious distancing from the controversy-free attitude a member of the royal family is supposed to adopt as his modus operandi, the article glossed over the architectural crusade of an heir to the crown who refused to comply with his discreet role as deadwood. Subsequently, Galiano took note of Charley’s contributions as an ‘architectural critic’, who, “after five years of harassing modern architecture in statements and speeches’, finally brought out ‘the heavy artillery’, publishing ‘ten alternative principles’ for architecture [he would later add yet five more] … and the proposal for the construction of a model city shaped by them”. The year was 1989, and good ol’ Chuck had fleshed out his Mosaic Ten Commandments (which, in turn,  stemmed from some “few sensible rules” enunciated in a 1987 speech) into the otherwise rather lightweight A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture (Doubleday, 1989), this time a written version of the documentary HRH Prince Of Wales: A Vision Of Britain, directed by Nicholas Rossiter and broadcast by the BBC on October 28, 1988, also paired by an homonymous exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum [take that, H de C. Hastings and your Townscape Campaign!]. Furthermore, donning his developer cap, he would begin construction of the ideal community of Poundbury -a sort of urban Portmeirion, only more boring- on his own Duchy land in Cornwall.

Of course, all this had started earlier, when, in 1984 Charley delivered his (in?)famous ‘monstrous carbuncle’ speech at the RIBA, wherein he used this expression to qualify Peter Ahrends’ winning proposal for the National Gallery extension: a move that would spawn the celebration of a subsequent restricted competition, eventually leading to the construction of Venturi and Scott Brown’s Sainsbury Wing. It should surprise no one that the successor to Queen Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter has conservative tastes, and more specifically nineteenth-century tastes (Charles is not Mustafa Kemal), or that he professes admiration for the architecture of Christopher Wren, Iñigo Jones or Nicholas Hawksmoor. It even falls within the expectable that he criticized the John Burgee and Phillip Johnson’s 80s proposal for the London Bridge City Phase 2 competition, an uninhibited neo-Jacobean copy of the Palace of Westminster by the Thames, because of its ‘superficial Gothic revival’. More disconcerting is that he combines this moment of clarity with the defense of Terry Farrell’s bland PoMo, or the strident, excessive, pop postmodernism of John Outram -that genius never sufficiently vindicated- and his ironic revision of the historical styles that he longs for so much. Maybe he’s being ironic, too. A fine sample of English humour, most probably.

As The Architects’ Journal recalls, these thirty years of outrage (on the architects’ side) have been moderately mitigated by the now King’s more nuanced stance of recent years. In 2009, in his speech on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the RIBA, he qualified his words of the 150th, and assured that he was sorry if he “somehow left the faintest impression that I wished to kick-start some kind of ‘style war’ between Classicists and Modernists; or that I somehow wanted to drag the world back to the eighteenth century. All I asked for was room to be given to traditional approaches to architecture and urbanism.” A decade earlier, Galiano concluded, also conciliatory, that, in the face of the exaggeratedly angry reaction of architects, “some of us who have felt a certain annoyance at the triviality of these princely judgements… today look at them with a mixture of tenderness and respect.” However (Sorry, Charles, Luis), writing from my ivory (paper) tower of connoisseur and fan of urbanism-fiction, I can’t but regret this cowardly tepidness. Although perhaps not as much as American visual fiction, British fiction has granted us, prospectivism-buffs with some very interesting examples of historicist fantasies: who wouldn’t be in awe at the vision of a London designed entirely by Christopher Wren, as in Charles Cockerel’s 1841 tribute, magnficently and hyperbolically portrayed in Gerald McMorrow’s unjustly forgotten film Franklyn (2008) -not to mention  Cockerel’s megalomaniac ‘The Professor’s Dream’ (1848). Or even, a step below, who would deny the low-key steampunk charm of W. J. Wintle’s visions in ‘Life In Our New Century’ (Harmsworth Magazine, 1901) or Montague B. Black’s in ‘London 2026 AD -this is all in the ir’ (1926), with its pseudo-beaux art blocks and flying vehicles brought to the big screen by Maurice Elvey in High Treason (1929)?

For many years, the only redeeming element of ex-Queen (as John Cleese would put it) Elizabeth’s scion has been his surprising green agenda, which he would develop, again, in a book sponsored by Architectural Design: Architecture & the Environment: Hrh the Prince of Wales and the Earth in Balance (1993) and, more recently, in Highgrove: An English Country Garden (2015). This is important for other reasons, I know, and I agree. But, if you ask me, I’ll admit that the first thing that comes to my mind are excitingly out of date images of a retrofuturistic London drawn by the Schuiten brothers –more Luc than François- turned into a vertical garden of neo-Gothic and Beaux-Artian skyscrapers taken over by vegetation.

—Luis Miguel Lus Arana: “La Locura del Rey Carlos”.

Arquine #103: Gardens, Spring 2023.

Happy New Year! (Klaus-style)

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…And when they found our shadows grouped ’round the TV sets
they ran down every lead. They repeated every test
                                      They checked out all the data on their lists and then,
the alien anthropologists admitted they were still perplexed.

But on eliminating every other reason for our sad demise
They logged the only explanation left:
‘This species has amused itself to death.’

(Roger Waters: Amused to Death, 1992)


Late as usual, but later than ever: Have a Happy New Year. Not from Andrew Tate.

The Art of Living (Inside)- An Homage to Saul Steinberg for Arquine #92

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Today would have marked Saul Steinberg’s (Râmnicu Sărat, June 15, 1914 – New York, May 12, 1999) 108th birthday, so, since I haven’t posted anything since January, I thought this could be a great occasion to do so, with this little homage I sneaked in Arquine #92: Common Spaces (Summer 2020). There are many Steinberg cartoons I would like to homage in one way or another, but on top of that list has been Steinberg’s ‘Double Up’ (or ‘Doubling Up’), which I’ve been wanting to draw a version of for ages -proof of this can be found in my sketchbooks.

‘Doubling Up’ was one of four cartoons that Steinberg published in Architectural Forum from February to May, 1946. It was also one of several riffs on the same motif by the architect-turned-cartoonist, as shown in the section ‘As Steinberg Sees Us’ of the catalogue for the exhibition ‘An Exhibition from Modern living’ (1949), which included a few similar examples. After years sitting in my sketchbook, the unfortunate lockdown of 2020 finally gave me the opportunity to dust it off and make my ‘starchitectural’ version of it (apparently, someone at The Architectural Review made the same connection). You can also compare Steinberg’s graceful line with my cluttering mess. On the upside, there’s the habitual ‘who’s who’, for those amongst you prone to playing the game of finding all referents. An English version of the text published alongside the cartoon in Arquine’s ArquiNoir section can be found below these lines. Unlike the usual texts published in my column, which tend to deal with timeless topics, this one is quite attached to the time it was written, so it felt a little weird to re-read it now (even more so, because I rushed the translation into English -so, be kind). Oh, well.

[And here, a pic of the cartoon and text as originally published].

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These days of mandatory agoraphobia (I am writing this in mid-April, 2020) are revealing particularly propitious for the proliferation of meaty reflections on housing, the home, the urban habitat or, in short, the house: those cubicles that these days, possibly more than ever before in History, define our living environment, an artificial habitat whose shortcomings also become now more apparent than ever. Unfortunately, dear reader, you won’t find any of that here. For thoughts, either high or deep, but nonetheless substantial, I’ll forward you to more reliable columnists and articles such as ‘The House as an Extension of the Body’, by Sabrina Gaudino (paradoxically published in such an unexpected location as the website of the Architasa Valuation Company) that tackles, without specifically referring to it by name, the problem of the Existenzminimum, and its transformation from ‘lowest admissible standards’ to ‘standard size of your typical dwelling’ after its introduction in Architecture’s official discourse during the interwar period1.

In my case, by mere professional deformation, these times bring another type of material to mind. These confinement days have also sparked the proliferation of a common joke among cartoonists, regular practitioners of (voluntary) confinement and remote working, is that quarantine does not differ too much from our normal (ha!) life. Used to seeing the computer screen as our almost exclusive window to the outside world, with Twitter being our default mode of interaction with other human beings, we are perhaps the best-trained individuals to cope with this situation. After all, we have spent our whole lives getting ready. If anything, this is, on the contrary, a period of feverish social activity, with the creation of online ‘challenges’ aimed at them that grant them an unusual prominence: they benefit from the increased attention they receive now that ordinary mortals find themselves trapped in a situation which, for them, is just their daily routine: a) at home, and b) plugged to social media 24/7. Here we have, for instance, the #SixFanArts, or, more relevant to this article, the #CoronaMaison, a challenge where French illustrator Pénélope Bagieu asks the participants to draw, on a template designed by Timothy Hannem, what they envision as their ideal living space to spend the lockdown2.

As I said, being the old-man-at-heart that I am, reviewing the thousands of entries of the latter that have been produced to this day immediately brought to mind the numerous, well-known, fictional cross-sections of apartment buildings with which the architect-cartoonist par excellence, Saul Steinberg, seasoned his collaborations with several various magazines in the 1940s. Most of them collected in the second volume compiling his cartoons, the very appropriately baptized The Art of Living, from August 1949, would be included just a month later in “An Exhibition for Modern Living” (Detroit Institute of the Arts, September 1949), consolidating the figure of Steinberg in architecture’s cultural scene. Among all of these, the best known would surely be ‘Doubling Up’, the second of a total of four cartoons published in Architectural Forum between February and May 1946, which would go down in history for inspiring Georges Perec’s La Vie, Mode d’Emploi (1978). The latter was a further development of Perec’s earlier ‘l’immeuble’ (Espèces d’espaces, 1974, pp. 57-61), where he, following his usual modus operandi, made a list of all the elements that appeared, in this case, in Steinberg’s drawing. The cartoon depicted a typical New York block whose sectioned facade let the reader see the multitude of apartments behind it, and the rooms they were subsequently divided into. Here, the draftsman-architect was portraying the subdivision that large pre-war apartments had suffered during the post-war depression, and, if anything, it stood out amongst other similar cartoons by the same author for its spatial complexity and degree of baroquism; a trait, on the other hand, none too unusual in a draftsman whose passion for congestion is sometimes covered up by his economical, linear and abstract style -which he indulged into with passion, here. The drawing showed what appeared to be 8 dwellings, subdivided into 22 rooms adjacent to the façade, with several additional spaces opening up in the background. However, what captured the attention of the viewer was the customization, bordering on ‘horror vacui’, in places, that each of its occupants had carried out in their small private plot, making Steinberg part of that genealogy which, from Le Corbusier to Koolhaas (and somehow, James Wines), rejoices imagining the infinite microverses stored in those uniform, stacked units that make up the blocks of the modern city.

‘Double-up’ introduced, however, a twist in this lineage. With its crowded spaces, Steinberg seemed to wonder to what extent this personalization (humanization?) of urban housing was possible when the living space suffered a drastic reduction in its usable area (and volume). These last few weeks have made this a timelier question than ever, in an age of ‘micro-apartments’ and ‘loft-type houses’ that are actually single spaces which, if they have no interior divisions, it is because, otherwise, they would become unlivable. Moreover, on these days where TV shows leave their sets and enter the homes of their regular collaborators via Skype, what that other window is showing us is a reality made of small cubicles painted white and scantily filled with different combinations of a few pieces of furniture; an IKEA galaxy which, in turn, has perhaps introduced a perverse twist in the dream of modernity, revealing itself as a true international style. At least, in my case, the piles of books in my den hide the reality behind them, helping make my cartoonist confinement practically imperceptible.

This better end before I exhaust my reserve of drawing materials, though.

[1] Gaudino di Meo, Sabrina. ‘La Casa como Extensión del Cuerpo’. Arquitasa, April 1, 2020.

[2] I would encourage readers to dig into them by introducing the #coronamaison hashtag, either on Twitter or Instagram, or click here, here, and here, to see my own contributions to the series.

Klaus: ‘The Art of Living (Inside)’. Arquine #92: Common Places, Summer 2020.

Saul Steinberg, ‘Doubling Up’, first published in Architectural Forum, February 1946.

Happy 2022!

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So, late as usual, let me wish all of you a happy New Year. This cartoon was started within a reasonable time in advance of January 1st, but some crazy times at the Klaus household have prevented it from being finished till yesterday. So much so, that I was seriously considering to throw it again in my virtual drawer of unfinished stuff. However, that would make it the second time in a row (I did the same last year), so I decided to upload it on this Epiphany day which has recently become an unusual anniversary (Capitol Riot, anyone?). If someone peruses the blog, he may notice that this drawing seems like a follow up on the one from two years ago, but a slightly abrupt one at that. The explanation to that hiccup is that, if you feel there’s a piece missing between both, that is because there actually is one. More on that later.

Anyway, enough with the chit-chat: Happy 2022, everyone! Make the best with what you’re given!

The Man Who Would Be Rome. Albert Uderzo (1927-2020)

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Today would have been Albert Uderzo’s 94th birthday, had it not been for the unfortunate heart attack that took his life in March 2020, at the ripe old age of 92. On this occasion, I thought it would be timely to recover this column from my section ‘Arquinoir’, published in Arquine magazine last Autumn, which was intended both as an homage to the artist and his oeuvre, which had a great influence on my fascination both with comics and with architecture. The text featured here is an extended version of the published one, also originally in Spanish.


Perhaps the number has not been greater than in any other year, but the particular situation we are living in these months has possibly made us more aware of the losses that this fateful 2020 is leaving behind. In our particular corner of reality, there have been several of these that have orphaned us in one way or another, with some of them being particularly close to some of us for varying reasons. In my case, I will especially miss Vittorio Gregotti, who shaped some of my favorite corners in contemporary Venice, Michael McKinnell, whom I will always never be able to thank for creating the background for my strolls across the Boston City Hall plaza, and another Michael, Sorkin, passionate draftsman, brilliant creator of paper architecture, and, even more interestingly, architecture critic for The Village Voice in the 1980s.

Personally, however, there are two losses which, even if originating outside our airtight ecosystem, have affected me possibly even more, due to their foundational role in my life (and career). The latest, which took place in late April, was the decease of Marcos Mundstock, ‘the voice’ of comedy-musical Argentinian ensemble Les Luthiers, who stand at the top, either in a draw or even slightly above the Monty Python, in my personal Mount Olympus of humor. Marcos, whom I met through my TV set on a Summer late night while still a pre-teen opened my eyes to a world of double-entendres, word play, and obscure referents, whose comfort, for better or worse, I never managed to exit. The other one, which happened a month earlier, takes me even further back, to a time when this language that gives me so much satisfaction was still foreign to me in all its forms. By chance, the peculiar (lack of) judgment of a close relative -God bless her- made an Asterix album, Asterix and the Soothsayer (1972) reach the hands of my babysitter. In 2008, with the occasion of the Dan Dare and the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain exhibition at the Science Museum in London, Jonathan Glancey noted the extent to which Frank Hampson’s comic had helped shape the interests and careers of an entire generation, from Stephen Hawking and Ridley Scott to Nigel Coates, Laurie Chetwood or Norman Foster. It’s difficult to overstate how many not just passions, but vocations Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny contributed raise with their series about a tiny village of indomitable Gauls who still hold out against the invaders. Their seminal influence on several generations of comic authors from multiple latitudes is obvious, but the sorrowful reactions of a multitude of historians, art historians, archaeologists, and others to the death of Uderzo suggest that his capacity to inspire career paths might be, at the very least, comparable to that of the English Pilot of the Future.

Since his sad and premature death halfways through the making of the twenty-fourth adventure in the series, Astérix Chez Les Belges, there has been a unanimous agreement on the irreplaceable shadow that the enormous creative genius of the René Goscinny (1926-1977) had cast on the series would have over it, and the unsurmountable loss that his disappearance would mean. It would be banal to insist on the brilliance of the scripts that this Frenchman of Jewish descent produced for this series: except for the first album, which, while still funny, lacks some of the depth of later ones, the series’ stories are a lesson in writing in the broadest sense of the word. Goscinny’s stories were always impeccably constructed, holding the reader’s attention through a sense of suspense which is kept all the way through. Asterix’s adventures were always agile but also eventful, action-packed but also filled with witty dialogues full of irony, replete with interesting, perfectly constructed characters whose distinctive personalities were sometimes developed in the lapse of just a couple of panels… Goscinny’s genius became particularly apparent with his ability to create stories that worked on several levels: as a thrilling adventure, full with humor and empathy, for the kid, and as sharp social satire for the adult, who could find incisive comments on reality in them: the out-of-control development of the coast and the destruction of the landscape by tourist resorts in Le domaine des dieux (1971), the free market and the perils and absurdities of late capitalism in Obelix et Compagnie (1976) perhaps stand out amongst the multitude of allusions, explicit or veiled, to an endless list of historical events and contemporary trends. Asterix is a series that can be reread on numerous occasions over the years, and the reader will get something different each time. I cannot remember how many times I have reread my collection (the latest, right before writing this text), and every single one I discover something I hadn’t noticed before.

However, this should not outshadow Uderzo’s essential role in the shaping of all these virtues. Again, any praise for Uderzo’s drawing is unnecessary due to its redundancy. Of course, Asterix was not the first thing he drew; in fact, the Gaul’s adventures were the last in the rather extensive production of this cartoonist, who by 1961, when the first one started its serialization in the pages of Pilote, had already produced several series. One of his longest achievements was, actually, a pseudo-realistic comic series, Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure (1959-1967), created together with Jean-Michel Charlier. Asterix, on the other hand, was the latest in a genealogy of humorous adventure comics by the Uderzo-Goscinny tandem that included Jehan Pistolet (1952-1956), Luc Junior (1954-1957), Benjamin et Benjamine (1957-1959), and, of course, Oumpah-Pah (1958-1962), a series that many of us outside France discovered with fascination later than Asterix, only to find out with horror that the success of the Gaul had forced the authors to abandon it after only five albums. Uderzo would ultimately be the main agent in making all the inherent qualities of Goscinny’s scripts shine on the comic page, with his precise and detailed drawing style, his ability to create distinctive characters and especially for caricature -what would have been of Le Domaine des Dieux without the character of Caius Saugrenus covered with the unmistakable features of Jacques Chirac?- and, last but not least, his ability to create fictional but credible historical backgrounds.

Combining a few morphological and structural elements of Celtic domestic architecture, such as the pitched roofs covered with hay, wood bearing structures and masonry or wooden board walls, Uderzo generated a well-stocked typological variety for his fictional Gaul villages and cities, ranging from the most basic one, simply covered with a gabled roof, or those one with a circular outline and an ellipsoid roof, to the open façade of Ordenalfabetix fish shop, Cetautomatix’s two-floor house/blacksmith’s workshop house-workshop, or the tree house of Assourancetourix, the bard (the tribe’s blackbird), standing somewhere in between a birdcage and a cuckoo clock. Still, it is perhaps on the urban scale that Uderzo’s mastery is truly overwhelming. It is a visual treat to behold the aerial views of the Gallic village, or some of its streets, in the half-page panels that usually open each episode, or in special pages, such as the diagram that illustrates ‘The Battle of the Village’ in La Zizanie (1970), as well as in all the variations on the Gaul village theme created by Uderzo. In this category belong fictional settlements such as the mountain village of Moralélastix in Asterix et le Chaudron (1969), or the ‘twin villages’ in Le Grand Fossé (1980), with its two halves separated by a sunken imitation of the Berlin Wall, but also the fictitious recreations of the Celtic ancestors of some present time cities. Here, the prime example would be Lutetia, in its original location in the present Île de la Cité in Paris, which Uderzo recreated with its bridges, streets and houses adapted to the language of his version of Gaul architecture. All of them vividly illustrate Uderzo’s ability both to design seductive historical speculations, and to visualize them in urban vistas that the reader could imagine him or herself strolling through.

Of course, the History and Architecture of antiquity had been prominently featured in the world of comics long before Asterix: there we have Prince Valiant (1937-), by Hal Foster (no, not the author of The Anti-Aesthetic: the original one), a paradigmatic example of the syncretic reconstruction of the past that Hollywood has accustomed us to. Postwar bande dessinée would correspond with series such as Les Timour (1953-1994), by Sirius (Max Mayeu), and especially Jacques Martin’s Alix (1948-), which would definitely kickstart the development of the historical genre in bande dessinée, a genre still in full force which would introduce an archaeological attitude in the representation of history. This is a tradition that Asterix would help to create, in which Uderzo would achieve the strange feat of making antiquity both more spectacular and more accessible at the same time. In a time with no Wikipedia, Google Images, or Movies on Demand, Asterix was the first window to classical times for many children, which they discovered through its meticulous reconstructions of great architectural ensembles: the Acropolis of Athens and the Altis in Olympia (Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques, 1968), the necropolis at Giza (Astérix et Cléopâtre, 1963-64), Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon (L’Odyssée d’Astérix, 1981), and, first and foremost, Rome.

In the adventures of Asterix many of us discovered the Eternal City portrayed through its crowded and grimy streets, its tabernae, the Subura neighborhood (Le Cadeau de César, 1974), but also in impressive aerial views showing a historical center which, unbeknownst to us, was not that of the year 50 BC. Often presented to the reader through the buildings that stood on either side of the Palatine Hill, the Rome of Asterix introduced some of us, for the first time, to the Circus Maximus and the Flavian Palace (Le Domaine des Dieux, 1971). On the other side, we could see a crowded Roman Forum (Les Lauriers de César, 1972, Asterix chez Rahàzade, 1987), complete with the house of the Vestals and the Basilica of Maxentius -and Constantine, yes- at one end. On the other, the buildings on top of the Capitoline Hill stood in the background, with the tabularium and the three temples that complete the head of the Forum at its feet. In between these, the trained reader could identify the two basilicas, the Temple of Divus Iulius, ordered to be built by Augustus shortly after Caesar’s death, or the Arch of Septimius Severus, erected when good ol’ Julius had been dead and buried for almost two and a half centuries. On the right, behind the Curia Iulia, which César would never see finished due to some fatal health problems originated and concluded in the Curia Pompeia, one could glimpse a good chunk of the Imperial For a, of which César only knew, still under construction, the one that bears his name.

The reason behind these anachronisms is that Asterix’s Rome sprang from the most complete documentary source that Uderzo could have access to in an era -I insist- before infographic recreations, Mary Beard’s documentaries, and the History Channel: the impressive model of the Imperial Rome (Plastico di Roma Imperiale) commissioned by Benito Mussolini to archaeologist Italo Gismondi in 1933. Based in part on the Forma Urbis Romae drafted by Rodolfo Lanciani in 1901, Mussolini commissioned it for the 1942 EUR exhibition, which marked the two thousandth anniversary of the death of Augustus. Exhibited since 1950 in the Museo della Civiltà Romana, the model, which would be continuously expanded by Gismondi until 1971, showed the city as it would have been looked, approximately, in the times of Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. Its appearance, as Frédéric Montmayeur points out, is less that of late-republican Rome than that of the Aelian-Antonine era (that of Hadrian) with all its surfaces covered in luxurious marble .

But this is, at the end of the day, irrelevant. On the one hand, because Asterix does is not intended as a treatise on classical architecture, but rather a work of fiction aimed at captivates the reader’s imagination. It is just because of the excellence of its workmanship that this has not only been achieved at a very high level, but also that it has managed to do so with several generations of them. On the other hand, because despite its historical inaccuracies, many of those (us) who today devote our working hours to teaching the architecture of this period first learnt of the configuration of a Roman Castrum, what insulae were and the fact that, apparently, they were prone to fall down, or the structure of a prototypical domus (incongruously presented, yes, as an exempt building), with its atrium, impluvium and peristyle, its cubiculae, triclinium and tablinum, in the pages of an Asterix album (Les Lauriers De Cesar, 1971, in the latter’s case). In them we saw, for the first time, the interior of a Roman theater, an amphitheater or a circus, as well as multiple and anachronistic architectural speculations: from the fictional palace of Julius Caesar (who we would later learn was never an emperor) to a ‘classical’ version of the Palace of Nations at Geneva (Asterix chez les Helvètes, 1970), archaic service areas overlooking the Roman roads, road motels, ‘drive-in’ amphitheaters… A fictional vista within a fiction, we were even presented with a glimpse of a possible but undesirable future of the Gaul village, fully surrounded by a touristic development in a beautifully terrible aerial view; well, actually two, since Uderzo took the time to draw both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ stages, shown in the comics as a spectacular but heartbreaking model. Reality itself.

Rest in peace, master.

“El Hombre que fue Roma. Albert Uderzo (1927-2000).” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. Campos de Juego. Autumn 2020. Nº 93, pp. 10-11.

Below is the shorter version of the text as originally published (in Spanish) in the magazine:

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