Brion Vega Tombs

Scarpa uses a combination of views, sometimes truncated, sometime including ‘borrowed landscapes’, of architectural forms and elements, of textures and surfaces, of changes in density and perspective, to create a poetic, non-verbal narrative that is made up not just of visual architectural form and material, but of sound and touch as well. Below is an account of a visit by the architect and sound artist Thomas Lindner:


A visit to Brion Vega cemetery.

Entering the gate of the original village cemetery I follow a path covered with interlocking concrete blocks. As I will find out later, the pavement leading from the entry to Scarpa’s porch was changed long after the completion of the project. The original layout shows a simple pebble layer, which can be imagined as a much more stimulating experience. The crunching gravel would have dissolved the harsh, dumb clicking of the hard road surface into a softened wider spectrum of prickling frequencies.

When entering what Scarpa called the propylaeum this effect must have been enormous as the almost double storey opening to the Brion complex amplifies the impression of entry by an immense hall effect reflecting from the two tall concrete walls and the high ceiling due to its hard, smooth surfaces.   According to Scarpa, this effect underlines the significance of the gateway, introducing the spiritual “path as architects love pathways, [and] there are many, many pathways in Italy”.
I walk up the three steps to the raised platform looking out on the garden, which can only be viewed through two large intersecting circles forming part of the cloister, which is positioned orthogonally to the incoming path.

At this T-crossing the way is split in two and my first route takes me into the private part of the Cemetery called un pavilion pour la méditation.
The space in the cloister is not even half the width of the propylaeum and on approaching another gate my shoulders are almost rubbing the adjacent walls. The ceiling height is also reduced and the sounds I emit are reflected instantaneously from the flanking walls and ceiling.

  The cloister is paved with big concrete plates framed by steel, which are loosely positioned on their supports. When I step on them they resonate, tilt and clunk, further enhancing the feeling of narrowness. The impression of increasing claustrophobia comes to a halt in front of a type of door I have never seen before. It is made of a rectangular sheet of glass that is attached at the top to a stainless steel tube. The ends of the tube, which are fixed to steel cables leading upwards, guide the tube along a vertical indentation in the concrete wall. As the custodian explains, the glass flap must be pushed downwards to give access to the continuing path behind the glass screen. When opening it the squeaking mechanics of the counterweights, the scratching of the ends of the steel tube along the concrete groove in unison with the ephemeral sound of the glass plate first dipping, subsequently bubbling, into a shaft filled with water, transformed my perception of the gateway. Once over this threshold, the counterweights on the outside of the facade pull the door back into its original position. As Scarpa’s genius cut the sheet of glass 10 centimetres short at the bottom, the water on the glass accumulates at the bottom rim, trickles back into the slit of the floor and accompanies my further journey like a gentle xylophone playing for a little while.

I leave the cloister and step onto a footbridge, which seems to hover over a water surface under the open sky. Here to my surprise the concrete planks are fixed and do not tilt. The pond is flanked by three tall surrounding walls, which open up in the direction of the village.

View of the village from the platform under the Meditation Pavilion

A becalming scenery is offered to the visitor, reminiscent of “borrowed landscapes” in Japanese garden design. Within this setting there is the quarter-hourly bell ringing of the church, whose tower can be seen on the horizon. Its ringing, which summons the inhabitants to gather together, connects the timelessness of the sacred cemetery area with the centre of the village.
The occasional ringing of the bell is interspersed with the constant rhythm of the water dripping from the central drain located in the middle of the pond in front of the meditation pavilion.Here it is noteworthy that it is not the mere presence of water which contributes most to the restful meditative effect, but the particular sonic experience it offers. The “borrowed soundscape” from the village church (far) and the dripping water (close) are similar in volume and blend gently into one another.

The general architecture and the smooth water surface allows the tiniest sound to travel easily over long distances. The slightest utterance, generated either by myself, the drain, or little animals living in the pool is bounced over the smooth water surface like a flat pebble, thrown back by the smooth, upright walls and is gathered under the wooden hat of the pavilion, which covers the platform on which I sit. In this architectural setting even a single passing fly causes a sonic sensation.
The way back leads through the cloister passage accompanied by the ritual performance of the glass-water-door which bids its dripping farewell. I pass the T-crossing and soon hear the whisper of grass under my feet.

The garden reveals itself with its central arcosolium, a bridge covering two family tombs.

In front of the bridge there is a miniature well encased in a concrete vessel. Its bubbling water, which can scarcely be heard, flows gently along a little canal feeding the pond of the meditation pavilion.

In the other direction it flows rowards the tombs.

Apart from this all sounds are muffled by the grassy meadow, which does not allow much sound to travel.
Most interesting of all, the surrounding walls of the outer L-shape in this part of the cemetery are inclined by 45 degrees.

Unlike with the walls enclosing the pond, all the sounds in the garden, which are conducted through the air, are not reflected back on these leaning structures but straight into the ground, adding to the hush of the space.
Leaving the quiet centrepiece of the arcosolium shading the two tombs and heading towards the second exit I descend from the raised gazon (lawn) on an inlet staircase.

While stepping down I discover the inversion of a major chord. The unusually proportioned steps and odd arrangement suggest that Scarpa might have tuned his architecture.

I reach the door into the Chapel across the water on some stepping stones. Turning the shrieking door handle, still outside, its reverberation suggests a vast internal cathedral space.
Opening the door I encounter a humble chapel with fascinating shadows and light reflections, which bounce off the surface of the pool of water and stream through the slit windows splashing watery textures onto the bare concrete walls and the wood-panelled ceiling painted over in black. These moving spotlights are accompanied by indirect light, which enters through a reversed funnel hovering over the altar.

The holy-water font is covered with a movable lid. To open it I move a little lever.

The incredible screeching noise fills the space again. The response of the space is extraordinary given its small dimensions.

Easier but no less impressive is the process of opening the two tall side doors, which are constructed of a steel frame filled with plaster blocks – an ancient Venetian technique rediscovered by Scarpa. The noise of the door hitting the stopper allows a further assessment of the spatial response. The sound is sonorous but brief and introduces the outside area, which is filled with cypresses.

I would like to experience a funeral in this space because it was planned for communal use.
During a service, while all the other doors are closed, two heavy gates can be opened at the back and bottom of the altar location. Due to their weight and width they generate a sonorous rubbing, which is released into a sounding vibration and disappears as soon the tiny sounds from the surrounding water surface are reflected into the reverberating space of the chapel.


Leaving the chapel and finally approaching the second entrance I encounter a movable wall, made not of glass but of concrete, six centimetres in width, mounted on bearings. This gate stands open most of the time as the effort needed to open it is considerable. I open and close it about eight times before I leave the cemetery because the pleasure from its sound is mind-boggling and resists comparison with any other sound. It makes me imagine the sound that must have occurred when Jesus was resurrected and pushed the stone away from his tomb.

Thanks to Thomas Lindner (Listening Architects) for the text. Used with permission. Images from Flickr (Creative commons, used with permission)

edited 22 November, 2015 by Mr. Administrator

Associated Practices


Rowan Moore (2014) argues that it is a terrible misconception to think that architecture is a visual art. To the extent that you do indeed see architecture, it is still not a purely visual experience. When you look at something, you interpret it, you make associations, find memories evoked, gain a greater or lesser sense of the physical efforts and skill that went into making a structure. Architecture does not work with one sense alone, but with synaesthetic hybrids. Such synaesthetic hybrids can be understood as narrative environments.

Philip Johnson thinks that it is the modern perversion of photography that freezes architecture to three dimensions or, in some buildings, to two dimensions. However, Johnson argues, architecture is surely not the design of space, certainly not the massing or organizing of volumes. These are auxiliary to the main point which is the organization of procession. Architecture exists only in time.

At the dawn of the 21st century, Charles Jencks (2003) perceived the beginnings of a new paradigm emerging in architecture. It related, Jencks thought, to a deep transformation going on in the sciences, which, in time, will permeate all other areas of life. The new sciences of complexity, which concern such notions as fractals, nonlinear dynamics, the new cosmology and self-organising systems, have brought about this change in perspective. We have moved from a mechanistic view of the universe to one that is self-organising at all levels, from the atom to the galaxy. Illuminated by the computer, this new worldview is paralleled by changes now occurring in architecture.


Derrida, J. (1986). Point de Folie – maintenant l’architecture. Available from 8/DerridaPointdeFolie.pdf [Accessed 1 June 2017].

Jencks, C. (2003). The New paradigm in architecture. Hunch. Available from [Accessed 8 October 2011].

Johnson, P. (1965). Whence & whither: the processional element in architecture. Perspectiva, 9/10 167–178. Available from http://www.jstor.or/stable/1566915 [Accessed 8 June 2011].

Moore, R. (2014). A masterclass in spatial awareness. [Sensing Spaces : Architecture Reimagined – review]. Observer, 26 January, 33. Available from [Accessed 30 January 2014].

Edited on 1 June 2017 by Allan parsons

edited 18 November, 2018 by Mr. Administrator

This art form has blurry boundaries, merging with music at one end of the spectrum (musique concrete, electroacoustic composition) and with visual arts in art film, video and installation. It is most often encountered as installations. Nowadays a lot of visual artists are creating sound art (often very badly – cf. Bruce Naumann at the Tate Modern (a personal opinion))

edited 5 October, 2015 by Admin

Associated Terms

Agency, de-centring the subject, situating the subject and the distribution of agency across a network

From the perspective of narrative environment design, the interest in ‘agency’ relates to structuralist and poststructuralist approaches, as well as Peircean semiotics, which de-centre the sovereign subject of the modern epoch, but without effacing human agency. Similarly to Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, C. S. Peirce is as much interested in situating subjectivity as he is in de-centring it. Among Peirce’s most significant achievements is that of exhibiting human beings as somatic, semiotic, and social actors caught up in processes over which they have very limited control and about which they have only fragmentary, fallible, and (often very) distorted understandings (Colapietro, 2007).

It is this set of shifts (de-centring and situating the human, without erasing human agency) which partly underlies the use of the terminology of ‘actant’ and ‘actantiality’ in respect of how narrative environments act, terms which have a high degree of resonance with Peirce’s concept of the ‘interpretant’.

This enables the recognition, important for narrative environment design, that agency is not necessarily, or even usually, a property exercised by specific people. Instead, agency can be distributed across time and space, between or among sub-individual and supra-individual units, and over types of entities, such as humans and nonhumans (Ahearn, 2007).

Paul Kockelman (2007), for example, theorises agency in terms of flexibility and accountability, on the one hand, and knowledge and power, on the other. His theory seeks allow one to study the distribution of agency in and across real-time social, semiotic, and material processes.

Laura Ahearn (2001) offers the following provisional definition:  “Agency refers to the socioculturally mediated capacity to act.” She comments that two concepts that are often assumed to be synonyms for agency, I.e. “free will” and “resistance”, must immediately be ruled out if agency is to be understood as referring to the sociocultural capacity to act. Ahearn is particularly concerned to understand language use as a form of social action.

Some sociologists prefer to use the term “practice” or “praxis”, the latter drawing on and redefining the Marxist term, perhaps restoring some of the senses attached to the term in Ancient Greek distinctions among praxis (doing), poiesis (making) and theoria (reflection on universals), in addition to, or instead of, “agency”. The most influential theorists within sociologically-oriented practice theory are Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens.

Shaun Gallagher discusses the phenomenological ambiguity involved in the sense of agency. The phenomenological distinction that needs to be considered, he suggests, is between pre-reflective (or non-reflective) and reflective aspects of self-consciousness, a distinction that applies to our actions and to the sense of agency.

He further notes that reflective self-consciousness can be further distinguished into ‘introspective reflection’ and ‘situated reflection’. Introspective reflection can be a reflective consideration of whether I should engage in one or another action (prospective deliberation), or a retrospective evaluation of what I have done already (retrospective attribution or evaluation). Such considerations may involve a metacognitive stance in which the subject might reflect on whether she is taking the right strategy to accomplish her goal, or she might ask whether what she intends to do (or has done) is consistent with her beliefs, desires, and her other activities. This kind of reflection may be relatively detached from current action.

Situated reflection, in contrast, is embedded in an ongoing contextualized action. It involves the type of activity that I engage in when someone asks me what I am doing, or when I am deciding what is the next step in my ongoing course of action. In situated reflection, I do not necessarily frame my answers to such questions in terms of beliefs, desires, or strategies. Rather, I may reference the immediate environment and what needs to be accomplished.


Ahearn, L.M. (2001). Agency and language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 28–48.

Ahearn, L. M. (2007) Comment on Kockelman, P., Agency: the relation between meaning, power, and knowledge. Current Anthropology, 48 (3), 375–401. Available from [Accessed 9 December 2016].

Colapietro, V. (2007) Comment on Kockelman, P., Agency: the relation between meaning, power, and knowledge. Current Anthropology, 48 (3), 375–401. Available from [Accessed 9 December 2016].

Emirbayer, M. and Mische, A. (1998). What Is agency? The American Journal of Sociology, 103 (4), 962–1023. Available from [Accessed 16 October 2015].

Gallagher, S. (2012). Multiple aspects in the sense of agency. New Ideas in Psychology, 30 (1), 15–31. Available from [Accessed 10 October 2015].

Kockelman, P. (2007). Agency: the relation between meaning, power, and knowledge. Current Anthropology, 48 (3), 375–401. Available from [Accessed 9 December 2016].

edited 9 November, 2020 by Mr. Administrator

Associated Terms in context

Framing Narrative

in Narrative environment design

Framing narratives in narrative environment design have a lot in common with framing narratives in textual and verbal storytelling, so here is the narratology definition to start off:

A framing narrative contains a second (or more) embedded narrative(s), for which it provides a context or setting. Sometimes the framing narrative will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends,  other times it will simply be present at the beginning of the narrative, acting as an introduction, sometimes it reappears as a linking device between a series of embedded narratives. The framing narrative “sets the scene” for the embedded narrative(s), giving us a context in which we can read and interpret the text.

A framing narrative may frame a single sub narrative; “we were sitting round the kitchen table when D started talking in a low, fearful voice: “I was staying at X’s house many years ago when…” etc

Or it may frame many: The 1001 Nights

If in the first example D had said: “I was staying in this very house many years ago when…” and the whole narrative had been a story about the house itself (perhaps about persistent haunting, for example), then both the framing and the sub narratives would have shared to some extent the same focus and the same storyworld; when this is the case we say the framing narrative is a meta-narrative.

Often framing comes as a set of nesting (we say Matroushka Doll) narratives: The British Museum has a narrative of power and authority told through the architecture and and the use of external space; then inside, the collection as a whole tells a story of imperialism, adventure and scholarship, which itself is broken into many sub narratives of particular instances. Within this context, a particular exhibit may be framed by a particular curatorial discourse, and itself consist of or contain sub narratives emerging from the objects themselves or the way they are related to each other.

In narrative envionment design, as this example suggests) the framing narrative may not just be of a different order from the narrative(s) it encloses, it may be of an entirely different kind, in a different medium: a curator will create a framing narrative around a collection of object or images, which in themselves tell stories, or are curated to imply stories through ordering and juxtaposition. This framing narrative may be dispersed through the exhibition in texts on display, and/or contained in the catalogue; it might be told in part or entirely through sound or lighting or the use of space; all of this is already framed by the physical characteristics, volumes and location of the building and the stories they tell.

Or landscaping may tell a framing story about the buildings it contains, e.g. Scarpa’s Brion Vega Tomba, where spatial layout, acoustics, borrowed landscapes and soundscapes weave a story around the narrative of the key architectural moments,

Or a city brand narrative may contain or frame a multitude of localised sub narratives.

edited 4 September, 2018 by Admin