San Carlo

7:00 AM

Francesco Borromini, San Carlino, 1646

Bernini or Borromini? Borromini or Bernini? Jake Morrissey spends the majority of his book, The Genius in the Design, detailing the rivalry between these two great men. With their architectural achievements serving as his evidence Morrissey makes the argument that people are either Team Borromini or Team Bernini. And I have to admit that although I love Bernini’s sculptures, Borromini has won my architectural heart.

Four words. The San Carlino Dome. Although the entire church is absolutely stunning, there is something awe inspiring about Borromini’s dome. I opted to show you the dome as if you were standing in the middle of San Carlino’s floor, gazing upwards. In the image, you can see the columns that surround the dome in addition to the curved walls that ripple likes the waves of the ocean.

Borromini started working on San Carlino in 1634, after he left projects for the Palazzo Barberini and St. Peter’s due to “artistic differences” with Bernini. In true Borromini fashion, he agreed to design the plans for San Carlo free of charge.

If you were to describe San Carlino in three words, I would use moment, white, and metaphoric. Borromini despised corners, so in all his works when he could, he beautifully blended the walls to make their seams appear nonexistent. By alternating columns, walls, and bulbs throughout the church, he gives the building breath. San Carlino breathes with the dome serving as heart of our building turned lifeform.

Not a decorating fanatic, Borromini opted for white stucco everything. The stark white walls and details of the church bring out Borromini's architectural brilliance.

As for evidence of Borromini’s talents with metaphors let’s return to his dome. The honeycomb design of the dome itself parallels the Barberini (Pope Urban) family crest which contains three bees. Borromini references bees in order to pay homage to both Pope Urban and the Barberini family their monetary contributions to San Carlino. In the center of the dome, with the circle encompassing the triangle and the dove inside the triangle, Borromini’s references the circle to show the eternal life of God, the triangle for the holy Trinity, and the dove to show the holy spirit. Borromini’s attention to detail and symbology demonstrates his deep devotion and faith.

I teared up a little bit, looking at the dome of San Carlino, marveling at Borromini’s ability to make his architecture appear so effortless. His lines are not forced or aggressive, but supple and easy-going. Borromini does not force his architecture on you, he lets the viewer walk right into it. He doesn’t rely on elaborate coloring, materials, or theatrics to win you over. His craftsmen does all the talking, and I admire that.

I wish we still took as much pleasure, and care in the construction of buildings today. Can you imagine if instead of looking to construct a building in the cheapest way possible, we gave architects creative liberty to define a place? Today we complain about feelings of placelessness, and this explains why we got lost in the Borromini’s work because he makes us nostalgic for a sense of place. He gives us more than a building. Borromini gives us a part of our humanity back.

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