Urban Narratives and Emotive Landscapes: The Architectural Artistry of Gelo

This critique examines the works of New York-based artist and architect Gelo, exploring how his architectural art transforms urban spaces into narratives of human emotion and memory. Through an in-depth analysis of selected works like ‘Living in LaGuardia,’ ‘Nolli Manhattan,’ ‘Red Sails in the Sunset,’ and ‘my oasis,’ we delve into how Gelo’s integration of architectural forms with light, shade, and cultural symbols articulates a profound connection between personal experiences and the built environment.

Gelo, a seasoned New York-based artist and architect, skillfully merges over two decades of architectural expertise with a profound narrative ability, transforming architectural forms into immersive stories of human experiences. This critique explores how Gelo’s selected works, including ‘Living in LaGuardia,’ ‘Nolli Manhattan,’ ‘Red Sails in the Sunset,’ and ‘my oasis,’ embody the emotional and cultural landscapes of urban environments, weaving together memory, place, and architecture.

Living in LaGuardia Gelo, 2023

‘Living in LaGuardia’ vividly captures the dynamic essence of LaGuardia Airport, intertwining the immediate environment with the broader urban context. Aldo Rossi, an Italian architect and theorist pivotal to the architectural movement known as Neo-Rationalism, championed the idea that cities serve as the collective memory of their people, preserved and reflected through architecture. Gelo’s portrayal of LaGuardia resonates with Rossi’s belief, encapsulating both the bustling activity of the airport and the quieter, introspective moments of travelers—making visible the layers of public and private memories. ‘Nolli Manhattan’ extends this exploration into urban memory through its intricate mapping of Midtown Manhattan, where the selective coloring and texturing of areas highlight personal and collective memories associated with these spaces. Kevin Lynch, an influential urban planner known for his work on the imageability of cities, argued that urban environments are comprehended through distinct visual forms. Gelo’s artistic rendering of Manhattan through a Nolli map-like approach invites viewers to navigate and experience Midtown as a deeply imageable, memorable space.

Studies for the San Cataldo cemetery Aldo Rossi, 1975
Nolli Manhattan Gelo, 2023

In ‘Red Sails in the Sunset,’ Gelo uses the motif of red sails to symbolize the commencement of new beginnings and prosperous journeys, inspired by the Russian tradition of the Scarlet Sails celebration. The piece draws on architectural symbolism to convey a narrative of hope and aspiration. Christian Norberg-Schulz, a Norwegian architect and theorist known for his work on phenomenology in architecture, developed the concept of genius loci, or the ‘spirit of place,’ which posits that each place has its own unique character and identity that profoundly affects the human experience. By incorporating the vivid symbolism of the red sails into the architectural form, Gelo evokes this spirit, suggesting a strong sense of place and cultural narrative that enriches the viewer’s understanding of the architectural structure as more than just physical form.

Genius Loci (book cover) Christian Norberg-Schulz, 1981
Red Sails in the Sunset Gelo, 2022

‘my oasis’ is a homage to the ancient city of Shibam in Yemen, often referred to as the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ for its iconic high-rise mud-brick buildings. Through this artwork, Gelo not only draws attention to the architectural and historical significance of Shibam but also underscores the role of art in preserving cultural identity. This approach to cultural preservation through architectural forms aligns closely with the ideas of Jan Assmann, a German Egyptologist known for his theories on cultural memory, which emphasize how objects and writings from the past can bridge generations, preserving shared history and identity. In ‘my oasis,’ Gelo uses architectural representation as a tool for cultural remembrance, inviting reflection on the preservation of world heritage sites and their meanings within contemporary contexts.

my oasis Gelo, 2022
Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination (book cover) Jan Assmann, 2011

The manipulation of light and shadow plays a crucial role in ‘Living in LaGuardia’ and ‘Nolli Manhattan,’ where Gelo captures moments of depth and emotion within architectural spaces. Louis Kahn, an American architect whose philosophy placed great emphasis on the functionality and aesthetic of light, believed that light could materially and spiritually transform a space. Kahn’s ideas resonate with Gelo’s use of light and shade, which not only define the physical contours of buildings but also enhance the emotional and narrative dimensions of the spaces depicted. Through this technique, Gelo invites viewers to perceive architecture not just as structural entities but as emotive environments, filled with stories waiting to be told.

National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh Louis Kahn, 1962-83

Gelo’s works stand at the intersection of architecture and narrative art, presenting urban spaces not merely as physical entities but as repositories of human emotion and history. His adept use of architectural knowledge, coupled with a deep sensitivity to the stories embedded within urban forms, allows his art to engage with and enrich the contemporary discourse on urban experience and architectural representation. By weaving together theoretical perspectives from architects and theorists like Rossi, Norberg-Schulz, and Kahn, this critique underscores Gelo’s innovative contributions to understanding the complex relationship between people, their memories, and the spaces they inhabit.

the Silent Memory Gelo, 2022
Author: Casey Coyle