Photo by Gavin Ashworth
Encyclopedic Palace/Palazzo Enciclopedico/Palacio Enciclopedico/Palais Encyclopédique or Monumento Nazionale. Progetto Enciclopedico Palazzo (U.S. patent no. 179,277)
Born in 1891 in Guardiagrele, Italy, Marino Auriti came to the United States sometime between 1923 and the 1930s. He worked as an auto-body mechanic, but architecture was his passion. Over the course of three years, he executed a model, built on a scale of 1:200, for an ambitious construction called the Palazzo Enciclopedico (Encyclopedic Palace). Had it been realized, it would have stood 136 stories or 2,322 feet, and spread across sixteen city blocks in Washington, DC, just slightly smaller than the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai—completed in 2009, the tallest man-made structure in the world, at 2,716.5 feet. In his highly technical six-page statement of purpose, he wrote: “This building is an entirely new concept in museums designed to hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow, . . . everything from the wheel to the satellite.” Auriti’s own code of ethics is articulated in transfer letters along the lintels of the seven-tiered building, including “Forgive the First Time” and “Do Not Abuse Generosity.” The model was exhibited twice in Auriti’s lifetime, encased in a pyramid-shaped vitrine that he built. Thirty-three years after his death, this piece inspired the theme of the 55th Venice Biennale “The Encyclopedic Palace,” curated by Massimiliano Gioni in 2013.
Valérie Rousseau, “Encyclopedic Palace,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.