Lighthouses USA
Domus 799, Milano


The lighthouse is borderline architecture, a structure standing where land and sea meet, with the clear purpose of making this event visible. As has happened in religious buildings, various towers can be erected subsequently on the same spot and maintain the identical name. A lighthouse is not a simple tower, a centrally-planned structure featuring a more or less complete enclosure which acts as an observatory. Instead, it is, above all, the opposite: a location that ascends in order to be sighted. The specific nature lies in this cross between the looks of seeing and being seen.
The lighthouses on the East Coast of the United States, erected over a span of 200 years, present an interesting typological range. On the northern Atlantic seaboard are the low towers placed on raised promontories, then there are lightweight structures for sandy bottoms; in the South the slender towers are truly marine columns. Initially, they burned whale oil, then lard and then kerosene; now they are electric. The first electric lighthouse was the Statue of Liberty in New York. But the crucial revolution occurred in the early nineteenth century, when France's Fresnel invented the eponymous lens. Thanks to it, you can focus the light of the lamp to a tiny point, thereby intensifying it enormously and making it visible over huge distances. Together with the steam-engine and radar and sonar, this invention represents the greatest progress in modern navigation. Up until 1852 America 's lighthouses were operated by the Treasury Department; afterwards, the Lighthouse Board took over. In 1910 the Bureau of Lighthouses stepped in, which was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1939. Currently, diverse private associations conserve and improve them.