Campidoglio: Michelangelo’s Masterpiece, January 25th, 2010

In Rome, we walk through the Forum and to Circus Maximus. Our path leads us to the Campidoglio, the secular masterpiece of the great Michelangelo Bounarrati. As I rise up the long steps to the piazza, I realize his genius. From the bottom of the hill, two great statues flank the blue sky beyond, sentinels to the governments’ affairs. My feet carry me upward further , and I see a grounded building, its yellowish façade and large windows peaking over the edges of the steps. Marcus Aurelius, the great emperor of Rome, comes slowly into view, his large horse caught in a noble pose. Again, I continue further but with these steps the capitol building looms immensely above, as if springing from the ground before my eyes. Its double story base comes into full view, supporting the yellow façade that so humbled rested upon the ground just moments before. I’m carried into the elliptical piazza, and I turn around, following Marcus Aurelius’ gaze out between the two sentinels, seeing beyond trees and domes of the cherished city of Rome.

Michaelangelo focuses on the entry sequence to the piazza, giving to the Capitol Building an immense amount of importance and dignity, making it rise taller than it seems, and creating a sense of power and repose.

All Roads lead to Rome. January 23rd, 2010

After visiting the towns of Siena and Sam Gimiagno, we drive to Rome, the setting sun dancing across the forested landscape. Italian music blares from the bus’ speakers,and its as if we are in a movie, the music so passionate, overwhelmingly strong, consuming our thoughts, as soft curved hill and forest fleet by one after the other. Massimo, our bus driver, sings along, hands leaving the steering wheel fleetingly to act like a conductor to a great symphony. He laughs, eyes covered by reflected glasses. Those in the front of the bus egg him on, saying, “no, yes, no!” to the songs he chooses, some Italian, some English, some a combination of both. I sit in my seat, only listening, only seeing, hoping this movie never ends. We look onward to the path to Rome, and see the landscape so surreal, it could not possibly exist in real life. But it does. The road continues, and the movie goes on.
Reflecting on Firenze and Venezia , January 22nd, 2010
After a few weeks on World Tour, I’ve taken a greater interest in the design of large scale public spaces, including the Italian piazzas, which are essentially an open gathering space surrounded by typically three to four story buildings with colonnades (columned porches).

I’ve recently discussed with a colleague the similarities between college campuses and the Italian piazzas. These places are exciting because they focus on people; you can see and be seen. Students can be caught complaining about their college classes; most students also claim to love college. College is not only exciting because of the intense learning and challenge of it, but its exciting because of the density of people and the stimulation of the environment. College campuses exhibit a consistent architectural image that allows people to focus on the activity and other people using the space, forgetting the commercialism and media that dominate the traditional landscape.
Napoleon refers piazzas as the “living room of Europe.” In Europe, the pizza remains a place for everyone, for families, and for community activities.

From my studies, I have realized that piazza design must begin at the zone scale, including other elements outside of the piazza itself. It is important to think of the destinations people are traveling to. The life and vibrancy of a piazza is created from the borrowed energy of those merely passing through. These pedestrians act like a heart beat, allowing the other parts to become healthy and thrive with activity.

The Uffizi Gallery and the Piazza San Marco
In both Florence and Venice, I’ve had the chance to observe two architectural episodes involving the connection of a piazza to a body of water. The first, Piazza San Marco in Venice, is a large piazza formed by colonnaded structures on all sides. From the piazza, flanked by a library on one side and the famous Doge’s Palace on the other, a linear part of the piazza continues, connecting to the water. Two columns stand erect, symbolic of a gateway (historically serving as a place to behead those transgressing against the state). Between the two columns, St. George’s Church stands perfectly waiting, receiving the gaze of those in the piazza.

Piazza della Signoria in Florence also exhibits a similar response to water. This piazza serving as a place for the seat of the town, is connected to the Arno River via a linear piece of piazza, flanked on both sides by the colonnaded Uffizi Gallery, which served as offices at first. The Uffizi Gallery, where it turned to surround the linear piazza space, becomes an arched gateway, connecting those viewing from the Arno to a direct view to the Palatzo Vecchio.
Although seemingly unimportant, the striking similarities make me believe that such an architectural approach is a naturally design or that it feels psychological correct. For instance, these linear piazza links serve as channels, addressing the human understanding that water must be controlled and gaurded. To present too large of a gateway, invokes psychological disaster, or more tangibly, physical disaster from flooding. Its as if the buildings will psychologically hold the water back, but in reality, they are merely facades remaining penetrable by mother nature. Spatially, each serves as a contraction, heightening the grandeur of the expansion of both the water body and the piazza.