Sunday, January 31, 2010

8. Pienza - The Model Renaissance Village

Pienza is a rare example of Renaissance town design. Often described as the "ideal city" or the "utopian city",it represents one of the best planned of Renaissance towns, where a model of ideal living and government was attempted, based on the concept of a town able to satisfy the needs of a peaceful and hardworking populace.

Pienza represents the so-called utopia of the "civitas" cherished by utopian thinkers for centuries.

Pienza's location in the center of the beautiful Val d'Orcia, a wonderful and untouched valley, helps the town to embody the fundamental principle that humanistic architecture attempted to incorporate - the balanced relationship between man and nature.

The center of Pienza was completely redesigned by Pope Pius II, He transformed his birthplace into a model Renaissance town. The architect Bernardo Rossellino was commissioned to build a Duomo, papal palace and town hall, and the construction was completed in three years.

Access to the town is achieved trough two arched portals, one on the west and one on the east. Notice cars and trucks do not enter the village at all!

Corso Rossellino, a pedesrtian walkway no more than 20 feet or 6 meters wide, connects the two portals. You can reach the other end in about five minitutes. This is from where I suspect, the New Urbanisism movement's famous 5-minute walk concept was derived. Notice the diagonal paving stones that make the street look wider than it is.

The narrowness of the walking street causes it to be bathed in cooling shadows under a hot Tuscan sun.
Many little side streets branch off to the sides from Corso Rossellino which is the main spine of the village.

Soon one reaches the heart of town as the Corso Rosellini suddenly widens out to form the centrally placed Piazza Pio II. Notice too how the pedestrian street changes direction, cleverly reducing the the feeling of it being one long narrow hallway.

The piazza is surrounded by the important buildings of the town, the duomo or cathedral, some palaces , and a tall tower and a well.

The Duomo dominates the piazza. This of course is where the villagers will gather as a community to celebrate social events.

The piazza is also graced with a loggia, or covered space open to the street. This concept is often used in Italian urban design an provides a temporary less exposed retreat in hot or rainy weather. It also functions as a portico to the municipal offices.

Notice the tower is here attached to a non-religious building indicating the competition for power between church and state. 
City officials seem to have always believed that they were more important than God!

A restaurant on the piazza? Not a bad idea at all and one that was copied so many times over all over the world.

Simple store fronts sometimes reveal surprising interiors.

Like this one inside a pottery shop.

A few more flowers like these would make this vilage less austere.

Yes, here they are in small square down a side street.

Passing through Palazzo Piccolomini one is greeted by these palace garden and the spectacular view!

Lessons from Pienza:
Provide your development with all the characteristics of a true urban village.  
1. A Pedestrian only core and spine with defined portals or access points.
2. A central piazza with its associated important social structures.
3. Shops along the spine and main eating places around the piazza.
4. An easy walk to anywhere in town.


1) Man_giu 2)BagnoV 3) 4)Islandsun 5)nzdart 6)Unknown 7)kekoa 8)Colonialvoyage 9)nccangio 10)Max Pierfederichi 11)Bepix 12)Villa Pogiano 13)Colonialvoyage 14)Skytraveller 15) 16)Max Pierfederichi 17)tony1946 18)truk.cxom 19)Islandsun 20)Skytraveller 21)Danila Agnanioli 22)specialKRB 23)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

7. People Love an Easy Walk

In villages of the old world, people walked everywhere, to work, to market or store, to school, to church, and to eat with their friends. They had contact with others along the way. Easy physical contact with other people kept them from feeling isolated. Historically, people not only knew their neighbors but everyone else in town, the simple result of walking their village.

Image above shows children walking home from school in an urban setting.
What happened to the fun or drama of chance meetings along the way? What happened sudden rainstorms, the wind in your hair or the pebble in your shoe?
These issues are truly important to consider and re-introduce to the built environment.

Image above: Sentimental yes, but learning to find their way in life!

Cycle Paths
When the school or library is just too far to walk to, bicycles are great and take up very little space.
It is so much cheaper and easier to provide for cycle paths than for cars. Get a copy of "Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure: Guidelines for Planning and Design".

Note how narrow an effective a cycle path needs to be.

But, people love cars too!
Yes, cars are fun to drive. Some are beautiful to look at. Men of the world have fallen in love with seductively curvaceous sheet metal that their wives will let them keep as an allowable mistress. This is a personal favorite, the Alfa Romeo Spider. Yes!

The exhilaration of speed is an added bonus. But tell me where can I still find a winding country road that is still fun to drive without the fear of being flagged down by a state trooper? Perhaps in the countryside just outside the village?
Cars represent personal mobility. One can get from one place to another choosing ones exact destination, the range and speed. One can carry items too large to carry by hand. Automobiles also represent personal expression. This is a key element of how drivers choose their vehicles. In a world where home ownership is out of reach for many people, the automobile becomes the biggest investment one will personally make. The desire to have the car reflecting one's personality through color, design or brand, is a near-inevitable result: the sense of personal freedom and independence. Even though there is increasing pressure on auto makers to provide smaller electric or hybrid vehicles, the need to buy and use cars is not likely to disappear.
Before we look at how cars should be accommodated in new projects, let us next examine just how bad planning has let automobiles destroy village life.

1.Provide your development with a pedestrian core where even small children are safe to walk.
2. Provide cycle tracks to more distant locations.

Images: 1)emergentstructures 2)thedailygreen 3) 4)cars4fast

Friday, January 29, 2010

6. The Proximity Circle - A Great Lesson from Mykonos

Finding protection in a village setting meant that living units had to be built in close proximity to each other. The term “village” simply denotes a collection of villas, whereas the term “urban village” means that the spaces for all the other functions necessary for communal living are included and provided for. The denser the fabric of the buildings that make up a village, the closer the available functions that can be placed are within an easy walking distance from home. People love walking short distances. Think about the after dinner stroll looking into shop windows, or a promenade on the town pier or village green.

World famous Mykonos, in Greece where everything is within walking distance. The most cosmopolitan of all Greek islands, it attracts so many visitors from all over the globe, including large numbers of artists and intellectuals.

The proximity circle is so simple and yet so important and oh so easy to be overlooked!
All the benefits of living in a true urban village is based on the close proximity of working, eating, buying, selling, playing, schooling and assembly or meeting spaces to your home.

Successful villages do not break the proximity circle by leaving out even one of the above components. Henry Ford simply did not understand or even care that his wonderful invention would enable the wide-spread destruction of the true urban village as a building block of our civilization. Destruction of the proximity circle has resulted in isolation and loneliness for millions of people who are trapped in city suburbs. We were born with legs and not with wheels. Walking always was and should still be the measure of proximity and the way to build what people love..The easy walk and not the easy drive is the golden rule!

My painting called "View of Mykonos".
See others at

My painting "Mykonos Flower Seller"

My painting "Mykonos Fisherman"

A Great Lesson from Mykonos (and of all true villages)
The easy walk and not the easy drive is the golden rule!Publish Post
Place every facility within a short and easy walking distance from home.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

5. Village Walls and Towers

A true urban village lifestyle is the way most people prefer to live. As soon as groups of primitive people found themselves in peaceful accord, they built a village together. Whether the agreement between them was verbally communicated or not, it brought a measure of safety and  peace. People agreed to stop fighting, to protect each other by banding together against a common enemy and to work together on shared objectives. They agreed to trade skills, agreed to market and trade produce at a common marketplace or in speciality shops. Sometimes the “peace” they sought came about by accepting the protection of a leader in return for work and subservience. Even an agreement to be subservient brought a measure of peace which in turn, brought an opportunity to specialize and to profit.

In ancient cultures the safety wall was built first as here around Takht-e Suleyman in Azerbaijan.

The solid walls of Monteriggioni in Italy provide a sense of protection as do the tall walls of St. Malo in France below.

The tall towers of San Gimignano were built by warring families within the same village. They would hurl stones and even burning oil from their lofty perches down on anyone who came too close. In society the taller your tower,the greater your power and prestige. Paris has its Eiffel tower, Venice has its Campanile and Mr Trump has his Trump Tower. Even small villages have their towers, each one a symbol of prestige and power.

Tower Power and Prestige. 
Does the image below look familiar? Yes, it's all been done before.

Build your own towers, your villagers will love them and your competitors will hate and sadly perhaps even go so far as to attack them! 

1. Furnish your development with a sense of security, symbolized by an entry arch or gateway.
2. Provide a sense of power and prestige by making even one structure way taller than the others.

Images: 1)latis-exeter 2)chaffeurs-italy 3)corsaires-malounis 4)Panoramio 5)Andy B 6)ecicalla77 7)Sonyfoto

4. Earth, Air, Fire and Water

Many philosophies have used a set of archetypal elements that consist of the simplest essential parts with which all things are made.The Greek Classical Elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Aether) persisted throughout the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, greatly influencing European thought and culture.

In the hilltop village of Eze in Provence, the drama of the play between the elements easily spring to mind.
One classic diagram (below) has one square inscribed in the other, with the corners of one being the classical elements, and the corners of the other being the properties. The opposite corner is the opposite of the these properties, "hot - cold" and "dry - wet". Of course, some of these qualities hold true in a Mediterranean climate; those living further north would be a lot less likely to describe air as being hot, or earth as being dry. Images are from the Hotel Chateau Eza.

Eze is perched high on a hill with a spectaurar view of the Mediterranean. It is without doubt one of the world's unique and beautiful places. The sun burns down from the sky, Often airy clouds go swirling by. Narrow pedestrian lanes are hemmed in by towering stone walls only to reveal explosive views of the ocean far below.

Stone walls and lanes embrace pedestrians, holding them safely bound to terra firma. Just a few building materials create a rich and varied maze of village spaces, leaving the visitor breathless and spellbound.

Finally and out of breath, you are there; at the Hotel Chateau Eza. And what's more, it's time for lunch!

Ah, our table is ready!

Where does the sky end and the ocean start? The climbing pedestrian is finally released from the earthen maze below and lifted up half-way to heaven.

Lessons from Eze:
1.Use the classical elements of earth, air, fire and water to provide drama to your projects.
2. Keep the suspense going by using narrow lanes, archways and coutyards.
3. Just a few basic building materials can be masterfully woven into visually rich and varied environment.

1)Hotel Chateau Eza 2)Andre Lubeck 3)Wikipedia 4)Allia.5)bue_quartz 6)jeffwilcox 7)Dario Pozzi.8)Bluguia_Pabl0 9)Sven Lindner 10)Geevee