Piazza Signorelli, Cortona
Which comes first: urban space or the buildings? It appears to me that the space that became a piazza in medieval cities was somehow sacrosanct and the buildings were built in response to that. In misty memory people knew that the place was important, being for trade, or community, or religion, or something combining all three. As the city was built, it was understood that it must be kept open, for people of the entire city.
Now, in later times, piazzas were planned with extensions of cities, and as such have an antiseptic feel, cold and lifeless. It is the organic and ancient and mystical piazzas of medieval cities that have all the appeal.
In the US, we have really nothing like that. Perhaps in New England with the village green. But even the horror and honor of the Civil War has not led us to preserve sacred open space as cities sprawl.
So the urban design challenge is: can we create meaningful open spaces in our cities? Sure there are parks, holdovers from the Victorian Era thinking that greenery can improve people as civilized beings. But what about real urban space? Will we ever have the architectural density – and the right proportions, materials, and design – to frame a space so as to give it character? Or is it a lost cause? And “piazza tourism” is as close as we can get?
On the technical side, notice how steps dissolve into ramp.