Friday, 21 January 2011



THE LIFE OF THE CITY by Thomas M. Dietz

This densely written and well-researched book is unlikely to adorn the shelves of most practicing professionals. This is unfortunate, as The Politics of the Piazza offers a unique analysis of a subject that should be a matter of concern to all practitioners—the purpose and origins of the piazza, a component of urbanism that, although particularly significant in Italy, remains recognizable throughout the western urban tradition.

Canniffe surveys the history of Italian urban space and public architecture primarily as an intellectual history framed through four epochs. He begins with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the early middle-ages, moves to the Renaissance, then the Enlightenment, and concludes with our current period of relative architectural confusion.

Canniffe contends that the principles of Roman urbanism prevail throughout Italy due to the nation’s shared remembrance of ancient Rome. The Roman forum was designed for a political purpose and its form persists in the piazza throughout Italian history and in all iterations of political life. But for Canniffe, the piazza is not, and cannot be seen as independent from a wider architectural program. Indeed, it is both the piazza as an adaptation of the Roman forum and the concurrent use of Roman imagery that have shaped the piazza as an urban expression in Italian history.

Canniffe’s account begins with an analysis of the ancient forum, followed by an account of the rise of Christianity. The dominance of the church structure in piazzas signified the political power of the Church, which represented the sole source of sacred and secular stability in an otherwise politically fractured Europe. Aesthetic theories of order derived from platonic idealism began to emerge in recognition of the piazza’s role as a place of social stability. Notably, public art programs mingled iconographic cycles with idealized urban landscapes that controlled the perspective of the viewer.

During the Renaissance, architects came to understand that the urban landscape could be ordered in a similar manner. Buildings began to be designed in relation to the piazza, simultaneously controlling the perspective of the citizenry through architecture and elevating the grandeur of these spaces. Later, piazzas became momentary nodes along the vast urban vistas of the Baroque period, shifting urban expression from isolated places toward the larger city. This shift placed a greater emphasis on individual freedom and public movement over the singular experience of the spaces themselves, a move that anticipated the Enlightenment as a precursor to contemporary city planning.

The transition to modernity proved particularly tumultuous in Italy. While the currents of industrialization and nationalism desired a pragmatic urban expression for a newly unified nation, Italians were also wrestling with a rising global interest in monumental archaeological programs. These two competing views—one toward the future of the new Italian state and the other toward the achievements of the Roman past—persisted through a succession of rapidly changing governments. Despite the ephemeral nature of the various governments in the nascent Italian nation the piazza remained an enduring urban form.

Canniffe finishes with appraisals of recent work by architects including Aldo Rossi and Carlo Scarpa, before arriving at a series of concluding remarks on the contemporary Italian piazza. Though delivered as passing remarks, the author shows little love for Cesar Pelli’s Citta della Moda proposal, skewering a contemporary architect in a way seldom seen in serious academic works. Canniffe also criticizes the remnants of postmodernism.

In his conclusion, the author notes that his studies were bookended by two Achille Occhetto speeches delivered in Italian piazzas. While each speech possessed the spontaneity and immediacy of a traditional political rally, they were nonetheless well-choreographed events irrevocably tied to our contemporary multimedia culture. So, having endured another shift in human history, piazzas remained the staging ground. Canniffe ends with a few brief musings on the state of the piazza in a world of technological gadgetry and virtual landscapes that are increasingly personalized and transient; and with that, Canniffe asks us to consider whether the human experience may finally move in a direction that outstrips the need for the piazza. Given the trajectory of Canniffe’s book, one expects him to answer these questions in the negative.

This book, the first of the Ashgate Studies in Architecture series, successfully merges architecture with urbanism into a serious and refreshing academic reflection worthy of review by all professionals engaged in the creation of public space.

A Minnesota native, Thomas M. Dietz received his education in the history, theory, and criticism of architecture and art at MIT. He is currently an architect in Chicago.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Postmodern Palimpsest: Narrating Contemporary Rome

The Postmodern Palimpsest:

Narrating Contemporary Rome

Saturday 26th February 2011

A one-day interdisciplinary conference

University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

Rome is privileged in its relationship with Western history, constructed over layer after layer, from Roman to Fascist ‘empires’: in this sense the city constitutes the urban palimpsest. In postmodernity, the sprawl, the latest metamorphosis of Rome, overlaps with historical images of the capital to form a shapeless and fragmentary identity. The aim of this conference is to probe this latest level of the city, to discern the new and the old, and the links and reflections of one onto the other

Keynote Speakers:

Eamonn Canniffe (Manchester)

Dr. John David Rhodes (Sussex)

For further information and to register:

Provisional Programme

Saturday 26th February 2011

Humanities Building, University of Warwick

09.00 – 09.20 Registration and Coffee

09.20 – 09.30 Conference Welcome and Introduction


09.30 – 10.30 Panel One: Re-Mapping the Ecclesiastical City

Chair: (tbc)

James Robertson (Manchester) – ‘Ecclesiastical Icons: Defining Rome through Architectural Exchange’

Marco Cavietti (Rome) – ‘Roma intra muros, Roma extra muros’


10.30-10.45 Tea/Coffee Break


10.45-11.45 Panel Two: Landmarks of Modernity

Chair: (tbc)

Allison Cooper (Colby College) – ‘Builiding a Symbolic Capital: The Monumental Planning of Modern Rome’

Keala Jewell (Dartmouth College) – ‘A Postmodern Gaze on the Gazometro’


11.45-12.00 Tea/Coffee Break


12.00-13.00 Keynote 1: Eamonn Canniffe (Manchester School of Architecture)


13.00 – 14.00 Lunch


14.00 – 15.30 Panel Three: Representations of Fragmented Cityscapes

Chair: (tbc)

Fabio Benincasa (Duquesne) – ‘L’odore del sangue da Parise a Martone. La mappa assente della Città Eterna’

Carmelo Princiotta (Rome) – ‘Dario Bellezza e la Roma dei poeti’

Marina Vargau (Montreal) – ‘Raccontare Roma dopo Fellini’


15.30-15.45 Tea/Coffee Break


15.45 – 16.45 Panel Four: Reinterpreting the Urban Map

Léa-Catherine Szacka (UCL) – ‘Roma Interrotta: A comparative historical analysis of the 18th century urban project on display (1978 to 2008)’

Richard Hayes (Cambridge) – ‘Las Vegas by Way of Rome: the Eternal City and American Postmodernism’


16.45-17.00 Tea/Coffee Break


17.00-18.00 Keynote 2: John David Rhodes (Sussex)

18.00-18.30 Roundtable Discussion


18.30-19.30 Wine Reception and Buffet


The conference is organised by Dominic Holdaway and Filippo Trentin

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