The City of Public Spaces


  • Lucio Valerio Barbera


“Every landscape appears at firs as a vast chaos, leaving one free to choose the meaning one wants to give itâ€; is thus how Claude Levi-Strauss, last mid-century, seems to be speaking of nature but, instead, he is speaking of the nature of cities. Modern cities. And with no uncertainty he sets his reasoning along the line of those schools of thought and poetry that, for at least two centuries before him, have observed and interpreted the change of the form and function of the city and swept away ancient meanings, devoted to the search for new ones with the greatest clarity. Abbot Laugier was born in 1713, exactly at the time of the triumph of absolutism, when the process of devastation of public and collective functions of medieval urban democracy had ended, whose death bells had already rung during the Renaissance. The integration, even symbolic, of public spaces – religious, assembly and commercial – represented by the often adjacent squares of the cathedral, the civil functions and the market, had been broken up by the emergence of central – what we would call state-powers – to which all citizens had become subjected – excepting the few, very rare, Peers, who were lavishly maintained by the same central power. As always in the history of human settlements, once meanings are dissolved, functions reduced or eliminated, in the city that expands or contracts – in any case, transformed – the ancient spaces and forms remain. They, the precise moment of the definitive defeat of those reasons that had generated them, seem to reveal the autonomous personality of their tectonic language and the permanent emotional force of their space as if they were not the end point of the special courses of history, but proto-types emerging from the deepest layers of the human condition: that is, as if they were urban types – as we architects say – contemplated ab origine in the vast tables of the “typologies†of the city and architecture, a true “a priori synthesisâ€, as some fatal teachers of the School of Rome tried to teach us. Thus, their original weight of meanings, forms and functions, lost, the typologies (codification) of public places immediately lent themselves to constituting an archive of systems in the composition of the great scenery of the modern city, now so vast and so devoid of clear messages to induce Laugier, in fact, to call to us: “il faut regarder une ville comme une forêtâ€. And later, Francesco Milizia took up that call completing it: “A city is like a forest, where the distribution of a city is like that of a park. It requires squares, crossings, streets in large numbers, spacious and straight. But this is not enough; the plan must be designed with taste and with variety so that order and transgression, eurythmy and variety may be found together; here the streets fan out in a star pattern, there a trident, another a spiral, others fan out, parallel further out, everywhere trivi and quadrivi in different locations with a multitude of piazzas of all different forms, sizes and styles. The greater choice, abundance, contrast and even some disorder reigns in this composition, the more it will be picturesque and will contain lively and delicious beauties. (Principi di Architettura Civile, 1781)â€.




How to Cite

Barbera, L. V. (2017). The City of Public Spaces. L’architettura Delle città  - The Journal of the Scientific Society Ludovico Quaroni, 7(10). Retrieved from



L'Architettura delle città-The Journal of Scientific Society Ludovico Quaroni