With public space or areas we usually mean roads, streets, squares, beaches and parks, but also free accessible government buildings and public institutions are part of public space.
The moment public areas have been formed they have been a platform for gathering people and groups from different origins. It is a place where people can meet socially and exchange ideas.
Public spaces play a social as well as a political role in society and are the mirror of this society. (Carr et al.,1992)
Creating such places has always been a point of discussion from the beginning. Especially since the 20th century public areas went through major changes. It is therefore that their role and existence in the future are in the 21st century more than ever a point of discussion. These discussions have started with the arrival of modern times. In this period there have been realized different public spaces which each in their own way have given a contribution to these discussions.
There are some creations which are very successful, but also some projects which are less prosperous.
Within modern time we can distinguish different periods of style and of movements, of which the post-modern style is a good example. Piazza d’ Italia in New Orleans, Louisiana, designed by Charles Moore, is such a public space project of post-modernism.
From the beginning until the very present there have been different discussions in architectural society as well as in public circles about the role of the Piazza d’Italia as a public area.
The Piazza knows some restrictions within the way the design has been realized, which causes that people do often feel that the square cannot be experienced as a public space.
In this essay there will be researched what causes the hidden problem of the Piazza d’ Italia. The square often gives an isolated and estranged impression toward its users. The reason for this can have different causes. That is why it is important to research with this essay why en how the Piazza gives the impression of isolation and strangeness and also why the visitors do not experience this square as a real public space. Ultimate goal is to find out on which parts there have been discussions in the past and, more important, during the post-modernism period and if these discussions are still up to date with the present 21st century.
The structure of this essay is as follows: within this research it is important to know what postmodern architecture really means. In the first part we will get into detail by looking at the beginning of this period, the characteristics and to what extent this period differs from the modern architecture.
The second part will then describe the Piazza d’ Italia. First of all we will look at the ideology and ideas of Charles Moore about it’s role as a public space within society, referring to his essay: ‘You Have To Pay For The Public Life’ from 1965.
The next step is describing the original design of the Piazza and subsequently the most recent result of the design.
In the third part of the essay we will, according to the book ‘Architectural Positions’, compare the recent Piazza d’ Italia with the various themes and essays as written by different architects. We will look into the differences and similarities between the Piazza d’Italia and the theories in the book ‘Architectural Positions’.
In the final part of the essay there will be the conclusion which will summarize the result of this essay and where the conclusions about the problem of the Piazza d’Italia will be designated.
In this part of the essay we will look into the meaning of postmodernism as a style within architecture. Also it is important to know how postmodernism has taken shape, its charactistics and in what respect it differs from modern architecture. While answering these questions we will use the book ‘Architectural Position’ and the Western history of architecture.
Postmodernism is a style within the architecture which has formed around 1960 as a response to modernism. Modernism is characterized by very straight, functional designs, without any ornament. According to reviewers this led to a certain extent of uniformity.
Postmodern architecture however characterizes itself by its free shapes, fanciful details and references to the past. Postmodernism is since the eighties on the rise and has an important position within the modern-day architecture. According to the Dutch philosopher Rene Boomkens there are four historical and philosophical stages of modernity which have eventually have led to postmodernism:
“The first one starts in the mid-nineteenth century, when new inventions, scientific breakthroughs, and the rise of industry inspired amazement, but also a distinct sense of ephemerality” (Avermaete et al., 2009).
“The second stage, between the two world wars, the liberating and progressive potential of modernity was strongly emphasized. Scientific and technological advances inspired profound confidence in the perfectibility of society and the progress of culture – generally meaning Western culture. Modernity was experienced as distant from the past and aiming at the future” (Avermaete et al., 2009).
The third stage of modernity had a more diffuse character. It showed both regressive and progressive tendencies and reached its apex in the late 1960s, with the sexual revolution, and the Paris protest of May 1968 and the Amsterdam Provo movement. One key feature of this stage was the emergence of the welfare state and mass culture, resulting in growing economic prosperity and social mobility, but also in an increasing process of individualizations” (Avermaete et al., 2009).
The fourth stage is postmodernity.
The difference between modern and postmodern architecture can essentially be reduced to the use of ornaments, embellishment, local specialties and rich details from which the modern architecture has taken a distance. But we do see them in postmodern architectureâ€¦â€¦
Piazza d ‘Italia
Regarding this research we will take a look in this chapter at the Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, designed by postmodern architect Charles Moore.
In his essay: ‘You have to pay for the public life’, 1965, Charles Moore starts a discussion about the role of Disneyland as a public space. Charles Moore describes Disneyland as a very important and successful place, offering possibilities to the changeability of ‘public environment’. He describes how in this fantasyland full with dreams, stories, small and large dramas, visitors get the possibility to recreate, watch, and be watched in this area. Also Charles Moore deems the success of Disney is due to the fact that the designers of Disneyland used historical buildings and public places to recreate a world with which visitors can identify themselves and a space which they can create as their own.
The fact that visitors have to pay a fee at the entrance to get into Disneyland, guarantees that Disneyland as public space will stay clean and tidy and that there is no place for junks and vagabonds, according to Charles Moore in his essay.
Also Charles Moore discusses in his essay the rise of privatizing modern American cities, like floating groups of islands, which can only be reached by car, and how these cities miss the re-imagination of the public qualities which Disneyland creates.
During the seventies Charles Moore tries to learn a lesson from his admiration for Disneyland and to use the positive qualities in his design for Piazza d’ Italia in the centre of New Orleans in America.
Piazza d’Italia is an urban public square in the centre of New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States of America. It has been designed in 1978 as a social gathering centre for the Italian community, which lived there in large numbers during the seventies.
Charles Moore’s design consisted of a city block which contained an already existing high office tower and around this block he designed a single-floored building where different activities, publicly as well as commercially attached to the American Italian community, were housed .
In the middle of this building there was a round square with lots of decorative motives and ornaments, with a wide range of influences from Egyptian to Art Deco. From the design we can easily conclude that Charles Moore, like in Disneyland, uses historical references to stimulate a feeling of re-imagination with its visitors. Already from the beginning Piazza d’Italia, as an urban public space, was confronted with problems regarding further developments. It appeared that it was impossible to find public or private investors who would be prepared to pay for further development and realization of the square. The result of this shortcoming of investors led to a totally different Piazza d’Italia of the year 2012 than was meant by the original design, because only a part has been realized of what Charles Moore has designed. This square consists of a revolving plateau with tiles in different shades of grey, light and dark, which like an amphitheatre draws the attention to the fountain, formed as in an Italian landscape, surrounded by bright coloured concrete pillars. Furthermore the square holds a belfry as an entrance at the south side and at the north side there is a passage which reminds of a keyhole. The square is located at the foot of the office building and is surrounded by streets and parking places. As a result of the unfinished state of affairs the Piazza d’Italia is also known to be named ‘the first postmodern ruin’.
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In this chapter the most recent result of the Piazza d ‘Italia will be criticized and be searched according to a few themes from the book Architectural Position combined by Tom Avermate, Klaske Havik and Hans Treeds. As described in the introduction, Piazza d’Italia gives an aliented and isolated feeling in regard to its environment and this results in that people do not feel it as a real public space in which one can recreate. To find out what the problem is the Piazza will be discussed and compared on the basis of several themes from the book Architectural position.
The first theme is the definition. The essay of Adriaan Geuze will be reviewed and there will be made a comparison between the ideology of public space by Adriaan Geuze with the Piazza d’Italia and in what ways there can be found similarities. Adriaan Geuze writes in his essay “Accerating Darwin” that “Public space must challenge, provoke and disorient, he argues that only when the users of urban spaces are given an active role and can make spaces in the city their own, it’s possible to speak of a significant urban experience, a real public sphere”. In this essay Adriaan Geuze describes the Maasvlakte near Rotterdam to explain his conviction about the definition of public space. The Maasvlakte is an industrial area and as such part of the port area of Rotterdam. This area has been described by Geuze as an unprogrammed public space which gives its users the opportunity to recreate and to make the space their own. This withstanding the fact that this area never was meant to be recreational, but is actually in use by industrial factories and warehouses with a lot of heavy truck traffic. According to Adriaan Geuze the Maasvlakte is the ultimate public space for its users because they are totally free to use the space in their own way, since they are not restricted and isolated by defined and assigned spaces. Also Adriaan Geuze says in his essay that Ã¯nterventions in public space, or rather, in the public landscape, should no longer be focused on generating greenery, the real challenge is to create space and textures for city dwellers to colonize in their turn. Nature can play a role in this but is not a priori the main role”. If we should make a comparison between the essay of Adriaan Geuze and the Piazza d’Italia in its present situation, the conclusion can be made that the Piazza does not suffice at all to the ideology and ideas of Adriaan Geuze.
The Piazza is too programmed because it is surrounded by parking lots and office buildings. Furthermore the square itself makes a statement with its appearance. Therefore there is no freedom for visitors to create their own and to recreate. If the square had been developed according to the first design of Charles Moore, than indeed it would have given this space, combined with surrounding activities. This would have given visitors the feeling of freedom. The square would have been surrounded by locations and activities, which would have strengthen the picture of an Italian oasis in the busy American grid structure. A place to go to happily, escaping the city. Also Adriaan Geuze states that nature itself can help with improving the qualities of public space. However, with the Piazza we can establish that, while the square is unfinished, there is no way of using nature to embellish the space.
The second theme is Monumentality for which we use the essay ‘The Monumentally Informal’by James Stirling, 1984.
In this essay ‘ Stirling connects the question of monumental to a building’s ability to communicate with larger social groups’. Convinced that a public building should be monumental as well as informal and populist, Stirling categorizes his realized projects in two terms: ‘abstract’ and the ‘representational’. “Abstract is being the style related to modern movement and the language derived from cubism, constructivism, the Style and all the ism of the new architecture”. “Representational is being related to tradition, the vernacular, history, recognition of the familiar and generally the more timeless concerns of the architectural heritage”. When comparing the Piazza d’Italia with the vision of Stirling in his essay, one can conclude that it is better to place the Piazza in the category ‘representational’. The square refers in an exaggerated way to historical references and traditions, while the category ‘abstract’ is totally absent. The absence of the ‘Abstract’ is maybe a reason that the square is not being experienced as a modern monument, because it simply does not have its own character in which one can recognize its era. Instead we recognize the square more or less as a historical ruin. Historical ruins draw attention to the visitors, because they have a story to tell and their own rich history. Generally ruins are an attraction as such and are public places for which one has to pay to visit, like Charles Moore describes in his previously mentioned essay Disneyland. However, as a ruin Piazza d’Italia sadly misses its back-up story and history, so it cannot be an attraction in this relation.
In the context of this essay the question has been made why the Piazza d’Italia leaves such an isolating and estranged impression, causing it not to be a public space experience. In this conclusion it will be emphasized that this essay is directed to the most recent result and not to the original design of Charles Moore. In the three parts of this essay there has been research to the various opinions and ideas of other architects to be able to answer the research question. As a result of this research there can be concluded that the reason why the square is not a success, can be related to the fact that the square is a strange element within an urban environment, with contrasting contexts. We can also conclude that the square is a by all means a presence because of its image and looks, without possibilities for visitors to recreate and make the space their own. As James Stirling describes the role of public buildings in his essay, a public space should be abstract as well as having available representative qualities. The fact that the square looks like a ruin, without any associated (historical) characteristics, leads to alienation.
Furthermore the square presents many historical references, which are completely out of context and are clearly unfinishedâ€¦â€¦.
“The English architectural critic Charles Jencks pointed out that the quality of the square resided in the fact that it appealed simultaneously to at least two groups: to architects and an engaged minority that are concerned with architectural problems, but also to the broad public or visitors that are interested in questions of comfort, of traditional building methods and lifestyle. This combination of popular and specialist elements and images were the ideal recipe to reconcile the tension between the architect and the users of public space”.
AVERMAETE, T., HAVIK, K. & TEERDS, H. 2009. Introduction. In: AVERMAETE, T., HAVIK, K. & TEERDS, H. (eds.) Architectural Positions. Amsterdam: SUN
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