Going Against The Grid


Art historian Erik Spiekermann observes that asymmetry is typical of “the spaces that make us feel at home and make us want to spend time sitting in cafes and watching children”:

The best example of a large public space with human proportions is probably the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the city’s beautiful scallop-shaped market square. Not only do the buildings follow a very weird curve around its perimeter, but the square’s floor is shaped like a shallow bathtub. If you set out to walk toward the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico which dominates the space, you soon realize two things: it is nowhere near the center and its entrance is a whole floor lower than the street surrounding the square. It takes a lot longer to get there from one of the cafes around the side than you first think, because of the way the floor is shaped and the distance visually foreshortened by lines of stone that fan out from the tower side of the square.

If you travel to other famous cities in Italy, you’ll soon notice that all their central squares feel comfortable because they follow the same pattern: they always dip at some point, never have a geometrically measured center, and always have a circumference that defies easy definition from a pedestrian standpoint.