The Piazza Puzzle

by Stuart Scobie
On a recent trip to Croatia I re-discovered the beauty and simple design success of traditional European piazzas or marketplaces. For me, this immediately raised the question how historic European cities got public spaces so right and at a very human scale. What can we learn from this in terms of Human Centred Design? From a Landscape Architect’s perspective, the piazza is the perfect example of how to create a “sense of place” while generally utilising only hard materials with limited or no planting and accommodating normal, day-to-day activities such as fresh food markets, cafes and shops. Have they evolved through good design or happenstance? My own view, based on an understanding of how historic villages developed into towns, is that, in most circumstances, form followed function. Buildings evolved around activities in an adhoc way (refer to Lucia’s previous blog) that, over time, ultimately transformed into bustling community hubs. Clockwise from left: Piazza in Dubrovnik and Diocletians Palace While this is not a practical design process for contemporary public spaces, due to time and cost constraints, there are lessons for us all to learn. A successful public space must: Be connected
  • Because connection and linkages to the broader community ensure longevity and ongoing purpose for a public space.
Be a destination
  • Because having a sense of place through the human desire to be in that space is vital to its overall success.
Be beautiful
  • Because reflecting the simple beauty of those traditional European Piazzas as places to celebrate the intuitive design lessons of the past is a worthy goal.
Be alive
  • Because the day to day human usage of a space is what gives it life and character
At Edmiston Jones our ongoing goal is to create sustainable buildings and landscapes that embody the concept of Human Centred Design using all the resources we have available today but based on our knowledge and appreciation of the past.
The Piazza Puzzle