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Green Buildings, Grey Streets

June 28, 2008

Thanks to the wealth of a limited number of noble families in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and the end of that wealth in the last century when they opted to give up or lose their vast tracts of urban countryside, Rome has more green space per capita then any other European capital. Future entries in the blog will explore these “villas” (Italian for a public park, not just a private rural or suburban residential property). But nature being tenacious and pervasive, sometimes it just takes over.  In addition to visual beauty this seasonal vegetation on buildings can go a long way in protecting walls from direct sunlight which would otherwise gradually traverse masonry walls to radiate heat to interior rooms. And since many creeping plants either drop their leaves or can be seriously pruned back in the winter, the walls tend to be exposed to the sun when the warmth is desired.  So that’s what’s right with this picture.

What’s wrong is what occupies the ground: a sea of steel and plastic and glass. On a recent architecture critique I sat in on for the Yale Architecture Program I commented on the fact that all four walls of the large room at the American Academy in Rome were papered in wonderful drawings of public spaces and buildings in Rome– but there was not a single automobile portrayed!  Although these were analytical drawings, I mused that they were quite successful as design proposals for a more livable city, without cars.  Besides, between the grey basalt cobblestone of Rome, green is wont to grow when left un-trampled.

Image: Piazza in Piscinula, Trastevere  © Tom Rankin


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