31 March 2013

Like the lines of a poem


After writing about patterns relevant to the wintery months of the year, when we in the northern hemisphere tend to be more focused on cozy thoughts of home, March's pattern finally brings us outdoors. (I suspect it may be equally appealing to those of you beginning to feel the nip of autumn too.) If you missed the introduction to this monthly series of posts inspired by Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language, you can read about the previous patterns by clicking on 'patterns' in the listing of 'Things I like to write about' in the sidebar.

This month I've chosen pattern 125: STAIR SEATS. There's nothing like sitting on the steps at the edge of a piazza in the spring, welcoming back the sun again. As Alexander explains, stair seats afford that perfect balance between being able to both observe and participate in the action of a space. He says, "When there are areas in public places which are both slightly raised and very accessible, people naturally gravitate toward them. Stepped cafe terraces, steps surrounding public plazas, stepped porches, stepped statues and seats, are all examples."

As focal points of each neighborhood, a fair number of Florence's churches have piazzas in front of them, and since they tend to be raised above the main grade there are nearly always at least a few steps in front of (or even wrapping partway around) them. The same is true of major public buildings; in other words, there are steps at nearly every turn. And of course when people use them it creates an element of interaction in the piazza or street, which in turn adds an extra dimension of energy & life. Below are a few examples from around Florence (and one in Venice).

Stone benches surround many of Florence's grand palazzi, and are used much in the same way as the church steps.
 
Steps in front of the church of Santo Spirito
 
Steps in front of the church of San Lorenzo


Steps leading up to the church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, which has a lovely position at the lagoon's edge.

 

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While these steps are considerably off the beaten path (near Ponte San Niccolò), and not as popular nor well-used as those in front of Florence's churches & public buildings, they are the ones that inspired me to choose this pattern. Each patinaed, overgrown step is like the line of a poem. I love how alive they areas if they are 'growing' right along with everything else on the hillside.


  

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Lying at the edge of Piazzale Michelangelo, these generous—and numerous—steps (shown above & below) accommodate a lot of people, and offer a wonderful place to pause while enjoying a sweeping view of Florence. It's not unusual to see brides traipsing up the stairs, trains and all, hand-in-hand with their grooms as they pose for what must be some pretty amazing photos.


These 'stairs with a view' makes me think of pattern 133: STAIRCASE AS A STAGE, which encourages us to think of a staircase as a space/'room' in its own right. In fact, the pattern is interpreted mainly for internal staircases, but I think it also alludes to the role played by outdoor steps in certain cases. Another such example that comes to mind is the set of two dozen or so steps leading up to Cortona's City Hall. This staircase affords a wonderful view of the town's main square and, as a result, also 'holds' much of the piazza's life at any given time.

 

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So, another month draws to a close (!)(?). Don't forget to say "white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits" tomorrow when you wake. And no, this is not an April Fool's Day joke; it's supposed to bring good luck for the month ahead—something that can never hurt...
 

14 comments:

  1. Stairs! Such a universal metaphor.And that view,across to the Dome and the hills beyond...my favourite memory of Florence. Thank you.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed that favorite-memory view. Do you remember the steps? I find them hard to photograph (they're so broad & 'tall') - wish I could better convey what a beautiful presence they have, perched at the edge of the city like that, with a view both expansive & intimate.
      - Lisa

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    2. Yes, but not intimately (Rome's Spanish steps hold more recall);I remember a small cafe in the lower "heart" of Firenze.It was a very long time ago...another life.
      I should do something in the art line of my Italy memories. Apart from the brief blog mention http://moreidlethoughts.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/stolen-by-faerie/

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    3. Thanks for mentioning the Spanish Steps - the quintessential 'staircase as a stage'!
      How wonderful that you put down your memories of your month at the 'villa'...it sounds like you enjoyed yourself tremendously. Thanks for passing on the link.
      - Lisa

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  2. white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits
    there - I've said it - today's mantra...
    love stepping
    up,
    down
    and into
    your lines
    of poetry
    always...

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    1. Happy April, Elizabeth! And thank you...I always enjoy your poem-comments too...
      - Lisa

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  3. I just love how communal these stair seats are; how this one and that sit nearby and next to or up from or down from, sharing space and time together. And such lovely lines as well...

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    1. Yes, they are a beautiful example of bringing people together - you can lose yourself in your thoughts, rest, read, eat, engage with others...be part of things, 'perform' or be part of the 'audience'... And a special 'backdrop', whether a piazza, building or skyline, only adds to the whole equation.
      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lisa

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  4. Or..rabbit, rabbit..which is what my husband and I say to each other at the beginning of each month. Also, when in high school my best friend and I used to skulk around corners ready to pounce on each other with, "pinch punch first of the month, rabbit, rabbit!"...of course with little pinches and punches.

    I do love that growing staircase..how it is blending back into the landscape. I may have to get a copy of Christopher Alexander's book. Who knew how much psychology and human biology were involved in architecture! I guess thinking about it, it make so much sense!

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    1. Funny to hear the different traditions from person to person & place to place...
      What you say about the psychology/human biology playing a crucial role in architecture is so true - not that you would necessarily know it by looking at some of the buildings/structures going up today. I suppose the human factor applies in all of the sciences - and they suffer if it's not considered as an integral part of the package. 'Wholeness'/integration = good things to aim for :)
      Thanks for visiting!
      - Lisa

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  5. Dear Lisa,

    Lovely pictures, I shall return to Florence and enjoy these places you´ve pictured. Specially San Niccolò and Michelangelo. Until then I´ll use the virtual visit at Google Maps http://goo.gl/maps/qutLH and http://goo.gl/maps/LrX5u

    And what about indoor stairs? How fantastic it was last month climbing one-by-one and meet you and Ella at the top! I still hear your sweet smiley voice "you're almost there, you're almost there"...

    Open space stairs give us the chance to view the whole scene, but indoor ones are magic, revealing surprises at each floor, no matter if we go up towards the attic and the light, or down, to the basement, where darkness can scare or surprise. Next month I´ll try the rabbit, rabbit, rabbit mantra!

    Love, Vera.

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    1. Hello Vera! How nice to find your comment...I like what you added about the 'surprises' of indoor stairs - very true.
      I hope you are able to spend more time in Florence next time...there are many more places to see! And I do hope to return to Brazil again one day; I would love for Ella to experience the country, the food - and the people...
      - Lisa

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    2. Sunny Brazil and our family are waiting for you and Ella with a lot of 'brigadeiros' to sweeten your life!
      Vera

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    3. :)
      P.S. We made brigadeiros recently, for an all-night writing marathon - delicious & full of memories...

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