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.|
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 are—as if they are 'growing' right along with everything else on the hillside.
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.
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...