The Renaissance Street, According to Sigfried Giedion

In grad school, I remember how important Sigfried Giedion’s book Space, Time & Architecture was to a small group of us in the Art History program who found in it a treasure trove of information, even though it was hard to read cover to cover.

I recently picked it up again and was quickly reminded how fantastic it is … how I’ve missed you dear friend.

For instance, the following passage is accompanied by a title in the margin that reads “The street in the Renaissance:”

The Renaissance did not treat the street as a unity event where it would have been quite easy to do so. Scenically, the Renaissance street consisted of a number of individual buildings set down at random on separate sites; and this holds good from the late quattrocento up to the sixteenth century. Francesco di Giorgio’s fine paintings of street and squares show no two houses alike. Even the porticoes of the houses which so clearly call for uniform treatment are not continuous; each house has its separate arcade. Even much later, as can be seen in the frequently reproduced stage set of Sebastiano Serlio about 1550 — which is not designed simply to produce a perspective effect — the street is still an agglomeration of heterogeneous buildings.

Visual diversity is apparently something that the contemporary New York streetscape shares with Renaissance Italy.

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