St. Mark's Square
DGC 02 - 01 - 2010

Not only is St. Mark's Square the most important open space in Venice, but it is the only major open space in the entire city. Although a series of small plazas (campos) provide limited relief for the residents of the city, St. Mark's Square functions (or functioned hsitorically) as the only major public gathering space. The physical characteristics of the square establish strong design hierarchies, implied societal hierarchies, and strong development of spatial order throughout the space. The physical boundaries of the space are formed by a roughly rectangular built edge punctuated by ground level arched collonades which provide space for necessary public functions such as shops and cafes. These arcades provide a space which is more oriented toward pedestrian scale experience than the large rectangular void of the square, allowing for activation of the space on small and large scales. The relatively low height of the building facades forming the edge (three stories) is dominated by the soaring bell tower which stands on the north side of the square next to the two most important buildings in the city; the basilica and the Doge's palace. Although the height of the bell tower and the length of the plaza are well balanced, the bell tower acts as a landmark which draws attention and leads people into the upper part of the plaza. Although the bell tower successfully draws attention, the monumental brick construction has a relatively plain facade, and the lack of detail in this construction facilitates a shift in focus from the monumental to the ornate. The two most important buildings in the city are located directly adjacent to the bell tower, and both of these present such strong intimate presence of detailing that they immediately become focal points. The colorful mosaics and exotic multiple domes of the basilica emphasize the importance of the building as the religious center of the city, and the ornate (but simultaneously imposing) presence of the Doge's palace places the dominance of political leadership in close proximity to the representation of divine leadership as represented by the basilica. The Doge's palace is unique in the space because of the combination of detailed and monumental facade; the lower stories are ornate arched collonades, while the upper stories are solid multicolored stone. This construction seems to provide a bridge between the imposing bell tower and the intimately detailed basilica. These elements continue to shape pedestrian experience beyond the square itself, as the space between the palace and bell tower begins to narrow and effectively funnel people toward the banks of the lagoon and to the historic site of public execution. Perhaps the lagoon can even be considered to be a continuation of the relatively vast open space of St. Mark's Square, allowing views of other distant parts of the city. Caption 001: Sketch showing general layout of St. Mark's Square and massing of built elements, with bell tower located in northeast Caption 002: Relationship between detailing of bell tower in the background and Doge's Palace in the foreground; top half of the palace provides similarity through monumental, solid masonry facade while columns depart from solidity through intricacy of form

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