This week I changed my desktop picture (for all of you who have been staring, for years, at the island with the palm tree or that green Teletubbie hillside, go to your control panel and change the screen – now!), from a pleasant garden in Saint Andrews, Scotland to a beach in Amalfi, Italy. From the bucolic to the chaotic. Each area of the beach serves a particular hotel so the umbrellas change color, there are low fences and other demarcations to establish turf boundaries (really beach boundaries), my guess this hasn’t changes since the Romans and other Italians used this coast as a resort from the intense summer heat. The mountains drive themselves deep into the Mediterranean, barely a shingle at their edge; these small beaches are fought over, towel and tan.
|From this garden in St. Andrews, Scotland|
|to this beach in Amalfi, Italy|
The more interesting part of this image is how these homes, apartments, hotels and all other manner of buildings climb on each other’s backs up the slopes. The terraces above the houses are buttressed and walled to support olives and grapes (two of the greatest commercial gifts of the Italians, beyond Virna Lisi and Ferrari), so every inch must be used. Great trellis structures support the vines further up the canyon, lemon trees are everywhere for limoncello (a wonderful beverage only an Italian would think of), magenta bougainvillea wrap the rocks where nothing else can grow.
Density, dear old density. We Americans love to call for density for any number of reasons: save farmland, save utility costs, save transit, save money, save ourselves, and while we’re at it, save the planet. Current urban densities call for densities of at least fifteen units to the acre, and in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, sometimes more than one hundred units to the acre. But they don’t look like Amalfi and Positano.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but fifty stories of steel and glass, while interesting, just doesn’t get the heart a fluttering as much as a perched vineyard and stucco home overlooking the Med. We continue to borrow the textures and colors of these regions for our architecture. The Italian piazzas still influence our planning decisions; who doesn’t want a nice little Starbucks on a plaza and fountain in their new project? But the difficulty is the issue of authenticism. I’m sure Walt Disney didn’t stay up nights worrying about his Cinderella castle and how it might have been confused with the Bavarian digs of Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein Castle. And I know, for a fact, the various faux Tuscan designs of the current spate of residential architects remind me more of low fat yogurt than a rich carbonara, oozing with cream, cheese and pancetta (but I digress, but it did give me an idea for dinner).
During the next ten years we’re going to have an opportunity to drive new concepts in housing and residential architecture. New types of dense urban housing ideas will be thrown out for the consumer to rent or buy. A lot of money will be spent, and sadly the failures will not get the treatment they should get or deserve.
It is my hope that there will be a real sense of romance and richness brought back into our new communities. Texture, color, authentic stone, bold colors, and vibrant streets need to be re-remembered and made real. Everyone should find a plaza to visit in their own town that welcomes, like Aix-en-Provence.
|Aix-en-Provence, France in a gentle afternoon|