Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Madrid's Plaza Mayor

Cambridge, December 4, 2012

While looking at Paris's Place de Vosges I had a number of other great squares in mind.  There is a whole collection of these extraordinary figural spaces carved in the fabric of the city.  I was certainly thinking about Madrid's Plaza Mayor and the other day my friend Irene Sch├Ąchter wrote me from Madrid with a reference to a fantastic map of her city.  Yes, a perfect map and a perfect excuse to look at the Plaza Mayor.

It couldn't be easier to find the Plaza Mayor in Texeira's plan of 1656.  It's right there, a clean, regular rectangle smack in the middle of the drawing.  One thing that makes it particularly interesting, even before you look at the square in detail, is the way in which the rectangle seems to have been superimposed on top of the street pattern almost without regard for what was there before.  No alignments here.  Streets and avenues appear to be coming at the plaza in every which way, creating the most complex points of view into a deceivingly regular space.  And no axial perspectives either.  If you reach the square at right angles--a single-point perspective--it's towards the edges, so the arrival immediately asks your head to turn.  And then you have the Calle de Atocha, that hits the rectangle on the long diagonal, opening to a extraordinary two-point perspective.  Not stupid, eh?

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