Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ten Cities 6) Venice

Becket, December 22, 2012

To look at Venice you have to forget a lot of what you know about cities.

Yes, of course, it's the water.  Usually, solid and void establishes the patterns of access and movement--particularly pedestrian movement--in the city: the built mass is typically the domain of the private and the space in between the place of the public, the streets and squares that we move through in the city.  But many voids in Venice are canals, so you can't really move along the lines of the map as you would have expected in other cities (at least without a boat, but that's a whole different story.)  Even when there are sidewalks alongside the canals, they are often fragmented and, without a sense of continuity, you are quickly looking for alternative forms of connection.  And the bridges, large and small, create its own pattern of connections, but a different pattern, transversal to the lines of the map.  On the other hand, in most cities you assume the built mass to be off limits; yet, in Venice, the sottoporteghi--singular: sottoportego, a public passageway burrowing through the ground floor of private buildings--allow you to move through rather than along the facades of the city, another form of transversal connection.

And it can be even more disconcerting at the larger scale of the map.  If you think of major avenues as baselines to measure distance in the city, in Venice, the Grand Canal with its "s" shape doubling back on itself will only deceive you at every turn (or even, particularly, if you're trying to go straight.)

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