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The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers Exploratory Essay

Central Italy has remained in European History of the 13th and 15th centuries given the reforms in the social structures of urban centres like San Gimignano, Siena, Perugia, and Florence. In the area of urban planning, Siena is the medieval of a medieval city and constantly rivalled Florence in urban structures.

Siena has preserved its gothic form in terms of architecture, town planning and influence on art over the centuries, some of which it developed between the 12th and 15th centuries.

The entire Siena City has been regarded as a piece of artistic work that blends into the Piazza del Campo landscape. Just like Porta Camollia on the streets of Florence (Martucci & Giovannetti 1997), Siena has pierced-gated double walls and towers at strategic points.

Even though the early inhabitants in Perugia and Siena faced numerous difficulties given the congestion of the two Italian cities, the cities remained symbolic in offering lessons to present designers on a sustainable community (Italian Cities 2006). Florence, for instance, had strong land usage regulations that are similar to the contemporary urban growth management, as well as tireless efforts to preserve amenity landscapes.

In the area of Tuscany, preservation of landscapes in urban areas has been continuous in order to attract tourists. Siena presents a sustainable European urban centre that current urban designers have to apply in their resolutions (Harvey n.d.).

In terms of city design, Siena has a well-preserved landscape comparable to San Gimignano, and an intensive planning that dates back to 1218. In the plan, the community took part in designing and maintaining the streets.

Similar to the design of Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, Siena began to build Palazzo Pubblico in 1297 under the control of city policies. Buildings in Siena had specified heights and shapes that were in line with the Gothic designs.

On the other hand, Florence, which had been a major rival to Siena, adopted the rectilinear Renaissance designs. In addition, the layout of the cities in central Italy had a moat and walls made of bricks, which surrounded the towns.

The designers took into consideration the essence of security and decoration by embedding round or square towers on the walls. The gates became the only point which one could access the towns, and they remained closed at night.

In order to eliminate obstacles that were thwarting comfortable movements, the medieval cities opted to have at least one clear street, which resulted in demolition of buildings that could cause obstruction. The medieval pattern involved construction car parks in improving orderliness in the planned environment.

The hilltop town of Siena and Florence realised emergence of essential new ideas in the arts, such as Giotto and Duccio. Siena is an example of a city that enhanced social sustainability during the 14th century, as well as a model city of effective urban planning.

During the medieval period, Siena urban design principles provided a long-lasting neighbourhood identity and the power or influence of a free city-state. The development culture in Siena assured inhabitants of high security at their respective places at all time. At present, tourists prefer to stay in this small hill town while making numerous trips to other parts of the province and countryside.

In taking care of the environment in designing their cities, Italians made Siena a car-free city from 1966. The urban designers constructed narrow roads that cars could not use, hence making the city to be a car restricted environment. In other towns like San Gimignano and Perugia, there are few parks meant to accommodate automobiles.

Early designers developed open spaces that favoured high-density developments. For example, the urban planners preferred use of circular walls that could accommodate an expansive population. The ability to extend walls and preservation of space made Siena to survive when its economy began to take-off between 13th and 14th century (Hutchison 2000).

With the constantly growing economy, Siena witnessed a double population by the end of the above period. Therefore, the city planners gave room for expansion in case of population increase- a phenomenon that Siena as a city has witnessed overtime (Historic Centre of Siena 1995).

For instance, there were provisions to control a plot of land and even alter the terrain before including other structures and services, which provided insights to planners on how an urban setting ought to be in order to accommodate possible changes like population increase. Conscious land-use planning, as well as national land-use laws have aided city protection even by having green areas within the urban centre.

As policymakers and master planners, the need for social services like hospitals, schools and insurances are vital in any urban setting, and they have to put such factors into concern when implementing any design process in a city. In designing and developing current urban centers, planners intend to make citizens happy by making the city meet possible challenges that come with new developments.

At high scales, planning concepts can easily take root, thus allowing for easy dealings with infrastructural issues. Currently, planners inculcate computer games to help handle issues of urban planning, but have not succeeded in systematic development of buildings, transport networks, and communal supports.

Design geometry in these towns was extremely complicated that it has remained to date with present urban planners having a glimpse of the art in their plans. Evolution of the guilds helped in the development of key cities in Italy.

During the Early Renaissance, Florence City Architects Brunelleschi and Alberti built the Dome of Florence Basilica, which was extremely big such that machines had to be used to hoist different sections into place.

Leon Alberti published a book Ten Books on Architecture which gave vivid instructions on how to adapt modern buildings to the ancient classical forms (Randolph 1995). Alberti used the classical façade design in building the Palazzo Rucellai (Florence) that had clear rectangular divisions with arched windows and ornamental entablatures.

The early renaissance designers preferred circular elements in building churches, Church of Sant’Andrea and Palazzo Rucellai included. During the high renaissance period, classical simplicity and harmony dogged the architectural designs, with the Pantheon, central layout plan, became popular, as well as adoption of other shapes for central plan buildings, such as octagon.

The greatest renaissance palace, Palazzo Farnese, rose during the late part of the renaissance; the building that had the shape of a rectangle also had a central courtyard in its layout. Of great significance was the rustication where the masonry wall was made rough instead of being smooth.

The late renaissance, on the other hand, involved severe complexity and novelty. Pallacidio villas in Venice marked the construction of series of extra-ordinary arches.

In Florence, archaeologists found conduits of water and sewerage and orderly street patterns just like in Siena. Before the Industrial Revolution, these cities were the champions in enhancing regulatory laws, housing, and sanitation practices (Morris 1994).

After Industrial Revolution, most cities in the world started to realize the rise of slums. With most planners designing cities in ways that cannot be expansive to accommodate new population, the ideas of the early cities in Italy can be of great importance to solve the rising congestion and slum development in key cities of the world.

An example of Philadelphia that was laid in 1682, planners, William Penn and Thomas Holme decided to use the gridiron pattern where straight streets crossed each other at 90o (Kostof 1992). At the same time, four public green areas made Philadelphia a green city.

The city’s large extension from River Schuylkill Delaware provided room for extension and growth in future. In the early twentieth century, most communities in the US, planners included made city planning a crucial parameter in designing.

Another example is the use of colonial squares that had been common in Siena and Florence (Moughtin 2003). New Amsterdam and Boston are some of the few towns that did not use systematic design in their growth, instead grew by accretion (Krier & Czechowski 1979). The architectural square became common in shops, private residences and even in churches.

Urban planning is a concept that touches on organisation of metropolitan regions within a country (What Is Urban Planning? n.d.). The concept works towards addressing issues that can arise in urban centres like spontaneous expansion in population.

In addition, urban planning works towards providing safety and essential services to urban inhabitants so that they can enjoy their lives. From a broad perspective, urban development cares about transport system in cities, building locations, zoning, and the overall picture that a city portrays to inhabitants and visitors.

Human beings desire to live happy lives, and in cities, the lives must be sustainable. Urban designers should use the planning principles of Siena to build a strong city, and, at the same time, empowering the neighbourhoods. In caring for the city, designers ought to put in place necessary strategies that can assist in empowering the neighbourhoods in order to avert situations of slum development in these new cities.

For instance, constructing affordable houses for the neighbouring city residences and allowing them to access goods and services can help in addressing the issue of neighbourhood empowerment. According to Balshaw and Kennedy (2000), a city can only be strong in development if the neighbours are also strong in their plans for future prospects.

At the same time, urban planners must have strategies that make the countryside sustainable and economically developed in order to avoid encroachment into urban centres. For example, converting arable and swampy lands in city-countryside to be productive in producing crops that can help make rural life sustainable is one option that urban planners can apply in maintaining the strengths of the cities.

The idea of well-designed water and sewerage systems that allow for expansion of services in case of population increase is essential in the current world given that the world population is expected to rise with increasing industrialisation. In taking care of population in urban planning, the concept of urbanism helps in improving sustainability for the present and future populace.

In addition, creation of spaces during construction allows for expansion of population, as in the cases of Perugia, San Gimignano, and Florence (Maunder 2008). Since congestion in urban centres has been a major challenge for the present urban planners, urban space should form a key component in the design process of all structures.

An analysis of Siena and Perugia roads revealed that they had extremely narrow roads, footpaths-like, which could not accommodate cars. This approach helped in minimising environmental degradation- a phenomenon that is a key topic to the present generation. The current populace has to use environmentally friendly services and even engage in activities that mitigate environmental destruction.

Evidently, the medieval planners had this idea in mind even though the effect to the environment was not great as compared to the present times (Taylor 2000). As a result, as a way of reducing harm to the environment, fauna and flora, urban planners have to incorporate this idea of building narrow roads that cannot accommodate cars within the new cities.

In implementing this strategy, there should be specific parking points for automobiles. Such moves increase the use bicycles, which are environmentally friendly, hence helping in protecting the environment and enhancing sustainability.

Since extreme rivalries always exist in a city that has skewed development, urban designers must ensure that they inculcate the concept of neighbourhood planning into city governance in order to have a comparable factionalism and less competition. Further, in using the ideas of Siena of building a social centre, urban planners will be able to enhance public interactions irrespective of the social status.

A public realm that enhances interaction promotes a unionism culture among different people in cities. The urban developers should also design cities that have direct link with the countryside just like the contado (territory) of the renaissance period in Siena (Taylor 2000).

Designing a city that can have places for agricultural production reduces overdependence on countryside farm outputs and helps promoting an urban-oriented lifestyle that is agriculturally minded.

Designers can apply the systems on the medieval times to design medieval new towns to the present generation to support economic walkability, development and tourism (Tibbalds 2001). For instance, tourists would prefer to reside in cities that have maximum security so that they can walk at any time.

The nature of the discussed Italian towns proves worth for urban designers to ensure that liveability and sustainability in the present towns remain feasible and practicable. If urban designers can apply the medieval design strategies in Siena and Florence in all their future designs, then they will be reduced movements of people from rural homes to urban centers.

If urban designers maintain the style of designs that Italians used in their cities, the present generation will be able to meet their needs without compromising on the abilities of the future generation from meeting their own necessities. Promoting sustainability and livability require pooling of knowledge and resources in developing expansive regions.

Urban developers play significant roles in developing such cities, and they can apply the medieval systems that Florence, Perugia and Siena designers used. The cities of the future can only be livable and sustainable if NGOs and government agencies pursue or address the two aspects in all initiatives.

Such moves are long-lasting and not compromising on the future as well as providing equity, safety, opportunities, and mobility. Simultaneously, opportunities for commercial investment, transportation, and housing are significant requirements for a livable and sustainable city.


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"The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers." IvyPanda, 11 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-italian-town-siena-continued-inspiration-for-urban-designers/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers." September 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-italian-town-siena-continued-inspiration-for-urban-designers/.


IvyPanda. "The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers." September 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-italian-town-siena-continued-inspiration-for-urban-designers/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers." September 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-italian-town-siena-continued-inspiration-for-urban-designers/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Italian Town Siena: Continued Inspiration for Urban Designers'. 11 September.

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