In my last post, I referred to a column in the New York Times of Michael Kimmelman’s visiting public spaces in New York with Alexander Garvin. They ended their tour in Grand Central, and I was taken that they used an interior space as their exemplar of the public realm. To me, it described an attitude about the city and its communal and social life which can be traced back to the Nolli Map of Rome of 1748. Commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV, Giambattista Nolli surveyed the entire city to create a map which is iconic for architects and urban designers for its depiction of the public realm. Nolli drew the interiors of great buildings-public and private-as open civic spaces, incorporating them into our collective understanding of the life of the city. It represents an ideal city described not merely by its physical form, but also by how it is experienced. Wherever citizens come together as part of their common life becomes part of this public realm, as Nolli defined it in his depiction of the great piazzas of Rome, the courtyards of the noble’s palaces, or the colonnades of St. Peter’s.
(A personal note: I have owned a reproduction of the Nolli Map since the 80’s, and it has hung in all of my living spaces save one since then. At almost 6 x 7 feet, it fills a wall and has limited my ability to display other works I own, but I never lose interest in it.)