Book Review: City Planning According to Artistic Principles

City Planning According to Artistic Principles by Camillo Sitte, published by Random House, 1964. Paperback, 205 pages. (Amazon)

Originally published in 1889, Camillo Sitte intended his book as a guide for locating monuments in public spaces, particularly Vienna, but what resulted is a criticism of modern city planning that valued logic and mathematical solutions over artistic considerations. He looks to Italy and its Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque spaces as ideals (especially the Piazza della Signoria in Florence and Piazza San Marco in Venice), though he realizes that simply copying historical city spaces into modern plans would not work. Although he has an apparent affection of these and other spaces, they were generated under much different conditions than his own, so he tries to learn from their principles and find appropriate solutions to specific area of concern in Vienna.

He concludes the book with a plan for reshaping a portion of the Austrian city; along the way he generates a number of rules pertinent to public spaces, such as not locating churches, public buildings, or monuments in the middle of squares, and that nearby buildings shouldn't compete with the important building of the square. Piazza San Marco (on the cover, at left) is a telling example: the Church of San Marco is definitely the important building of the piazza, engaged with its surrounding rather than isolated in the middle of the space, with the remaining building subservient to the church via repetitious bays and other means. While these rules may no longer apply over 100 years after the book's publication, they are still a fitting way of reframing historical spaces as a way to improve contemporary spaces in a fitting manner.