The Brunelleschi Piazza, the site of the University of Florence’s new Humanities Library, is surrounded by tall buildings and inundated the buzz of cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Functioning as a chaotic ad-hoc parking lot the cities flowing traffic conspires to completely obscures the tiny square’s hidden treasures: buildings designed by two of the most important architects in the history of Italy: Fillippo Brunelleschi and Giovanni Michelucci.
The program for the library will relieve the congestion of the piazza by eliminating one existing buildings on the site. Permitting unobstructed centralized views of both the Piazza’s natural boundaries and the book-ending of the space to the East and West by the Brunelleschi and Michelucci structures the current structures elimination will permit a full appreciation of the location’s architectural beauty. It is noteworthy that by Florentine standards the removal of any building is a revolutionary concept. Having a history of careful preservation that dates back centuries, any proposal, even those creating a small window of change within the city, can trigger a city-wide debate. However at the conclusion of a spirited debate within the city about this project it is generally agreed that the price of loosing one undistinguished building within the city will more than be made up for by the new project’s ultimate goal of creating a gateway to Italian culture that is both useful and architecturally pleasing.
To enhance and showcase this new vista within the urban fabric I proposed to construct a public space elevated above the piazza. Taking the form as a occupy able terrace rising from the existing piazza, the elevated structure and new library step up and back towards the existing library buildings to the North, opening up the Piazza never before seen views. Born at a threshold where the city and the university intermingle the new civic square lends itself to variety of public activities including theater, concerts, or outdoor markets.
The structure is like open amphitheater for the city. The terraces of the amphitheater, which also form the roof of the Library, are covered with a local stone called Pietra Serena whereas the rises between are sealed with insulated clear laminated glass. In the day the glass will provide the daylight to the library space below and at night will glow with the artificial light of the interior.
Taking full advantage of the spectacular view, a café restaurant surmounts the broad glass steps. Creating an open and fluid space with delicate articulations accommodating diverse activities, the space is emotive of a feeling of comfort.
The design for the library is structured to create separate entrances for the university population and the general public. The public will enter from above on a level containing an exhibition area, conference rooms and the bookstore. Crossing a bridge through the space of the lobby the upper entrance grants views of both level below and two other levels above. University students who will use the humanities library can enter through the other entrance located between the renovated section of the library and new addition. Submerged below the level of the piazza are three levels parking for 296 cars which expands more than five times the original capacity of the old piazza.
The design for the Brunelleschi Piazza and the new Humanities Library of the University of Florence articulates illustrates a key element of my philosophical approach to architecture. Architecture should create meaning and in doing so create purposeful opportunities for the occupation of space. To achieve this balance I aim for an architecture that is strong, but not imposing. Avoiding the temptation to make statements at the expense of space my goal is to use space as a vehicle for human interaction. In this way the building’s use and occupation imbue its banal physicality with the charge and celebration of life.
The new Brunelleschi Public Square gives re-focused meaning to the urban interactions and the urban infrastructure of the city. Acknowledging the city’s sacrifice of the old in making way for the new it seemed appropriate that the space of the piazza, once freed, should remain free. Manifesting this goal required a long design process culminating a form that actually increases the experience of openness in the space. For the first time visitors can occupy the piazza freely and comfortably framed by spirits of Brunelleschi and Michelucci. The new library represents and an approach to architecture and city planning that values the transformative power of urban space. Celebrating the work of two masters the project gives birth to a new public space while enhancing a sense of harmony and balance between contemporary Florence and the many chapters of its ancient past.