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A letter from an alum about Italian Renaissance cities

January 13, 2004

Embedded in Catesby Leigh's "Italian Lesson's" there seems to be the suggestion of a senior thesis, or doctoral dissertation, topic or two.

One topic might have to do with discerning the lessons of Italian Renaissance city planning through the filter of a comparison of two cultures, one based on religious authority and dynastic capitalism, and the other on free-market democracy and Manifest Destiny (the former to which we are intent on converting the 'heathen' world). One wonders if this isn't something like an apples to oranges comparison, or even a study in contrast.

The other topic has to do with a comparison of an aesthetic system that uses the human body as a source of visual 'beauty' with one that uses the body as a source of a tactile understanding of the environment. It seems to me we are more biased toward something like the former in our culture. Una sfida, forse.

Jim Moses '88
Arlington, Mass.

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December 5, 2003

Princeton is to be commended for bringing another fine architecture and planning exhibit to the Art Gallery.

Architects, planners and all others can learn much from studying Italian Renaissance cities, "modern" planning and our everday environment.

Looking at the illustration of Mantova in the article "Italian Lessons" more closely, one sees an exaggerated view of the Renaissance city as an island separated from the mainland. This depiction is akin to "modern" depictions of cities showing exaggerated urban concepts.

One notable example is the French architect Le Corbusier's Contemporary City, an iimaginative illustration of Paris with geometrically laid-out elevated roadways and cruciform towers. Often these illustrations are nothing more than pretty pictures commissioned at the behest of commissioners and developers, but sometimes their formulaic ideas are adopted at the expense of the community. Perhaps the best lessons our current architects and planners can take are from environmentalists, social workers, and educators.

Peter Kohn ’96
BA Arch Princeton
MA Arch Yale ’01

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