the design blog of lawrence kasparowitz

Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Palmanova is a city in Italy constructed during the Renaissance and it is the only city built following the ideals of a utopia. It is a concentric city with the form of a star, with three nine-sided ring roads intersecting in the main military radiating streets.

It was built at the end of the 16th century by the Venetian Republic, which was at the time, a major center of trade. It is actually considered to be a fort, because the military architect Giulio Savorgnano designed to be a Venetian military station to the eastern frontier, to protect against the Ottoman Empire.

During the Renaissance, many ideas of a utopia, both as a society and as a city, surfaced: a place where there was perfection in the entire society. These ideas started by Sir Thomas Moore, when he wrote the book Utopia, describing a city and also the life of the people who lived there. His book sparked a flame in this subject and many other books were written. They all followed a major theme: equality. Everyone had the same amount of wealth, respect, and life experiences. The society had a calculated elimination of variety and a monotonous environment.

The city where they lived was always geometric in shape and was surrounded by a wall. These walls provided military strength and also protected the city by preserving and passing on man’s knowledge. The knowledge, learning and science gave form to the daily life of the people living inside the walls. The knowledge of each person was shared by the entire society, and there was no way to let any information either in or out. As Thomas More said in his book, “He that knows one, knows them all, they are so alike one another”

Alberti, and then followed by Filarete, were the first ones to develop the ideas of a Utopia into the plan of a city. Filarete designed a concentric city, with peaks and radiating streets, which he called Sforzinda. His geometry was the imitation of a schema representing the world, and it is believed to have derived from two overlaying squares.5 Sforzinda later became the most influential plan in the design of Palmanova. Since Palmanova was built during the Renaissance, it imposed geometrical harmony and followed the idea that beauty reinforces the wellness of a society. Each road and move was carefully calibrated and each part of the plan had a reason for being. Each person would have the same amount of responsibility and land, and each person had to serve a specific purpose. The concentric shape was the most prominent design move and had many reasons for being.

The circular shape of Palmanova was greatly influenced by the fact that it needed to be a fort. At the time of its construction, many other urban theoreticians found the checkerboard was more useful, but it did not provide the protection that military architects looked for. The walls were broken so that soldiers couldn’t approach it easily and because the angles created were difficult to attack.

The shape also comes from cosmological ideas, and reflects on the religion of the time. It is believed to be the most perfect of all geometries, because the radii are equidistant at all points, and it is a mirror of a harmonious cosmic order. In the Catholic religion, the circle is the basis of everything created, and it represents the repeat of the original sin. What this means is that the circular shape also works to imitate nature, and to appear to blend in instead of being very harshly different from the landscape, so the city would be seen as ‘natural’ and therefore be divine.


Recommended Books

  • - Precedents in Architecture
  • - City Comforts
  • - A Pattern Language
  • - The Architecture of Happiness
  • - Architectural Composition
  • - Design Language
  • - Elements of Garden Design
  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace