Liceo Statale "G.Galilei" - Voghera





What is the ideal town? Does an ideal town exist? If it does, what is it that makes the town ‘ideal’ and what is the relationship between this attribute and the reality of a human town with all the needs, suffering and joys of real human beings?

Basing itself precisely on these questions the European Educational Project What city for man has looked to the history of European towns in an attempt to find the origins of the ever present game of mirrors that exists between ideal and real towns. During the three-year development span of the project the EEP has used this historical consideration to examine three questions:

- How far is it possible to separate the real history of European towns from historical study which European culture has developed on the theme of the ideal town, the perfect town as a model of space conceived and designed by man for the realization of his own particular aspirations and expectations in life?

- How much is this apparently indissoluble interlacement between idealness and reality, between the project and the constraint of circumstances characteristic of the history of European towns (in their uniqueness and diversity when compared to all other towns in the world)?

- And finally, up to what point is contemporary European society aware of its specific and fundamental trait and how far has it remained faithful to this?

During our journey we have discovered that architectural history has also joined the concept of the ideal town with a succession of abstract, idealized projects which lacked any kind of connection with the reality of towns. The ideal town was seen as a utopia to be achieved by disregarding the reasonably regular planimetrics of real, historic towns for standards – geometric, aesthetic or otherwise – of ideal perfection. Therefore the debate about  ideal towns has become isolated from the debate about real, historic towns. In fact, there has often been the temptation to superimpose and identify this debate with one about utopia and those town models often linked to the utopian concept. This has led to support for the idea of the theory about the ideal town as a history of examples which deviate from reality. In our opinion this idea is actually very biased and for the most part incorrect.

This approach seems to us to be confused, so much so as to render incomprehensible the flexible relationship between the history of real towns, the history of the idea of towns and the relationship which both undertake in the history of European society with its utopia as "the dream of a true and just way of life" (Horkeimer, Aufange der burgerlichten Geschichtphilosophie, 1930).

During the first year of the project the Italian Renaissance (and its diffusion in Europe) appeared to us to be a particularly interesting example of the dialectic relationship that exists between utopia and reality.

In fact, Renaissance society presented us with a continual interlacement made up of parallelisms, corruptions and superimpositions between utopia and reality, the ideal town and the real town. This interlacement was the scene of a theory and idealness related to a desire for changes which were achievable.

Therefore the Italian Renaissance was a period when man, taking into consideration his own perfection and the possibility of his own happiness, discovered that the town is a suitable place – if adequately thought out and designed – in which to create through space and the integration of various functions, those conditions required to satisfy human needs and expectations and so to build the conditions needed for the happiness of societas hominum.

The examples we concentrated on were:

- Pienza, a perfectly harmonious town possessing the perfect integration between architecture and the surrounding countryside;

- Urbino, an example of medieval urban nucleus which transformed itself into the "capital" of an expanding state and was able to express the political tendencies of its lord through its own morphology;

- Ferrara, an example of planned urban expansion which was functional as an answer to the new challenges imposed by demography, economic-social development and the new politics of the 16th century;

- Sabbioneta, little Athens desired by Vespasiano Gonzaga for his own highly cultured and enlightened court as an example of the ideal town, and realized in perfect agreement with Renaissance urban criteria.

- The fortified towns and Palmanova in primis, which were the answer to the new military requirements of the XVIth century;

- Finally Grammichele, a typical example of how a planned urban model created to answer military problems can, even after a century, be reclaimed and readapted to meet utterly different human, social needs.

On the other hand Renaissance culture, and in particular the gifted representative of the era, Leon Battista Alberti, have left us a series of questions of great topical interest: how can architecture and town planning contribute to the creation of those conditions required for a happy life? How can they contribute to making a town a community which is able to take action for the common good? How far is it possible to make something suitable for man and his life out of a town, its buildings, spaces and functions?

Even today these questions are the ones we must face. Once again architecture is being called upon to show its ability to satisfy these tasks in an ideal, perfect fashion in the face of the shapeless habitat which characterizes contemporary towns, including European ones. We believe the urban environement lacks any kind of order or coherent sense which its inhabitants could share and is often not compatible with their desire for quality in life.

The multimedia creation which we are presenting here has been achieved within the structure of the European Educational Project What city for man thanks to the support given by the European Union and financial assistance from the COMENIUS Programme. This creation is the result of the study and work developed by both the pupils and teachers of the Liceo Scientifico Statale G. Galilei of Voghera (I), the Stedelijk Gymnasium of Leiden (NL) and the Escola Secundaria Marques de Pombal of Lisbon (P).