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When the paradigm of modernist architecture crumbled, urbanists began a quest for credible alternatives that often took them to the streets and squares of old Italian cities.
Deciphering the code of Italy’s thriving public life became a process of redemption from the sterilizing over-rationalization of the urban landscape that had been carried out by professionals of the previous generation. Italy is where Jan Gehl began his monumental research on public space and where many great American scholars conducted a considerable part of theirs, laying the foundation for people-centered urban design.
Nevertheless, despite the seminal research of Gehl and other far-sighted scholars, too often the fascination with the architecture of the Italian peninsula inspired superficial or diluted reinterpretations of its stylistic canons.
In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, architectural pastiches in Italian sauce proliferated across Europe and the U.S., but the spatial values that informed the architecture those projects referred to were almost always lost in translation. Propelled by postmodernist architects like Charles Moore, designer of the infamous Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, these projects took on the finishings of the classic Italian piazzas with none of the substance. They were placeless places. […]