Survey: Piazza Grande, Gubbio, Perugia

By Biba Dow

Biba Dow, Piazza Grande, Gubbio, 2012. Watercolour on paper, 138 × 276 mm. Courtesy of the architect.

This painting was made in the early evening in the main square of the medieval town of Gubbio, in central Italy (Perugia). Reached by climbing up narrow winding streets, the Piazza Grande opens out as a belvedere to the southwest, looking across rooftops to the plain below the Apennine foothills. The space is carved out of the medieval city at the top of the hill, surrounded by buildings on three sides, with one long side open and presenting itself to the view. To the west sits the Palazzo dei Consoli with battlements, a tower, and a staircase that cascades onto the piazza and forms an anchoring edge. Seen from below, the palazzo literally holds up the Piazza Grande with a series of vaulted arches beneath it and an anchoring stair to one side, but standing in the piazza, your overwhelming sense is of a piece of space captured and held tautly by the ground of herringbone brick. The brickwork is divided into a pattern of wide bays, with bricks laid in alternating directions so there isn’t one primary sense, but instead a cohesive whole. The clay has a slight sheen which reflects light, and on a summer’s evening the space glows warmly red. I think of a tenter ground, with the brick as a red cloth stretched tightly. The edge of the piazza is formed by a chest-high brick wall, against which people lean gazing at the view – but until you are standing against it, the view is concealed. Instead, you stand in the space and feel the openness of the ground underfoot and the immensity of the landscape around you.

This text is excerpted from Architecture Iconographies: Survey by Matthew Wells. The book is jointly published by Drawing Matter and Park Books, and is available to purchase now from Drawing Matter’s online bookshop.