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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Urban Experience Compare: How Can Urban Planning Communicate Ideology?

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square
Artist / Origin: Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475–1564), Carlo Moderno (Italian, 1556–1629), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680), et al.
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1506–1667
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Travertine marble
Medium: Architecture and Planning
Location: Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of Alinari Archives/CORBIS

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Artist / Origin: Paul Philippe Cret (French, 1876–1945) and Jacques Greber (French, 1882–1962) (designers)
Region: North America
Date: 1917–1926
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Pavement and trees
Medium: Architecture and Planning
Dimensions: L: approx. 1 mi. (1.6 km.)
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Credit: © Alan Schein Photography/CORBIS

How can urban planning communicate ideology?

Urban planning shares many elements in common with the traditional fine arts of painting and sculpture—it can play with light and texture, mold positive and negative space, and communicate with an audience in ways that are both visceral and intellectual. Of course, it is also quite different from those arts in terms of both scale and complexity. The shape, form, and aesthetic of the urban environment can, moreover, only be realized through the collaboration of multiple parties. Both St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia are examples of concerted, grand-scale efforts to shape the city landscape in meaningful ways.

Questions to Consider

  • St. Peter’s in Rome leads out to a grand boulevard that cuts through Rome much like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway does in Philadelphia. What buildings mark the end points of the Philadelphia Parkway? Compare these to St. Peter’s. What can you infer about the values being conveyed through urban planning in each case?
  • Both of these urban projects were ideologically driven. Whose ideals were they expressing? Do you think the strategies employed would have been effective in bringing about the intended goal(s) of each project?
  • How would you explain the relationship between city planning projects such as these and what we think of as traditional visual arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture? Do they serve similar functions? Where does artistry or aesthetics enter into each?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2