02. Courtyard Palazzo Ducale di Urbino

Le Marche, remote from tourist routes through Central Italy, is reminiscent of Perthshire with hilltop settlements replacing river crossings. Urbino, the region's fulcrum, enjoys remarkable cultural notoriety.

 Giancarlo De Carlo (1919-2005) Italy’s influential modernist architect pioneered his 'political' architecture here. His work to expand the Free University of Urbino is generally held as an exemplar for inserting modern buildings within historic contexts. His University Residences gently step down hillsides giving wide views and adjacent terraces for bedrooms at each level. More significant is 'Il Magistero' which sits so harmoniously within the walled city that it is almost impossible to find.

De Carlo's philosophy of 'libertarian socialism' favoured an inclusive approach to architecture, involving users from the outset. This, at that time, radical approach was thought to have limited his architectural commissions but his ideas continued to resonate through his journal 'Spazio e Societa' until it's demise in 2000.

05. palace garden

Five centuries previously Urbino was already a centre of philosophical thought. Italian Humanism as a Renaissance intellectual movement saught to revive classical culture as the basis for education. Under Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Urbino's 16th century court thrived representing a model of Italian Humanist virtues, according to Baldassare Castiglione's "Book of the Courtier." Published in 1528 this book describes the ideal Renaissance Man based on Castiglione's observations at Urbino's Court.

Renaissance architect and painter Raphael, born in Urbino, grew up in these refined court circles as son of Court Painter, Giovanni Santi. According to Vasari this explained Raphael's exceptional "social skills".

Around this time Duke Guidobaldo founded the Collegio dei Dottori in Urbino on which the city's modern Free University and much of Urbino's current economic life is based. Urbino is however architecturally defined by its Ducal Palace and the Duomo. Both accommodate large floor plans on narrowing hill top topography. In section these buildings achieve dramatic vertical elevations and gain considerable subterranean spaces. Adjacent streets grade to provide access, as at Piazza Della Republic and Piazza Rinascimento forming interesting edge conditions along colonnades and distinctive tapering stair flights to the Duomo.

On approaching Urbino the Ducal Palace presents robust facades with towers soaring above Leonardo da Vinci's city walls. A less imposing impression is created within the city walls. Here the lack of ostentatious architectural gestures, unusual for the 15th century, was attributed to Duke Frederico II's commitment to Italian Humanism. Begun in late 14th century, the Palace was remodelled from 1450 in a "Brunelleschian" Florentine style. The courtyard and reception rooms are renowned for fine proportions, bright daylight, and human scale, while timber inlay panelling enriches unique subterranean studio space.  

Returning to 'Il Magistero' through Urbino's steep narrow streets the inspiration for Giancarlo's 1976 design becomes clearer. Bulky lecture theatres, offices and circulation configured silently behind a harmonious non ostentatious facade; drawing maximum day light from above through a faceted glass courtyard is a skilfull re-interpretation of the Palace's 15th century forms and materials allowing modern brief requirements to meld seamlessly into the historic homogeneity of Urbino.

03. steep hill town

500 words

© stuart campbell 2017