Livable Streets lV: Our Streets, Our Rooms

An interior view looking out on Jane Street. Photo: Barry Benepe.

By Barry Benepe

In previous Livable Streets articles I stressed the comfort and convenience of walking and relaxing in safe, comfortable, and convenient landscaped streets.

In this article I address how we can experience our streets as extensions of our interior rooms.

Just as our apartments and rooms are defined by their ceilings, floors, walls, materials, colors, moldings, and trim around windows, doors, cabinets, wardrobes and furnishings, so are our streets defined by their abutting architecture.

Perhaps there is no more outstanding example than the Piazza Navona in Rome, as illustrated in the 1748 Nolli map prepared by J. H. Aronson in his Plan of Rome and reprinted here with his permission. Note how carefully the entrances to buildings are delineated, as are the interior courtyards and other spaces into which they lead. The surrounding street entrances become great mysteries of exits and entrances leading us to yet to be discovered spaces and outdoor rooms, as it is when we leave our home and enter the public street.

Like our apartments, streets are defined by the architecture of surrounding walls, the color of brick or stone, the stoops, the stone or metal-trimmed building entrances and windows, the roof cornices which state, “Here I stop and frame the sky.”

There is drama in our outdoor urban surroundings, which I hope we will never cease to enjoy. Indoors, we may enjoy whatever daylight the windows invite into our comfortable surroundings. Outdoors, we will be exposed to the comforts and punishments of a forever-changing climate. The sounds will change, as well, when we listen to the city.

Of course, the most fundamental change will be exposure to moving vehicular traffic and its ever-present danger to pedestrians, especially when we walk out from between parked cars. The day may yet come when our streets are designed chiefly for those of us on foot.

Piazza Navona in Rome. Photo: Barry Benepe.


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