Retro Fits

Behind the University Village Shopping Center in Seattle is a park-like area. I asked what it was and got the explanation that it was a cemetery. “It's really old, it's from the 1930s.” I responded with a look of European condescension, and didn't even have to say out loud that my home church is early 13th Century for my interlocutor to be suitably chastened.

On the other hand, the church is the oldest still extant building in Huddinge and may well have been the only stone building at the time, so when I go to places like Italy I feel much like my US landlord—here there are not just scattered remains of mediæval ceremonial buildings, but entire towns of 700-year-old houses that people still live in.

Of course, you can't go through that much history and keep the building in original shape. Apart from repairs, you also need to adjust the house to new needs, expand it for the kids, connect to the house next over that you just bought cheaply, put in fancy new plumbing and so on.

But, what struck me during a visit to Florence was that so many, if not all, of these modifications seem to have been made without any effort whatsoever to hide the work. I decided to make a collection of Unhidden Tuscan Modifications, and here it is:

Whether because the church couldn't afford stained-glass windows or because the carts in the streets kept breaking them, but the openings are now bricked up.

Santa Croce. The monastery needed a vault, so they just bricked up the windows and stuck in an arch.

Santa Croce. Interesting that giving Galileo a monument was more important than retaining the religious painting, but maybe the Church was feeling penitent.

Piazza Santa Croce. So what if the façade is ancient and protected, you can still stick a modern building on top of it.

The tower is 13th Century, the buildings enveloping it much more recent.

Near Piazza del Duomo. I find it hard to unwrap exactly how many layers of rebuildings (I hesitate to call them renovations) there are in this house. Of course, an expert could tell just from the shape of the bricks at which exact times the rebuildings have taken place.

Palazzo Vecchio. There are at least three layers of rebuildings of this part of the wall, the outside of the great hall of the Signoria.

Palazzo Vecchio. An entire new building has been attached, so the windows on that side have to be bricked up, but then we need a new window, and a new door to get to the new balcony.

Palazzo Vecchio. So for some reason yet another window had to be bricked up, but the frame was too pretty not to keep. And of course, then the little plain square frame also must be allowed to remain.

Palazzo Vecchio. Which windows get bricked up and which not seems a bit random sometimes.

Palazzo Vecchio. One would think that when you put a new house next to an existing one that you somehow try to take that into account, but these seem as if they had been prefabricated somewhere else and then scrunched together as closely as they can be made to fit, and then a bit.

Ponte Vecchio. OK, let's just slap on an extra level on this house, on a bridge, over the river.

Churches in Sweden are always well separated from any other buildings, surrounded by a church yard for additional space. They are clearly not a part of daily life. Italian churches on the other hand are mostly right there with all the other buildings in the block, or even, as here, with the nearby houses squeezing so close they bulge out on the church roof.

Still the Arno, but now in Pisa. The arches seem out of proportion with the rest of the building, one wonders if they are just decorations, but they are not matched up with the windows either.

More Pisan arches. My grandmother's house had an unpainted spot on the wall right under the roof, because there wasn't a ladder tall enough to reach up there. These arches seem unfinished in the same way.

Here it is clear that the arches are not just artefacts of painting, but real structures that have had windows knocked out of them—however that has been done without fatally affecting the structural integrity of the wall.

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