In the light of today, when countries around the world are scrambling to build hospitals, virus test sites, and labs, I can’t help but reflect on the glorious façade of the Ospidale degli Innocenti. Back in the late 1400’s, the Silk Merchant Guild of Florence hired Filippo Brunelleschi, who would go on to become one of the renaissance’s greatest architects, to build the first public building to receive and house orphan babies as community service.
Brunelleschi pulled together ideas of scale and optics that glorified human proportion and signaled the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.
The hospital façade is longer than tall. A colonnade of composite columns rhythmically punctuates the full front. Each column is placed apart at a distance that equals their height and the arcade behind them maintains the same measurement, creating a series of cubes. Sweeping arches fly up from each capital and leap down the length of the building, like a beating pulse. In the triangular spaces where the arches meet there are tondos, (circular framed), ceramic babies in sculptural relief. Above, on the top floor of the 2-story building, the rectangular windows have triangular caps that visually lift the weight of the horizontal building upwards. The design incorporates grey stone and white stucco to break up the space into geometric patterns. The whole building feels light and measured.
Brunelleschi was a trained goldsmith, and sculptor, but when in 1403 he only won second place in the competition to create panels for the FlorenceBaptistery doors, he seemed to quit all that and turn to architecture. He is known for designing innovative machines to help construction, and for his greatest masterpiece, a wonder of the world, the largest Dome of the time, theDome of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is more then 150 feet across and involved construction 180 feet in the air. It took 18 years to build and there were only three accidental deaths recorded! Brunelleschi, a problem-solver, patented many innovations to get the job done. Born in 1377, he died ten years after the completion in 1446 and is buried under the dome.
My son, another problem solver, is working in construction with a company proposing fast pop-up buildings for FEMA. It looks as though they will be made of extruded recycled plastic, and dome like in shape. I wonder if asking for columns and arches would be too much? Maybe some tondos framing the virus?