The Inspiration of Audacity

In which David describes how a visit to Tuscany continues to inspire him.

Earlier in the year, I had the pleasure of visiting Tuscany for an actual holiday. While I could bore you with how amazing the food and drink on offer was, instead I’d like to focus on one of my other interests: architecture.

Every town and village we visited had a campanile (bell tower), no matter how awkward the lie of the land or how small the town. These were invariably stunning to look at and still very much in use (much to my early morning chagrin). The town we stayed in, Verrucole, also had a fort perched at its highest point. Though not the highest point in the surrounds, it was certainly the point that gave the best vantage point (at least to my untrained eye):

Impressed as I was with these structures, and given the main airport for the region is Pisa International, it would have been careless to omit a trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, where the famous Leaning Tower is. What I hadn’t realised beforehand is that the Tower is of course the bell tower for the Duomo (Cathedral), and there’s also the Battistero di San Giovanni – and I wasn’t quite prepared for the sight that greeted me. Frankly, the Tower is rather dull in comparison.

The scale of the place is simply phenomenal. The Duomo contains so many works of art and is just an incredible structure. In fact, it’s also subsiding (all the buildings are), and if you look at the pillars from the side you can clearly tell – it’s just the tower where the effect is more pronounced!

However, my favourite building was the Battistero – this is the building where they would hold mass baptisms. It’s a massive dome structure, completed in 1363, and it simply blew me away. It took 211 years to build, but I can’t begin to imagine how long it took to plan.

Why? There’s a throwaway sentence in the Wikipedia article:

It has a notable acoustics also.

I’m going to have to go and update that article, because the accoustics in the building are what make it even more audacious than it already is. The dome is designed to allow a solo vocalist to harmonise with their own voice.

They demonstrate this every 30 minutes or so — they close the doors, and one of the attendants will move to the centre of the room and project a note towards the roof. The note just hangs in the air, allowing another note to be placed against it, over and over. The effect is incredible and beautiful.

So why do I find this inspirational? First, there’s the surprise and delight factor: at first, I just thought it was an incredible feat of construction and long-term planning, but the accoustics are the icing on the awesomecake, as it were. Secondly, that feat of construction and long-term planning is made all the more amazing to me. The understanding of the world around the designers and builders alike must have been incredibly detailed. It makes me wonder if we could accomplish anything like it in this day and age. Finally, the attention to detail in every aspect of the building is thrilling.

The whole thing inspires me to ensure my own projects are filled with attention to detail, have the capacity to surprise, and perhaps – if I’m lucky – create the same sense of inspiration in others.

-David (@dwlt)