Skip to content

Monastic Order and Urban Gathering Spaces


Monastery plan of St. Gall. Ideal plan for a Monastery (not built)



The plan was organized to a module of 40 feet ( approx. one square in the court) – a number of Christian significance, periods of penitence to the monks, forty days of the flood, forty years of Hebrews wandering in the desert, forty day vigil of Moses, and so on. Centered in the plan and the social order was the church and the cloister court. Removed from the outer services and activities, also located in the center of the organization were the dormitories of the monks, the refectory (dining hall), and the cellar surrounding the courtyard on 3 sides. The courtyard had cross paths and a central fountain. The only entrance to the inner area was through the monks parlor called a mandatum, where the feet of the visitors would be washed.

Surrounding the church and court were the necessary elements to sustain life, animal pens, barns, lodging for workers, guest facilities, school, the abbots house, and a smaller church and cloister bound by the infirmary and cemetery.

Monasteries of the middle ages were concentrated urban settlements, which served as culture and economic centers. Monasteries as well as other settlements of the middle ages developed as a response to the human threat outside of the walls, centering on spiritual concerns – rather than expressed relationships with the landscape around.


Two important Monasteries

Illustrate some of the primary conditions of the monastic community.


Abbey of Mont St. Michel


1024 AD

Mont St. Michel demonstrates, through its setting, the major characteristics of location – defensible, singular compositions, usually walled, in this case a fortified castle.


Certosa di Pavia

Florence, Italy


These views of Certosa primarily represent the private quarters of the monks, wrapping the cloister on the interior. Each monk had a house or apartment and an outdoor garden area. At Certosa the housing also creates the expression of the wall.

Piazza San Marco

Venice, Italy

830 (Church of San Marco)

The church of St. Marks was begun in 830. In 1063 a new church was built on the foundations of the earlier church as a cross shaped structure.

The piazza is an L-shaped space with two primary arms. Loggias (open galleries along the entrances) line all three sides of the enclosed space facing the church of St. Marks, a similar characteristic to the forum at Pompeii.

The piazza is located at the point where the grand canal meets the sea, and is framed by a gate of two granite columns-the winged lion of St. Mark and a patron saint, Theodore on a crocodile. Piazza San Marco is the entrance to the city.

The Piazza San Marco is composed of three parts–the piazza facing St. Marks church, a smaller piazzetta facing the palace (Doges Palace), and the campanile (tower) which links the two other spaces. All three parts create an L-shaped space.

Piazza del Campo

Siena, Italy


Siena is built on three hills which meet at a central point, creating a Y shaped ridge system with streets marking the pattern.

The piazza del campo is located at the point where the three hills meet.

The piazza is the public square. The shape of the piazza is like a fan with a natural bowl to the middle faced by the town hall with a tall tower which is visible from a great distance.

The other dominant feature of the city of Siena is the towns cathedral, located nearby on the highest piece of the city.


The Piazza del Campo is medieval in origin. Siena had an office for the embellishment of the town ufficiali dell ornato. The city is dominated by an orderly organization of buildings -unified building height, colors and textures. About 1297, it was determined that all of the houses surrounding the Piazza del Campo should have the same windows.

Leave a Comment

Contact CSU Equal Opportunity Privacy Statement Disclaimer

2018 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA