Limbo or Launchpad?
How liminal space theory and a dash of Renaissance wisdom can help when your life is between acts.
Throbbing with life 24/7, Piazza Santo Spirito, in Florence’s achingly cool Oltrarno district, has been a meeting place since medieval times. Edged with gasp-inducing 15th and 16th-century buildings (including Palazzo Guadagni, on whose chilly candlelit balcony my chaplain husband, wearing army dress uniform, proposed) it is dominated by a Renaissance church designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the guy who put the dome in (or should that be on) the Duomo, Florence’s iconic cathedral.
It is the last place on earth you would expect to see a porcupine.
But there it was, clicking and skipping its way past 500-year-old carved wooden doors without a care in the world. It was all alone in the piazza, apart from the lucky resident who filmed the night footage on his cellphone.
You know what’s coming. This anachronistic event happened during the early days of the pandemic when roads and skies emptied, and nature moved in as we moved out. As well as our stripy-quilled friend’s antics, hares frolicked in Milan’s parks, deer grazed on Sardinia’s golf courses and shoals of silver fish shimmered and swerved in Venice’s canals.
Familiar spaces took on an other-worldly guise as we experienced them out of hours and out of context. It was fascinating and disquieting in equal measure.
We had all entered the physical and psychological territory known as liminal space.
In architecture, liminal space is a purely physical phenomenon aka a place. It is defined as “a transitional location” linking one destination and the next. The two (or more) destinations are distinctly different from each other and there are clear boundaries between them.
Hallways, stairwells and elevators are examples of liminal spaces. These are not designed to be lingered in but moved through, leading us from where we have just been to where we are about to go.
Florence’s Vasari corridor, the first elevated private passageway in the world, is the ultimate example of a liminal space. It was built in 1565 to link Cosimo de Medici’s…