F.O.C.U.M.   or  The Cross in the Square
a study of the role of  F.O.C.U.M.s  in towns, villages, cities and all kinds of urban spaces.

Yvonne Jerrold:  Architectural Dissertation 1979 - Urban Design

Cambridge University Library  &
Architecture and History of Art Library, Cambridge University

In the absence of an existing collective noun to describe the subject of this investigation. I have invented the word  F.O.C.U.M. which stands for  Fountains, Obelisks, Crosses and other Urban Markers.

Definition: "a focum is a free-standing vertical object dominating an external urban space whose specific public identity is reinforced by a symbiotic relationship between the object and its place in terms of both architectural forms and cultural associations".

To put it more simply - focums are those familiar urban features, often monuments of some kind, which not only decorate some public spaces but also reflect the 'spirit of the place' so effectively as to become inextricably identified with the place itself.

Most existing focums originated as commemorative or symbolic monuments and occasionally they are functional as well. Their forms invariably have vertical emphasis. Most commonly they are obelisks, columns, fountains, or market-crosses, but they can also be statues, memorial crosses or other miscellaneous forms. They range in scale from small to gigantic, their size being related more to the space of which they are a part than to the cultural significance they seek to embody.

Focums in evidence today include such structures as the market-crosses in Britain, the obelisks of Rome and many statues and fountains of European public squares.

Although not all public urban spaces necessarily contain a focum, where a focum exists, it is the architectural and cultural interaction between the object and its space which creates the uniquely identifiable personality of that place. Generally speaking, success on the architectural level is more important for the emergence of a focum than is the interrelation of the cultural factors involved.  This may be because architecture itself is a manifestation of people's cultural aspirations, so that, if the architecture is sufficiently powerful, at whatever scale, it becomes the cultural expression as well.

A focum also functions at another level, which is that of an urban marker or reference point.  Closely related to its symbolic and architectural character is the focum's ability to operate as a focal point within a space, as a landmark and also as a symbol of public possession of a particular urban place.

It is my argument that, by providing effective visual and topographical aids to the understanding of urban spatial organisation, and by incorporating symbolic or cultural meanings relevant to the people who possess its space, focums are able to exert a subtle but significant influence on the manner in which people understand, appreciate and respond to public urban spaces.

Furthermore, if  "the crime of Subtopia is that it blurs the distinction between places", then the creation of new focums could enliven and enhance many dull urban environments, since by definition a focum is a multi-dimensional place-marker which emphasises the unique nature of and individual place.

The examples used to develop the discussion are almost exclusively confined to well-known places in Italy and Britain, both because of ready availability of information and also, more importantly, because of personal knowledge and observation of the majority of focums discussed.

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