The Tower of Pisa: Case Study

The councilors of the town of Pisa in Italy were struggling to attract people into the area.  Located in Cathedral Square are the Cathedral and the Baptistery but this was not perceived to be enough to draw in enough visitors to the area to benefit the local economy.  A meeting was held between the town planners and city council officials to discuss a plan.  It was decided that no city could be complete without a large tower.  Not only would a tower represent and channel the aspirations of the city but it would become a major tourist attraction.

After planning permission was sought construction of the tower began in 1174 and continued in three stages over the following 177 years.  Soon after construction began on the tower it became evident that it was beginning to lean to one side.  Initially this was thought to be a bad thing but when visitor numbers to the area increased city officials realised it was good for business.  To have as a landmark just a tower would perhaps have meant that Pisa’s tower could have been just like any other tower the world over.  The various architects involved in the project could never have predicted the effect such a construction error would have on visitor numbers or they would surely have designed the tower to incorporate a 3.9 meter slant.  Tourists loved it and to this day still do.

The Tower of Pisa was forced to change its name and in doing so became one of the most instantly recognisable landmarks of the world.  Tourists come to the leaning tower to climb its 294 steps and marvel at a tower that seems to defy physics.  Some visitors take photo’s of their friends with their arms stretched out as if supporting the tower and preventing it from falling.  In recent years restoration work has been carried out on the tower to prevent it from toppling completely.  The tower was closed to the public between 1990 and 2001 and work was done to stabalise the tower.  The tower was straightened by 45 cm, restoring the tower to the position it was in 1830.  Engineers now believe that the tower should now remain stable for around another 200 – 300 years.  The heritage has been preserved; the locals and city officials can be delighted with many more years of public attention over a tower that was basically built incorrectly.

Lessons can be learned from the leaning tower.  The tower is a reminder of how although as humans we might strive for perfection, imperfection can have its own rewards.  People travel from all over the world to visit a tower that is forever falling over.  The tower is not perfect but no less attractive; it has its own charm and character.  Perfection can often be allusive, but once attained can sometimes prompt criticism.  Perhaps the notion of perfection is flawed.  Mistakes are inevitable, “I’m not perfect”.  People who think themselves to be perfect are not attractive.  People’s imperfections can manifest an endearing quality.  In the same sense the tower’s endearing lean makes it a popular attraction for visitors.

The people involved with building the tower were not perfect, if they were the story would have a very different ending.  Perhaps people would have asked why this tower in Tuscany was any more special than other towers.  The answer to the question may well have been: “nothing… it’s just a tower”.  The moral of the story: getting things wrong can be better than getting things right.

The tower leans 12ft 10in from vertical

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