Palladian Projects Not Meant to Be

This has happened once before.

After spending four solid months carefully reading through the five classical orders in Book I of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture, I wanted to skim over the remaining few chapters and wrap up with a summary of the first book.  I was anxious to move on.  Something inside wouldn’t let me do it, though, and I ended up writing a few more articles on chapters I thought, at first, didn’t have enough content to stand on their own.

Here I am again.

After spending four months Googling, cataloguing, and mapping the palazzi and villas in Book II of the Four Books on Architecture, I again anxiously wanted to wrap up the book with a summary and move on, without any mention of the final two chapters.

I can’t do it.

Palladio follows his villa designs with a brief chapter on “Estates of the Ancients,” a description and an image of a Roman villa with associated farm buildings arranged according to Vitruvius’ description in his first century book, De architectura.

This probably would have been the end of Book II, but Palladio must have had a similar nagging feeling that I have right now.  He had a few more designs in mind that he felt would be helpful to his readers and something inside compelled him to add one more chapter.

“On Some Projects for Different Sites” was not a small undertaking, either.  He presents seven designs – in both plan and elevation – of proposed houses he designed for clients that were not built, but he puts as much effort in describing and drawing them as he did for all of his others that (supposedly) were.

My intention was to talk about only those buildings which were either finished, or begun and brought to such a stage that one could hope for their early completion…

…I then decided that it would not be irrelevant to our purpose to add to the designs included above a few projects that I have made at the request of various gentlemen, which they have not subsequently completed because of those difficulties that can arise.

His first two plans are assumed to be for sites in Venice, although the patrons are not named.  He proposes a basement for one, which the translators point out would be unlikely in water-logged Venice.  Through these designs, Palladio was demonstrating how one might design a house on a less than ideal site, i.e. a triangular one.

Venice Design #1

Venice Design #2

The next three plans are for gentlemen we have been introduced to before: brothers Francesco and Lodovico Trissino, Giacomo Angarano, and Giovanni Battista Della Torre.  Palladio’s proposed design for the Trissinos was to be located in Vicenza and so must have been a palazzo, with a grand courtyard surrounded by Ionic columns.  The Angarano proposal was also for a palazzo in Vicenza with two courtyards.  I am guessing that the suggested design for Della Torre was to be a palazzo, versus a villa, because it was to be built near the “great gates popularly known as Della Brà,” which marks the entrance to Piazza Brà in the city of Verona.

Proposed Palazzo Trissino

Proposed Palazzo Angarano

Proposed Palazzo Della Torre

It is very puzzling that he chose to include these three designs in his “never happened” chapter, even though previous designs for these same men in the “at least construction had started” chapters were not built either.  (How much was completed of the Palazzo Della Torre of Chapter III is unknown, even though Palladio says a large portion was constructed before work stopped upon Della Torre’s death and what remained was bombed in World War II).

Next is a design for a gentleman of Vicenza for what could be either a palazzo or a villa; Palladio does not name its location.  I am calling it a villa based on its two, two-story, opposing porticos, similar to Villa Cornaro.

Proposed Villa(?) Garzadori

Lastly is a villa with curved barchesse “wings” proposed for Leonardo Mocenigo on the Brenta river.

Proposed Villa Mocenigo

Mocenigo ended up pursuing construction of a villa with a different, and much simpler, design by Palladio for a site closer to Venice.  However, he was the only Venetian patron of Palladio’s – of the nine presented in Chapter XIV, that is – whose villa was not finished.

I would love to understand the logic of Palladio’s choices for this final chapter of Book II, but as usual, he leaves me with more questions.

And I should say that my anxiousness to finish Book II, and Book I for that matter, is not because I don’t enjoy studying Palladio’s architecture.  I could happily spend the next several years studying his Four Books, parsing out his theories, design process, and his mysteries.  The anxiety comes from realizing there are more threads to pull and rabbit holes to follow, like this most recent one:

Colin Rowe’s unorthodox and non-chronological view of history then made it possible for him to develop theoretical formulations such as his famous essay “The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa” (1947) in which he theorised that there were compositional “rules” in Palladio’s villas that could be demonstrated to correspond to similar “rules” in Le Corbusier’s villas at Poissy and Garches.

~ Wikipedia, “Palladanism”

Who is Colin Rowe?  My list of books, topics, people, and places related to Andrea Palladio that I want to learn more about is growing faster than I can keep up with.

Luckily, I should never run out of good material.

Villas in Review

Andrea Palladio’s second chapter on villas – those designed for his non-Venetian patrons – in his Four Books on Architecture does not end as neatly as his chapter on palazzi, with the final palazzo having centuries later been converted into a museum dedicated to the architect himself.  As with many of Palladio’s villa designs in this chapter, the twelfth and final one ends with a building that never really existed at all.

In fact, only three of the villas presented in Chapter XV remain in their Palladian splendor today.  Of the rest, they were either never built, begun but destroyed and rebuilt by someone else, or only the barchesse (farm building), or portion thereof, was ever constructed.

Designs of Houses on Estates Belonging to Some Gentlemen of the Terra Firma:
Top row: Saraceno (Finale)
Second row: Ragona (Ghizzole)
Third row: Poiana (Poiana), Valmarana (Lisiera)
Fourth row: Trissino (Meledo)
Fifth row: Repeta (Campiglia), Thiene (Cicogna)
Sixth row: Angarano (Bassano del Grappa)
Seventh row: Thiene (Quinto)
Eighth row: Godi (Lonedo)
Bottom row: Sarego (Santa Sofia), Sarego (Miega)

Of the three houses that still exist from this group (some might argue, four¹), thankfully Villa Godi is one of them.  This was Palladio’s first villa design, completed in 1542, and is open to the public for tours and events.  Villas Saraceno and Poiana are the other two lucky survivors.

For some of Palladio’s villas, the main house was built, but not the farm “wings,” or barchesse, where farm equipment was stored and offices for the farm manager and accountant were located.  For others, only the barchesse was built, and not the house, as was the case for Villa Trissino in Meledo and Villa Thiene in Cicogna.

Villa Trissino barchesse – Meledo, Italy (c. 1567)

Villas Valmarana, Repeta, Angarano, Thiene (Quinto), and Sarego (Santa Sofia) began life as Palladian, but due to various circumstances, ended up quite differently than intended.

Villa Angarano – Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Palladian barchesse on the left; villa and barchesse on the right completed by Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena of Venice.

It is so very puzzling to me how the set of villas built by Palladio’s Venetian patrons from Chapter XIV had much happier endings than those built, or almost built, by Palladio’s Vicentine and Veronese patrons in Chapter XV.  Why did one group fare so much more successfully than the other?  And how could Palladio have known that when he was laying out his chapters in the Four Books?

Because Palladio had to have known that many of his villas would never be finished in his lifetime, I wonder if he felt it was more important to preserve what might have been in his Four Books on Architecture than dwell on what wasn’t to be.  As architect and author, he could decide how he wanted his work to be remembered, no matter what reality decided, and leave a model for future architects to recreate.

Over the centuries since and around the world, architects have continued to do just that.

Villa Poiana – Poiana, Italy (1546-1563)
Modern day Villa Poiana – Ocean Ridge, California (David Pierce Hohmann, architect)

What a wise – and partially psychic – man he was.

¹ Some may consider Villa Sarego in Santa Sofia as “remaining,” but the majority of its construction did not resume until 1857, some three hundred years later.

Palladian Days

Interestingly, and for reasons I do not know, Andrea Palladio splits the presentation of his twenty-one villa designs in Book II of his Four Books on Architecture into two chapters: nine are in Chapter XIV: “On the Designs of Houses on the Estates of Some Noble Venetians” and twelve are in Chapter XV: “On the Designs of Houses on Estates Belonging to Some Gentlemen of the Terra Firma.”  (All but one of the nine villas in Chapter XIV remain; Villa Mocenigo, by varying accounts, either was never built, or construction having begun, was destroyed).

Designs of Houses on the Estates of Some Noble Venetians:



Top row: Pisani (Bagnolo), Badoer (Fratta Polesine)
Second row: Zeno (Cessalto), Foscari (Mira)
Third row: Barbaro (Maser), Pisani (Montagnana)
Fourth row: Cornaro (Piombino Dese), Moncenigo (Maracco)

Bottom row: Emo (Fanzolo)

When presenting his palazzo designs in Chapter III, he was clear that he had

taken no notice of the status or rank of the gentlemen who are to be mentioned, though of course they are all extremely distinguished, but have placed them in the text to suit myself.

That he separated the villas of his Venetian patrons from those primarily of Vicenza is either a distinction of logistics or pride on Palladio’s part.  Or maybe it was a combination of the two.  To be sought after by wealthy and powerful families from Venice was a great accomplishment professionally for Palladio and worthy of pointing out, and logistically, the Venetian noblemen’s villas were fairly spread out.

The eight Palladian villas of Venetian noblemen.

Among these was Villa Cornaro.

About six months ago, I learned that Villa Cornaro had come on the market last summer after thirty years of ownership by Carl and Sally Gable and that the couple had written a book about their experiences living in a 450 year-old Palladian villa.  Of course I ordered the book, Palladian Days, and read chapters here and there along with my study of Palladio’s Four Books.  The reading of one greatly enhanced the meaning of the other.  And by coincidence, which I seem to experience quite a bit of lately, I finished Palladian Days precisely as I began reading Palladio’s first chapter on villas.

Villas were essentially farm houses: working buildings designed for their owners to live in comfortably during the spring planting and fall harvest months, as well as house the people and equipment necessary for managing a farm.  The rest of the year, members of the household lived in the family palazzo in the city.  Carl and Sally Gable chose to live in Villa Cornaro according to the same schedule, spending the springs and falls in Piombino Dese and the rest of the year in their Atlanta, Georgia home.

The couple loved their villa and all its history and quirks, even reading Palladio’s Four Books themselves.  They spent much of their time studying its proportions, statues, frescos, graffiti, and Cornaro family lineage.  They also spent much of their money repairing its roof and portico.

Their book is a wonderful collection of memorable stories about villa life.  A few I found noteworthy:

  • Villa Cornaro is one, if not the last, of Palladio’s villas to still have its original stucco layer, intonaco, still intact over the exterior brick.


  • The couple “cracked the code” of Palladio’s dictum that “the parts correspond to the whole and to each other,” even attributing the sense of calm they felt inside the villa to the proportional nature of the rooms.

The grand salon, we realize, is equivalent to two of the modules (that is, two Noah rooms) placed side by side.  What an epiphany!

~ Palladian Days, Chapter 27, “Harmony and Balance”

  • Two underground passageways leading from the pond to the stairwells may have been a form of air conditioning for the villa.  The passages were sealed when the villa was used as a parish kindergarten in the 1950s.
One of two sealed passageways on either side of the bridge at Villa Cornaro, Piombino Dese

While each of these eight villas has their own stories to tell, Villa Cornaro is the only one – that I know of – to have been given a voice by owners willing to seek them out, experience them, and share them with the world.  Palladian Days gives those of us who are not able to experience living in a Palladian villa ourselves a fantastic front row seat.

Palladio would have enjoyed this book, and probably cringed at times, but at least he would know that his work continues to be loved and cared for by many the world over.

The Tablinum

In Book II of his Four Books on Architecture, Andrea Palladio intersperses his chapters on ancient atria and halls with discussions on the private houses of ancient Greeks and Romans.  A type of room common to both societies’ homes, but not discussed in any depth by Palladio, is the tablinum, a.k.a. the home office, and in both cultures, this room was located in a similar spot within the floor plan: overlooking the portico and courtyard.

Ancient Greek private house
Ancient Roman private house

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the fact that this particular room – one I assumed was an invention that came along with the home computer – is rooted in antiquity.   As I thought more about it, I realized there has been some form of home office in every house I’ve ever lived in, including my parents’ as I was growing up; theirs was a desk in the bedroom with a manual typewriter sitting on top.

Although its size and location continues to evolve, its function throughout the millennia has remained as vital to the carrying out of daily life as the spaces for cooking, eating, and sleeping.

Leave it to Beaver: Ward Cleaver’s study
The Brady Bunch: Michael Brady’s home architecture studio
New York City studio apartment

It should have been no surprise to me that the Romans had home offices over 2,000 years ago, for as long as there has been commerce, somebody has needed a place to pay the bills.

Rendering of a Roman tablinum, Villa dei Papiri – Herculaneum, Italy

But the Romans knew the importance of a good view while they were at it.


Andrea Palladio devotes three short chapters to three ancient versions of the hall in Book II of his Four Books on Architecture, where again he focuses on their proportions and layouts.  For the Romans and Greeks, halls were located along the periphery and/or rear of the house, where banquets and parties took place.  It is in Book I that Palladio describes the hall’s placement and purpose in the “modern” home:

…all well-designed houses have places in the middle and in the most beautiful parts which all the others correspond to and can be reached from.  These places in the lower story are popularly called entrances and those in the upper story, halls.  Halls are designed for parties, banquets, as the sets for acting out comedies, weddings, and similar entertainments, and so these spaces must be much larger than the others and must have a shape that will be as capacious as possible so that many people can gather in them comfortably and observe what is going on.

~ Book I, Chapter XXI, “On Loggias, Entrances, Halls, and Rooms
and Their Shapes

While the ancient Roman atrium was no longer a part of the 16th century private residence, the hall continued to play an important role in the homes of Italian Renaissance noblemen, whether in a palazzo or a villa.  In a way, the hall took on the prominence that the atrium possessed centuries before: placed in the center of the house and ornately decorated.

Villa Emo, grand salon – Fanzolo di Vedelago, Italy (1559)

The “entertainments” Palladio refers to most likely included salons: gatherings of prominent artists, writers, and thinkers with friends and acquaintances of the host.  In fact, the word “salon” comes from sala, or salone, which is Italian for hall.

The salon was an Italian invention of the 16th century and continued to flourish in Italy throughout the 19th century.  Originally held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation, these gatherings often consciously followed Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate.”

~ Wikipedia, “Salon” (paraphrased)

Ah, poetry! (It is still National Poetry Month, after all).

In another round of synchronicity, I happened to see my poet friend just the day before I began reading Palladio’s chapters on ancient halls.  She told me how she planned to have 10-15 poetry salons over the remainder of the year, sharing her poetry in people’s homes amongst their guests.

In the 21st-century the tradition continues, with the modern-day cultural salon thriving in cities around the world.

~ Wikipedia, “Salon”

A salon renaissance, perhaps?

Through my own brief research, (i.e. Googling), today’s version of the salon gives me the impression of an intimate TED Talk, where the line between speaker and audience is blurred, or doesn’t exist at all, and the sharing of ideas goes both ways.

If a resurgence of the salon – the gathering – is coming, how long before the sala – a beautiful room in the middle of one’s home – returns to 21st century residential architecture?

Because it is a bit of a shame that we went from this definition of a hall:

La Rotonda, central hall – Vicenza, Italy (1592)

to this:

My upper story “halls”

On the one hand, I would love to host a poetry salon; on the other, my current “hall” simply won’t do.  Nevertheless, I am excited about the return of the salon and I hope to attend one soon, no matter where it’s held.

A beautifully frescoed hall would be nice, though.

Ancient Atria

I’m back to reading Book II of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture, post-National Architecture Week.  After presenting his designs for “houses of the city,” Palladio then moves on – keeping his promise, he says – to discuss the “houses of the ancients.”  He writes that the atrium “was one of the most remarkable parts” of the Roman home.  He doesn’t explain why he thinks so, but I agree with him.

Modern day atria are open spaces in the middle of a building, usually with expanses of glass skylights overhead.  Their primary function is to create a communal space filled with light and air, as well as a place to add natural elements, like water features and trees, simulating the feeling of being outdoors.

Orlando International Airport atrium

For the Romans, however, the outdoors were actually encouraged to come in.  For them, the atrium was the mechanism for collecting water for the household.  Even though the room was richly ornate, the roof was intentionally constructed with a large hole in it, completely open and exposed to whatever elements Mother Nature supplied, most desirably, rain.  Directly under this opening (compluvium), was a shallow pool (impluvium).  Rainwater would fall through the opening, collect in the pool, and drain into an underground cistern, where it would collect for future use.

Ancient indoor plumbing: workings of a Roman atrium

Not only was the pool designed to filter the water as it flowed to the cistern, via sand and gravel beneath cleverly spaced tiles or porous concrete, the pool itself provided a form of evaporative cooling for the surrounding rooms during warmer weather.

Atrium, House of the Vettii – Pompeii, Italy

Palladio chose to focus on the form of the atrium – its relative dimensions and placement within the house – as an architect would.  Stymied once again by Palladio’s proportions not matching his drawings – flashback to Book I – I found myself increasingly fascinated with the function of the atrium – as an engineer would.

And as someone who aspires to blend the art of the former with the science of the latter, how could this feature be incorporated into the 21st century home?  Maybe cutting giant holes in the roof isn’t the answer, but having the ability to collect, filter, and store water for emergency, or even general, use wouldn’t be such a bad idea, and maybe even necessary, considering the effects on our municipal water supplies from natural disasters and human ineptitude.

A favorite modern-day architect of mine, Glenn Murcutt, designed a residence in Australia with an outdoor impluvium, albeit deeper than the Roman version, for the purpose of collecting water for firefighting.  The Simpson-Lee House is located in an area susceptible to wild fires, but with a readily available source of fresh water, the home and surrounding vegetation can be saturated by means of rooftop sprinklers, protecting the house from damage.

Beautiful + functional: Simpson-Lee House – Mount Wilson, Australia (Glenn Murcutt, architect)

Andrea Palladio didn’t feel inclined to include an atrium in the homes he designed, but for us today, the vulnerabilities of essential infrastructure systems are reaching a tipping point.  Not only could a modern day atrium provide insurance against a loss of safe municipal water, it could also be a source of peace and beauty.

Carrara House – Buenos Aires, Argentina (Andres Remy Architects)

A remarkable room to say the least.

Architecture + Poetry = Synchronicity

Synchronicity – the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

It’s been a magical week.  And the only explanation for it is pure synchronicity.  Even that word – synchronicity – emerged from a synchronous event.

My version of “Cheers” is my neighborhood fitness center.  After more than a year of showing up there on a near-daily basis, I’ve gotten to know the regulars and they’ve gotten to know me and my architecture career dream.  I don’t know if they think I’m crazy, but they humor me – in helpful ways – and that is how I learned from the personal fitness trainer that there would be a modern home tour in Knoxville the weekend after Easter.  Synchronous event #1: I never would have known about this otherwise.

As I looked in to the details of this tour, I learned that this was one of several events organized by the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (ETAIA) in commemoration of National Architecture Week, celebrated every year during the week of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.  Synchronous event #2: Thomas Jefferson was a devoted follower of Andrea Palladio, whom I have been studying myself for some time now.  Local events for the week included the tour, a lecture, a symposium, a design contest, and a gala.

About the same time, in late March, I received an invitation to a poetry event from a nationally recognized, award-winning poet who happens to spend some of her mornings at my fitness center.  Synchronous event #3a: How cool is that? and #3b: It was the same weekend as the modern home tour.

When the anticipated weekend arrived, I spent the cold, gray Saturday afternoon touring the modern homes around town, generously shared by their proud owners to the public.  On Sunday afternoon, I sat in the audience of the poetry reading with my dear, willing friend – neither one of us had ever been to a poetry performance before – and we both thought it was a great experience.  Poetry is so raw and honest.  During the Q&A session with the panel of poets that followed, a gentleman asked them all to describe their creative process.  I was so glad he asked!  I loved hearing their answers.  Synchronous event #4: This was so helpful to me as someone who is always wanting to learn more about how creative minds work.

The next morning at the fitness center, I saw my poet friend.  Synchronous event #5: I hadn’t seen her much lately and now I’d seen her twice in as many days.  I told her how much I enjoyed the event and how much I got out of her answer to the man-in-the-front-row’s questions.  She said, “Yes, he was so thoughtful.  He’s an architect.”  Synchronous event #6: enough said.

That night, I attended the lecture, which was given by Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa.  Two things stood out from what he said:

  • He advised students (the primary audience) to “make friends with craftspeople, poets (Synchronous event #7), and artists – they can teach you what quality is.”
  • “The work expresses the maker.”  Synchronous event #8:  I recently read in a local magazine that Knoxville has been named the “Maker City.”

I attended the architecture symposium the following night.  It was an entertaining event with local architects giving presentations on local projects.  As I was waiting for things to get started, I chatted with a friendly woman who had moved to Knoxville not long before me.  We talked about how much there was to do in this relatively small city and how she had just been to a poetry event.  I said I was at a poetry event.  “At the Flying Anvil?” she asked.  “Yes!” I said.  Synchronous event #9.  “And I’m so glad that guy asked that question about the poets’ creative process.  I got so much out of that.”  And she said, as she pointed to the row of chairs behind me, “Oh, that was my husband.  He’s an architect.”  Synchronous event #10: Are you kidding me?!?

The next day, I related this entire story to the woman who accompanied me to the poetry reading:  “I can’t believe it!” she said.  “What synchronicity!”  Synchronous event #11: The perfect word to describe the dominant theme of the week.

But wait!  There’s more.

Taking inspiration from a speaker at the symposium, who gave a lively etymology lesson on the word “symposium,” I searched for the origin of the word “poetry.”

Poetry – the term derives from a variant of the Greek term, poiesis, “to make.”  Synchronous event #12a: This is what architects do – make buildings; and #12b: we’re back to Knoxville’s new moniker, the Maker City.

In sketch form – on the backs of envelopes, of course – my week of synchronous events looks like this:

Like poetry: raw and honest

And so it is that the month of April is both National Architecture Month and National Poetry Month: two vocations I previously thought had nothing to do with each other actually have more similarities than differences.

Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretations to words, or to evoke emotive responses.

Similarly, figures of speech such as metaphor, simile and metonymy create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived.

~ Wikipedia, “Poetry”

For me, these kinds of serendipitous phenomena make life wondrous and I felt it was worth documenting these events.  The month of Architecture and Poetry is still young, but I don’t expect to have another week like this for a while.

Maybe next April…

Palazzos in Review

Top row: Antonini, Chiericati, Iseppo da Porto;
Middle row: Della Torre, Thiene;
Bottom row: Valmarana, La Rotonda, Capra, Barbarano

Andrea Palladio limited his selection of city houses to nine designs for publication in Book II of his Four Books on Architecture.  I’ve spent the last three months – nearly all of 2018 – writing about each one (plus two others he designed post-publication and a villa thrown in out of curiosity).

To be honest, I don’t know what I can say I’ve learned from the effort.  I was primarily interested in whether these buildings still existed after four and a half centuries and, if so, what condition they were in.  Unlike the thousands of abandoned square feet in the cities I’ve lived in, Palladio’s palazzos (palazzi, to be correct) are still being used and cared for today.  Thanks to Google Maps, I’ve been able to walk down the city streets of Vicenza, Italy and zoom in on the details of these magnificent buildings, possibly better than I could have in person.  It’s given me a tremendous appreciation for the quality of construction and attention to detail Palladio and the Renaissance builders and craftsmen put in to each one.  But as far as exactly why these buildings have remained “useful, durable, and beautiful,” I can’t say that I fully understand that yet.  Could I now design a palazzo that would meet Palladio’s high standards?  I doubt it.

That level of understanding would have required me to look much more closely at Palladio’s room dimensions and other geometries and comparing those to his chapters in Book I on the Classical orders and his methods for determining vault and ceiling heights.  But who am I kidding?  I know from previous experience that kind of study would have led to extreme frustration: Palladio’s measurements usually don’t match up very nicely with his stated proportions.

Instead, all my mental energy went in to being intrigued by how lavishly and opulently these noblemen of Vicenza lived without the basic utilities of running water and electricity.  I think about this often, especially in the context of how dependent we are on these things today.  When a situation like the Flint, Michigan drinking water catastrophe or the destruction of the entire electrical system in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria occurs, we can find ourselves completely unable to function without that infrastructure, without a means to recover.

Maybe what I am interested in, as much as the architecture, is how people lived, and lived well, without the heavy dependencies on networks of systems controlled by others, public or private, who may or may not have their best interests in mind.

Using the lessons of the past to learn how to live more self-reliantly in the future is a driving question for me and is something I see myself focusing on in my architecture career.  How can we remain connected without being dependent to the point that we are one politician’s bad decision or one infrastructure failure away from having our entire way of life – and our health – negatively altered for years to come?  Some people choose to live “off-the-grid;” they also live in isolation.  How can we do both?

It is ironic in a way: Palladio also had a fascination with the successful cultures of the past: rediscovering the forgotten wisdom of the ancient Greeks and Romans through the writings of Vitruvius and applying it to his modern, 15th century society’s buildings.

In fact, Palladio spends the next eight chapters of Book II discussing the “designs of the ancient houses of the Greeks and Latins” – which I have yet to read – before he moves on to the more than two dozen country estates he designed for “gentlemen of Vicenza.”

As much as I will be tempted to devote a week to each of Palladio’s villas, I will refrain and instead focus my limited mental energy towards (hopefully) uncovering the ways he adapted the lessons learned from the ancients to the needs of his day.

Maybe then I’ll have an idea of how to do the same.

Palazzo Barbarano

It is fitting that Andrea Palladio concludes his chapter “On the Designs of Houses in the City” in Book II of his Four Books on Architecture with Palazzo Barbarano: it is now the home of the Palladio Museum and the Andrea Palladio International Center for Architectural Studies.

Palladio was designing Palazzo Barbarano just as the Four Books was being prepared for printing in 1570.  Because he was running out of time and was not able to redraw his plan and elevation for this building, we have the opportunity to see – in almost real time – how the design changes significantly from the conception phase to the construction phase based on his client’s actions.  Already, due to site conditions and existing structures, the floor plan of the palazzo was not to be symmetrical.  When Montano Barbarano purchased an adjacent lot, Palladio was then further forced to creatively incorporate the existing foundations and walls of that property as well, to develop a cohesive design.  Distinct modifications were made to the façade, which Palladio was able to demonstrate – just in time for publication – in his elevation detail woodcut: namely, the change from two-story, Composite columns to single story Ionic (lower) and Corinthian (upper) columns and the elimination of the attic story balcony.  Design constraints also dictated that the palazzo’s main entrance would be off-center, which Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi illustrated in his book, The Buildings and Designs of Andrea Palladio.

Palladio’s Palazzo Barbarano – preliminary elevation and plan

Bertotti Scamozzi’s Palazzo Barbarano – “as-built” elevation and plan

Palazzo Barbarano – bird’s eye view
Palladio’s Palazzo Barbarano – final elevation detail

This woodcut may have been the last one Palladio created for his Four Books, and construction must have been far enough along that no other changes were made.  Possibly, this drawing contributed to the distinction Palazzo Barbarano has been given above all the other palazzos he designed:

The sumptuous residence realised between 1570 and 1575 for the Vicentine noble Montano Barbarano is the only great city palace that Andrea Palladio succeeded in executing in its entirety.

~ Wikipedia, “Palazzo Barbaran da Porto”

Actually, the Palazzo Barbaran is the only palace in Vicenza which was finished according to the design.

~, “Palazzo Barbaran da Porto”

The Palladio Museum is housed in one of Palladio’s autograph works, the Palazzo Barbarano. Indeed it is the only palace that he actually saw completed and in which he was able to exercise full control over the construction and decorations.


Palazzo Barbarano – Vicenza, Italy (1575)
Palazzo Barbarano – directly across the street from the Gothic façade of Palazzo Thiene on Contrà Porti
Palazzo Barbarano – courtyard
Palazzo Barbarano – main façade Ionic capitals
Palazzo Barbarano – courtyard Ionic capitals (with unique, two-sided corner scroll)

Palazzo Barbarano provides the proper ending to the palazzos of the Four Books on Architecture and a rightful tribute to its author.

This is Palladio’s Palazzo.

Palazzo Capra

Altered and forgotten, but not gone.

Palazzo Capra is the first of Andrea Palladio’s designs I have come across to be included in Book II of his Four Books on Architecture and seemingly ignored everywhere else: Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi left it out of his otherwise comprehensive book, The Buildings and Designs of Andrea Palladio, and there’s no Wikipedia entry for it, either.  However, the website,, does give a few clues as to why that might be.  Palladio is believed to have designed Palazzo Capra in the early 1540’s and construction was completed in 1567, three years before the Four Books were published.  However, in 1658, the Piovini family acquired the property and began renovations that resulted in extensive alterations of both the interiors and exterior façades.  No longer recognizable as Palladio’s design, Bertotti Scamozzi may have chosen not to include drawings for Palazzo Capra in his book, as he, too, in 1776, had very little to go on to recreate an as-built version of the original.

Palladio’s Palazzo Capra – elevation
Palazzo Capra Piovini – façade along Corso Andrea Palladio
Palazzo Capra Piovini – elevation detail of central bay modification along Corso Andrea Palladio

In Palladio’s plan, the main façade looked out onto what is now the Corso Andrea Palladio – and Palazzo Thiene Bonin Longare directly across the street.  The site being deep and narrow, the longest façade was parallel to the Piazza Castello.

Palladio’s Palazzo Capra – plan

After architect Antonio Pizzocaro’s redesign for the Piovinis, this elevation has become the focal point and most photographed portion of the building.  Because Palladio did not provide an elevation drawing of this façade, it is unknown if any of his original elements remain.

Palazzo Capra Piovini façade along Piazza Castello – Vicenza, Italy (c. 1658, Antonio Pizzocaro, architect)
Palazzo Capra Piovini – main façade and rear loggia

Today, the palazzo enjoys modern life as home to Coin, a major Italian department store chain.

Coin Department Store in the former Palazzo Capra Piovini – Vicenza, Italy

It is, in a way, unfortunate that Palazzo Capra no longer resembles Palladio’s intention, as he had high expectations for this building:

Its shape will be beautiful and varied, and this gentleman will certainly have a house which will be much praised and magnificent, as his noble character deserves.

Although not Palladian, the building does retain Classical features which, whether in fashion or architecture, never go out of style.