There are few architects who are so radical in their day that they have a style named after them which survives several centuries later. Seventeenth century Veneto must have been an exciting place. Clients were demanding their new villas to be designed in the latest fashion by Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580), the sought-after architect of the time, in a style which has continued to be popular with many turns and twists into modern times – that is over five hundred years, which is quite astonishing. A modern equivalent may be Mies van der Rohe whose new modern style of architecture, totally stripped of ornamentation, used modern materials in proportion, harmony and structural order.
Palladio’s work and ongoing influence is examined at “Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and the Unexpected” at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London. Drawing extensively on the RIBA’s own outstanding library and drawings collection, the exhibition refers back to the Roman engineer and author Vitruvius who published “De architectura”, known as “The Ten Books of Architecture” (compared to Palladio’s “Four” and comes through Palladio’s time right into the 21st century with a postmodern Canadian ski lodge.
Designed by architects Caruso St John who have been responsible for recent contemporary art galleries in London for the Gagosian and Damien Hirst, using drawings, books, photographs, models by Rick Armiger and films, the focus of the exhibition is inevitably Palladio’s work and the work of British architects such as Inigo Jones, William Kent, James Gibbs and Lord Burlington who introduced this new style of architecture into Britain and adopted Palladian principles while sweeping away the old Gothic style, while also being adopted in the US and elsewhere in Europe. It then examines how the Palladian influence has continued since then in buildings such as the US Capitol in Washington and in a modern way by architects such as Erik Gunnar Asplund, Aldo Rossi, George Saumarez-Smith and Peter Märkli and the Belgian practice OFFICE in the unbuilt Villa Ordos in Mongolia that inverts Palladio’s Villa Rotonda.
The exhibition aims to provoke debate about the authenticity of a historic style of architecture which has been abused to an extent in its use by post-modernists but where, if the classical detail is stripped out, the basic principles may still have merit for the 21st century.