Andrea Palladio. The “Gioco della Villa” construction game
On the occasion of the exhibition for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andrea Palladio, the CISA (Centre for International Studies of Architecture Andrea Palladio) presented the “Gioco della Villa”, a refined collectors construction game (the pieces are in ceramics) that illustrates the striking Palladian design modularity, based on an idea of Howard Burns, developed by Mauro Zocchetta with the art direction of CibicWorkshop.
You can buy the “Gioco della Villa” at CISA Online Bookshop:
A “play of combinations” in renaissance villas.
In the Quattro Libri (Book 2, pg. 4) Palladio wrote “… and in the rest of the building there should be large, medium-size and small rooms, all of which should be set one beside the other in such a manner that will facilitate intercommunication.” [“nel resto della fabrica, che vi siano stanze grandi, mediocri, e picciole: e tutte l’una à canto a l’altra, onde possano scambievolmente servirsi”].
Palladio explained that the three types of room would fulfil different needs and aims, and while evidence of such a concept may be identified in avant-garde, Florentine and Roman architecture, the idea represents an important step forward in the way of conceiving the functional organisation and layout of interiors.
These three “basic building-blocks” of a home were then arranged in the form of two apartments, symmetrically placed at the sides of the central area of a villa, which consisted in the loggia or pronaos, a large hall and often in an androne or entrance-hall with secondary staircases and latrine facilities.
When examining Palladian drawings for villas, we almost always come across what we might refer to as a “molecular apartment’ formed by three ‘atomic elements’, the largest and the smallest of which are rectangular and present the proportions 2:3, 3:4 and 3:5 or approximations very close to these combinations.
Thus, for example, 16:26.5 (calculated by reduction as 1:x) corresponds to 1:1.65625, while 3:5, expressed in the same manner, is 1:1.66. Nevertheless, exceptions are to be found: in the Rotonda, on account of its centrally-focused planimetry and a layout with only two rooms in each of the four corners of the building, and in the small, low-cost, villa Saraceno, where we find two apartments, each of which presents only two rooms.
In Palladian designs, there is not an infinite number of ways in which the three rooms can be combined.
If we call them A (large rooms), B (medium-size, square rooms) and C (small rooms), we find the following groupings:
1) Villas in which A, B and C are aligned in a sequence, with the longitudinal axis of A parallel with the sides of the house. This is a formula which Palladio derived from Trissino but later abandoned, probably because he preferred a more compact layout: a configuration which would be less ‘deep’ and less complex and which would thereby limit the cost of constructing the roof and expenses incurred to erect loggias or halls which might be larger than necessary, as occurred at Vigardolo. Four villas con be placed in this category, three of which were designed by Palladio: villa Trissino at Circoli (designed by GianGiorgio Trissino), villa Valmarana at Vigardolo, villa Emo (in which the sequence, from the façade towards the rear of the building, is B-C-A) and villa Sarego alla Miga. The latter construction is also an anomaly as a fourth room was introduced between C and the hall.
2) Villas in which A has the long side parallel with the facade and B and C are situated at the sides of the house, creating an ‘L’-shaped configuration. This group includes four villas: villa Pisani at Bagnolo, where B is rectangular and not square, and C is square, villa Zeno, villa Foscari and villa Cornaro (in which the stairway is positioned behind C). We might add that in villas with a pronaos the window of A facing the centre of the house is located under the loggia.
3) Villas with an ‘L’-shaped configuration, in which A and B are arranged along the sides, but C is located between B and the stairway. There are four villas of this type: villa Pagliarino at Lanzé (drawing), villa Poiana, villa Pisani at Montagnana and villa Badoer. It should be noted that this classification comprises a total of only 11 villas and includes only 9 of the 23 villas (built or only designed) that were illustrated and described in the Quattro Libri. It excludes all of the very large villas (villa Sarego, the two Mocenigo villas and villa Trissino at Meledo), those with two rows of rooms on the right and on the left of the central area (villa Thiene at Quinto, villa Godi and villa Thiene at Cicogna) and very particular villas, which were the result of a need to preserve pre-existing buildings and masonry or to follow clients’ specific requests, as occurred in the villas Maser, Repeta, Trissino and Valmarana at Lisiera.
Although they form a ‘minority’ group, together with the Rotonda, these 9 villas constitute a collection of buildings that appear to be based on an established norm.
The houses are not excessively large and, in the architect’s own words, this opportunity allowed him to express his skill and, “… practise many things, which I learnt through long periods of study and as a result of the long, tiring journeys that I undertook.” [“praticare molte cose, le quali con mie grandissime fatiche per li lunghi viaggio c’ho fatto, e con molto mio studio ho apprise.”] (Quattro Libri 1570, Book 2, pg. 4).
The villas were built without the limitations of pre-existing buildings and with no restrictions dictated by his clients: “an architect must often of necessity comply more with the desires of those who will be paying the fees rather than abide by that which it would be meet to observe.” [“spesse volte fa bisogno all’Architetto accomodarsi più alla volontà di coloro, che spendono, che a quello, che si devrebbe osservare.”] (Quattro Libri 1570, Book 2, pg. 3). It is on the basis of this group of works, which were easily repeatable and were in fact often imitated over the centuries on account of their having been designed in accordance with established rules and forms, that we conceived The Play of Combinations in Renaissance Villas. Here, the dimensions of the rooms are all ‘compatible’. We are dealing with a simplification with respect to the concepts of the Quattro Libri, in which different families of interior spaces can be found: that presenting the dimensions 18’ x 30’, 18’ x 17’ and 17’ x 8’ feet at villa Poiana or the other presenting the dimensions 16’ x 26.5’, 16’ x 16’ and 16’ x 10’ feet at villa Cornaro. These two villas, when split up into their various components, can be seen as ‘genetically incompatible’. Our ‘play of combinations’ could have been rendered in a more realistic manner, to reveal the actual interiors and the positioning of doors and windows. There were two decisions that determined our choice for the exhibition: the high cost of producing a more realistic effect and the nature of Palladian architecture itself. At first sight, it would appear to be ‘rule-based’, regular and standardised: just like all Renaissance art, it is in fact founded on a process of elaboration of drawings, from the schematic to the specific, through successive stages and phases of decision-making. From a rough drawing with no indication of doors and windows, Palladio would then proceed to produce a general sketch, always with the wireframe method, indicating the positions of fireplaces, doors and windows. No longer an abstract entity, the square room assumes characteristics derived from its positioning in the plans: when placed in the corner of a building, it will have windows on the two external walls, while at the centre of the side of the villa, it may have one or two windows on just one side.
Choices concerning the type of ‘sala’ in turn determine the positioning of the points of access to communicating rooms.
Palladio then made decisions regarding the type of vault to be used, the height of rooms and the form of outer window cornices. As the actual ‘play’ of the designing phases draws towards its point of conclusion, rules and standardised, repeatable solutions become less important.
At this stage choices are rather determined by intuition, artistic sensibility, architectural experience and a desire to create surprising solutions while avoiding repetition. In a true play of combinations, in order to allow the ‘player’ to follow all the various stages of invention, the number of ‘building blocks’ and elements he would have to find in his chest of player’s tools would become excessively high. So, for now, we present the Play of Combinations in what can be considered its simplest and most abstract form.
This in itself has already been a very fruitful idea and has resulted in quite a few surprises.
Villa Emo – Fanzolo di Vedelago (Treviso) 1558
The Palladian villa as the product of a new typology – where the practical necessities of agricultural life were translated into unheralded forms and a new language inspired by ancient architecture – without doubt finds its most definitive incarnation in the Villa Emo.
At Villa Emo the buildings which functioned for the management of the estate, casually arranged around the threshing-floor of the Quattrocento villa, achieved an unforeseen architectural synthesis which united in a linear continuity the manorial house, barchesse and dove-cotes. The dating of the villa is controversial, but must be fixed at 1558, after the Villa Barbaro and Villa Badoer, with which it shares its general layout.
Palladio, was by now accepted by the great aristocratic Venetian families, and constructed the villa for Leonardo Emo, whose family had possessed properties at Fanzolo since the mid-Quattrocento. The ancient Via Postumia crossed the area, and the network of fields still followed the grid of Roman centuriation. The villa’s orientation follows this ancient pattern as one can easily see from the building’s entrances, aligned on a very extended sightline.
The composition of the complex is hierarchical, dominated by the prominent house of the patron, elevated on a basement and linked to the ground by a long stone ramp; on its flanks two rectilinear and symmetrical wings of barchesse conclude in two dove-cote towers.
The design’s purism is as surprising as it is calibrated: it suffices to observe that the external columns of the loggia are absorbed by the wall for 1/4 of their diameters, thus graduating the passage from hollows in shadow to brilliantly lit walls.
The order Palladio chose was Doric, the simplest, and even the windows have no cornices. In contrast to the stereometric logic of the exterior are extraordinary internal decorations, the work of Battista Zelotti who had already worked in Palladio’s Villa Godi and Villa Malcontenta.
La Rotonda – Vicenza 1566
Although the Villa Rotonda is the universal icon of the Palladian villa, in reality its owner considered it an urban residence, or – more appropriately – a suburban one.
Paolo Almerico in fact sold his own palace in the city in order to move just beyond its walls, and Palladio himself publishes the Rotonda amongst the palaces, not the villas, in the Quattro Libri.
Otherwise the villa is isolated on the crest of a small hill and originally there were no agricultural dependencies. The canon Paolo Almerico, for whom Palladio designed the villa in 1566, was a man of shifting fortunes, who had returned to Vicenza after a brilliant career in the Papal court.
The villa was already inhabitable by 1569, but still incomplete, and in 1591, two years after Almerico’s death, it was ceded to the brothers Odorico and Marco Capra who carried it through to completion.
Scamozzi, who succeeded Palladio as architect after 1580, substantially completed the project with some deviations which recent studies tend to consider very conservative. Certainly not a villa-farm, the Villa Rotonda is rather a villa-temple, an abstraction, a mirror of a higher order and harmony.
Its corners oriented to the four compass points, and it wishes to be read above all as a volume, cube and sphere, almost as if it recalled the basic solids of the Platonic universe.
Certainly the sources for such a centrally planned residential building were various, from the projects of Francesco di Giorgio inspired by the Villa Hadriana or the “Study of Varro”, to Mantegna’s own house in Mantua (or the “Camera degli Sposi” in the Palazzo Ducale), to Raphael’s project for the Villa Madama.
Nevertheless the Villa Rotonda remains unique in the architecture of any epoch almost as if, by building a villa which corresponded perfectly unto itself, Palladio had wished to construct an ideal model of his own architecture.
The decoration of the building is sumptuous, with works by Lorenzo Rubini and Giambattista Albanese (statues), Agostino Rubini, Ottavio Ridolfi, Bascapè, Fontana and perhaps Alessandro Vittoria (the plastic decorations of the ceilings and fireplaces), Anselmo Canera, Bernardino India, Alessandro Maganza and much later Ludovico Dorigny (pictorial decorations).
Art direction: Cibicworkshop
Concept: Howard Burns
Design: Mauro Zocchetta
Consultants: Guido Beltramini e Massimo Scolari
For further informations:
C.I.S.A. : www.cisapalladio.org
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