Why a 16th-Century Italian Is a Key Influence on Today’s Architecture

Why a 16th-century italian is a key influence on today's architecture
Viceroy’s House, New Delhi by Edwin Lutyens 1912 (c) RIBA

A sparse glass-and-metal home may be complimented for its Miesian proportions, and any tower balancing on a curvaceous leg of concrete might get noticed for its debt to Niemeyer, but as far as the dictionary is concerned, just one architect is significant enough to be the official namesake of an architectural style.

“Palladian,” officially “of, relating to, or denoting the neoclassical style of Andrea Palladio,” may not mean much to the common person, even though historians consider this 16th-century Italian one of, if not the most, influential architects in history. His legacy is the subject of a new exhibition, Palladian Design: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected, which opened at the Royal Institute of British Architects this week According to exhibit co-curator Vicky Wilson, assistant curator of the RIBA Drawing and Archives Collection, while his work deserves wider recognition, even those who know his life and legacy may not realize how ingrained it has become over the centuries since he passed away.

“We want to challenge the idea that Palladio is dead,” says Wilson, in reference to her co-curator Charles Hind. “We want to show his legacy isn’t always about obvious inspiration. It’s not always about a copy, homage or pastiche of a classical building; structures can still be forward-looking and connected to Palladio.”

Born a miller’s son in Padua in 1508, Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola initially entered the building trades as a stonemason, creating decorative sculptures and monuments. But a series of commissions, and support from Gian Giorgio Trissino (a poet who gave him the name Palladio, a reference to the Greek goddess of wisdom, and funded his influential studies in Rome), established him as one of many Renaissance architects infatuated with temple architecture and the work of the Greeks and Romans. Why did this particular practitioner, who only worked on projects within his small corner of Italy, eventually earn the title of history’s most influential architect? []

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