Who was Andrea Palladio?

As students of Architecture, we often hear about those big names, those overarching minds that have been so influential, they have shaped the history and path of architecture. One of those names appears to be the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. In this post, you will find out what you should know about him and why his works are important.

Andrea Palladio was the first renaissance architect that dedicated his efforts solely to architecture. He studied the architects of antiquity and the early renaissance, but didn´t just imitate their works but continued their ideas in his own creative fashion. His ultimate goal was a synthesis between aesthetics, proportion, needs of the client and the specific requirements of the site. His buildings are therefore appreciated for a unique harmony and elegance. There is even an architectural style called Palladianism in his honor.

What buildings did Palladio plan?

Because Palladio was an architect by trait, he designed a larger number of buildings than his renaissance forefathers. To make it easier for you to have an overview over his works, here is a table that includes his most notable buildings plus 2 honorable mentions with a grey background. I will then describe each of these buildings in a short paragraph so you can understand what makes these buildings important.

As you can see, the types of buildings Palladio planned ranged from public buildings to palaces in the city, to villas located outside the city to churches. All of the these buildings seem to be regarded as his best works, which is the reason why I will describe them to you a little closer now.

Palazzo della Ragione "Basilica Palladiana"

This was the first competition Palladio won. His proposal was to wrap the medieval palazzo in a classical façade. His work was appreciated by the public and his clients, making him popular overnight and ensuring him commissions by more wealthy individuals in the future.

Palazzo Chiericati

Girolamo Chiericati is said to have been so impressed by the palazzo della Ragione, that he wanted to build his house in a similar style. The floor plan of the palazzo is strictly symmetrical, with a row of columns at the front that forms the portico and leads to the vestibule. The structure wraps around an inner courtyard, which, like the outer façade is also decorated with doric columns on the ground floor and ionic columns on the upper floor, a motif transferred from buildings like the colosseum, over Palladios Palazzo della ragione, to, finally the Palazzo Chiericati.

Villa Badoer

The client of this project needed a building type that represented his agricultural interest as well as his social status. It is the first work in which Palladio quotes the pronaos, a protruding row of columns that creates a vestibule, crowned by a gable roof that has often been used in Greek antiquity. Despite the agricultural use of the surrounding buildings, the reference to the Greek temple form is to be seen as a way to represent the dignity of the client. Furthermore, there are two wing structures that wrap in a quarter circle around the front yard as loggias. These are, however, differentiated in importance from the main building by putting it on a pedestal with elegant stairs leading the way.

Villa Barbaro

The villa was used much like the Villa Badoer as a base for agricultural means. The design of the façade is unique in that it opens on either of the surrounding wings with arcades spanning the height of the two stories hidden behind them. By opening the façade with arches, this creates a closer connection of the inside with the outside, which suits the building well, given its use.

San giorgio maggiore

Four colossal columns on pedestals support the main gable. This motif of the triumphal arch was used by Alberti for Sant´Andrea in Mantua decades earlier. The lower gable of the side roofs is written into the front of the façade, creating an interesting overlap of roof and façade. An important aspect for the design of this church must have been the appearance from afar as the façade makes a prominent impression when seen from the piazzetta across the channel.

La Rotonda

The landscape played a big role in the design of this villa. It was conceived as a place for distraction and relaxation from life in the city. The corners of the building are aligned with the compass directions. The design isn´t really suitable for living there full time but fulfills its role for representation perfectly. The influence of roman round temples and the pantheon is evident. Because the views should be experienced in each direction, every side of the façade features the same façade with a portico to enjoy the landscape from.

What works did Palladio study?

He studied Vitruvius and traveled to Rome early in his life to study the ruins. (Sounds much like Alberti to me). Palladio was also inspired by Alberti´s works.

Palladio´s proportioning System

Before my research, I had a very idealistic image in my mind of what proportioning system Palladio must have been using ant thought it would be more than what I found. I guess I expected him to come up with detailed reasoning as to how wide a detail in the façade is in relationship to all the other elements in it. Maybe he has gone deep into figuring this stuff out, but at least to my knowledge, there are no written records of this left.

What Palladio did write in his “Four books of Architecture, however, is a system for figuring out the dimensions of a given room, which is interesting non the less. For the floor area he liked to use the following ratios:

For determining the height of a space, Palladio differentiated between whether the ceiling is flat or vaulted and depending on what level the room is.

Palladio says that for a room with flat ceilings, the height should be equal to the width of the room. On the upper floor, he suggests reducing this height by one-sixth.

The height of a square room with a vaulted ceiling should be a third higher than its width. For all other rectangular rooms, Palladio suggests using one of the following methods which can be used in combination to create variety:

The arithmetic mean:

It´s basically an average of length and width.

aM = (a + b)/2

Example:  aM = (6 + 4)/2 = 5  

The geometric mean:

While there is a formula for this mean, at the time of Palladio, it was determined entirely geometrically.

gM = √a*b

Example:  gM = √6*4 ~4,89  

The harmonic mean:

A mean deduced from music theory.

hM = (a*b)/aM

Example:  hM = (6*4)/5 = 4,8 

A difficulty with Palladio´s approach to determining the height of a room is its dependance on the floor area of that room. To have rooms of equal height, thus enabling the upper floor to have an even ground, he needed to find an elegant balance between length and width so that he resulted in the same height.

What works were later influenced by his architecture?

Ingo Jones first introduced Palladian architecture into England with his first work, the Queen´s House. Amongst his other notable works are the banqueting House at Whitehall, as well as Queen´s Chapel at St. James Palace. After his first initiation of Palladian revival in England, a second period of interest in Palladian architecture developed at the beginning of the Georgian period (1714-1830). This period included the works of Colen Campbell, Richard Boyle and William Kent, all of whom can be seen as consequently following the Palladian style. Architects from abroad of this period might include Francesco Maria Preti (Italy), Thomas Jefferson (United States) and Georg Knobelsdorff (Germany). The style succumbed shortly after to the ascendant movement of Classicism shortly after 1800.

Why Palladio is so influencial for architecture

An important aspect to his success must be his consistency in drawing. He drew all the buildings he admired and collected these drawing to use as a repertoire for inspiration when he designed himself. This knowledge led him to create his own vocabulary and systems for finding harmonic and pleasing proportions. His style is so profound that you´ll instantly recognize his buildings when you see them in the future. They are not only built with a critical look at the mathematical relations to one another, but also for pleasing aesthetics and representation.

If you have found this article helpful and would like to learn more about architecture and proportion, check out the other posts I have on my website, I promise - you won´t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading

~ Julian

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