Three books on Palladio continue to inspire and inform Takero Shimazaki in his teaching and his practice
This year I’ve been reading five or six books at the same time, including a thread about Japanese houses. But the most relevant books to my work and teaching have been publications on Andrea Palladio, who has been a big topic for my unit at London Metropolitan University.
Andrea Palladio – Unbuilt Venice by Antonio Foscari is one of the most comprehensive study of Palladio and his political context. Some of his basilicas have been a major influence on our teaching for the last few years. I’ve also been reading James Ackerman’s Palladio and a chapter from Pier Vittorio Aureli’s The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture on The Geopolitics of the Ideal Villa.
Running through these three books is the idea of how an independent, individual architectural intervention can affect civic life and the cityscape. Palladio may have never done a masterplan but from his work in Vicenza he clearly knew very well about the civic role of buildings.
I’m struck by how economically Palladio worked. His basilica at Venice is literally a screen built around a mix of Gothic structures to create a new piece of architecture that became a focal point of the city. His interventions were very smart at thinking about what adjustments could be made through formal corrections. He was also very flexible. Although Palladio left us very rigorous, scientific drawings inspired by classical architecture, Ackerman shows how he applied these site-specifically to create order and a sense of civic cohesion by balancing adjustments for the context with idealised forms.
Inspired by this, our unit has been working since the Brexit referendum with councils in cities such as Leicester, Nottingham and Stoke, asking students to design a civic building that can help unlock the social dereliction in the area.
We feel that Palladio’s work is very applicable today, when you’re always working with limited budgets and more often on individual buildings than whole masterplans. But even in these situations you can respond to the wider context – Palladio was always thinking about the city even when he was designing a small villa. At present we’re making a number of interventions on a Palladian Estate and each needs to have its own civic quality.
As well as Palladio, we are also studying Alberti, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Inigo Jones, but Palladio somehow feels accessible and contemporary today. Foscari describes in great detail the relationship between Palladio and his patrons and how he gained commissions, and there’s a lot to be learnt from this – a lot more than I imagined. In a small atelier, after all, the relationship with each client, and other influential figures, is crucial.
Andrea Palladio – Unbuilt Venice, by Antonio Foscari, Lars Müller Publishers, 2010
Palladio by James Ackerman, Penguin, 1991
The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, Pier Vittorio Aureli, MIT Press, 2011
Takero Shimazaki is director at Takero Shimazaki Architects