Five centuries on, triumphal Palladian windows are still going strong
Whether glazed or open, Palladian windows are the triumphal arches of fenestration, enveloping apertures with a sense of pomp and grandeur at the scale of the human body. The form was first illustrated by Serlio in his Fourth Book of Architecture, as an example of what a clever workman might do with a stock of short columns and smaller stones for the entablature. They are sometimes called Serlianas in his honour. After their enthusiastic adoption by architects of the Veneto in the later 16th century, the form was appropriated and labelled Palladian or Venetian by British – and later American – architects devoted to the work of Palladio and Inigo Jones. From its first documented use in the colonnade of the Canopus in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, through the 16th century Veneto and 18th century Britain and into the Arts and Crafts movement and the Edwardian Wrenaissance, it has had and continues to have a vibrant life within architecture that seeks to connect linguistically with forms that reach back through architectural history, whether in the reflective and playful delight of Charles Moore’s Piazza D’Italia, or in the more reconstructively nostalgic efforts of Quinlan and Francis Terry’s houses.
Basilica Palladiana, Vicenza, 1549-
This and Venice’s Basilica Marciana (Sansovino, 1537-1553) are the buildings which prove Serlio’s drawings to be powerful tools for the architecture of the Veneto, with the almost 50:50 solid-void ratio enlivening, lightening and sculpting what would otherwise be difficult, seemingly endless long facades.
Christchurch Spitalfields, Commercial Street, London, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714-1729
Embedded in massive rectangular forms, the Palladian window is the organising principle of Hawksmoor’s masterpiece. Here, the main elevation consists of a stacking of the motif in modified guises right up to the spire, from an oversized protruding Doric portico, through a vertically stretched, pilaster version above it, to the two echoes of the form’s tripartite arrangement and proportions in the levels above. Picked up in Lutyens’ three-dimensional stacking of triumphal arches at Thiepval, Hawksmoor’s creative interpretation of the Palladian window prefigured the transformations it would undergo more than a century later.
Chiswick House, Lord Burlington, 1729
Pronouncing the end of the supposed licentiousness of British Baroque, this house was a manifesto for – and celebration of – the new Palladianism. Designed by Lord Burlington with William Kent, it was intended as the physical embodiment of the proper use of the architectural orders, and of architectural order in general, prominently featuring a range of Palladian windows whose use at this time, like that of all the other classical elements, became tied to the holy bible that was Palladio’s Quattro Libri. These examples, set into relieving arches, were cunningly derived from an unpublished drawing for a villa in Burlington’s possession.
39 Broad Street, Ludlow, mid 18th Century
This is a textbook example of the vernacularisation of classical forms once they are widely published. There are several mid 18th-century examples which splash multiple Serlianas in this way across their façades, including the garden front of Barrow House, Windermere. This liberal use of the form is the sign of designs copy-pasted and freely mixed up from copy books of the period, and were often implemented without the aid of an architect.
Albert Dock, Liverpool, Jesse Hartley and Philip Hardwick, 1846
The first building in Britain to be built without the use of any wood in its construction has its ground floor cast-iron arcade organised around a repeating motif of Palladian windows, much in the same manner as the colonnade around the Canopus at Villa Adriana. This arcade created a sheltered area for the disembarkation of cargo, but the Serlianas articulate these profoundly pragmatic buildings as innovative, but historically embedded, architectural compositions in their own right.
Passmore Edwards Settlement, Tavistock Place, London, Arnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Claude Brewer, 1898
The Palladian window was taken up in much arts and crafts architecture to imbue a sense of grandeur to a whole host of intimate domestic moments, with the form being adapted, altered, and transposed into a wide range of scenarios and shapes. This tendency is brilliantly embodied in the Passmore Edwards Settlement in Bloomsbury, where echoes of the Serlian form repeat throughout the interiors and in various places on the façade, from tiny attic windows to niches for cupboards to room divisions to corridor entrances, and of course to the grand window for the main hall, pictured, in which you can see the movement’s tendency towards unusual proportions and unexpected window combinations.
One International Place, Boston, Johnson Burgee, 1987
In the direct lineage of 39 Broad Street, Ludlow, Johnson Burgee Associates here created a late 20th-century corporate version of the un-composed vernacular use of a decontextualised architectural element. The Ludlow house’s innocent charm is here transfigured into the dread of a lost and uncannily floating signifier. Its relentless deployment on this vast building, that bears no relationship to the human form from which the Palladian window derived its scale, serves to illustrate rather than ameliorate the chasm that lies between the classical humanist ideals that underpinned the enlightenment, and the massive, abstract scale that drives architecture in the contemporary economy.