“New Palladians” The Relevance of Palladio in New Traditional Architecture Lucien Steil Palladio, a sweetheart of mainstream modernists as well as of the New Modern Classicists is often misleadingly understood and misunderstood as an architect of lordship and land owners. To brand Palladio’s architecture restrictively as one of domination and of representation and simultaneously celebrate him as a precursor of the Modern Movement can only be the result of an ideological, dogmatic, opportunistic and approximate historiography. Some seem obsessively to prefer delocalized modernity , the psyche of “Zeitgeist”, artistic-cultural abstraction. Social-political triviality trumps the complexity of a more rigorous and inspired scientific and historical narrative . It is indeed astonishing how little attention Palladio’s substantially contextual and urban architecture got other than as a listing of often unfinished Palazzi, and how superficially his didactic precision and efficiency have been addressed, not to mention how rarely his ecological and artisanal intelligence and capacity have been mentioned? More than often Palladio’s whole cultural heritage get’s reduced to some of better known villas presented as freestanding suburban architectural icons planted into the Veneto countryside only to wait for the photographers of Architectural Digest and Vogue. Sometimes Palladio’s whole work gets the most trivial, condensed and expeditious shortcut with one single of Palladio’s masterworks, the Villa Rotonda with its four symmetrical temple fronts and central cupola, an exceptional and unique project, but an exception among a wide range of exceptional, surprising and delightful buildings and designs. The festivities for Palladio’s 500th anniversary in 2008 have not contributed substantially to correct these limitations and prejudices with a few rare but pointed exceptions. In the context of a series of lectures organized by the Institute of Classical Architecture in New York, Victor Deupi presented a comprehensive argument on Palladio’s importance as an urbanist and urban architect, whereas in London, The Prince’s Foundation together with the Traditional Architecture Group (TAG/RIBA) organized an exhibition with around 50 “New Palladians”, contemporary architects from Europe, the USA and Australia for which the principles of Palladio’s architecture continue to represent an operational and practical paradigm and a desirable modernity with a deep cultural resonance in the 21st Century. The exhibition “New Palladians” demonstrated a unique freshness and vital variety providing from an inventive continuity and a wide range of practice where Urbanity,Contextualism, Regionalism, Biophilia, Ecology, etc. complete, enhance and enlarge a monumental complex Palladian tradition. The “New Palladians”, a heterogeneous group of architects, who emerged in the seventies of the XXth Century and since then consistently grew and expanded follow an articulate and complex understanding of the philosophy and precedents of Humanism and of the Classical Tradition. The vivid consensus they share embraces generously vernacular and regionalist architecture, Rationalism, Classicism, “Bioarchitettura”, traditional European Urbanism and “New Urbanism”. The “New Palladians” are empathically supported and fostered by HRH The Prince of Wales and refer to theories, ideas and projects from Camillo Sitte, Karl Gruber, Jane Jacobs, Leon and
Rob Krier, Raymond Erith, Quinlan Terry and Demetri Porphyrios, Christopher Alexander and Nikos Salingaros, Andres Duany, Paolo Marconi, among the most important ones. The intellectual, scientific and artistic work of these outstanding group of “maitres a penser” are assimilitated syncretically, undogmatically, flexibly and creatively interconnected and networked with Tradition and a monumental culture of Classicism. They also address consistently the immense themes of the 21st Century: globalisation and world demography, environment and climate change, etc. The urban and traditional architecture of this New Humanism is not only a confirmation of the Vitruvian ideal of “Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas”, but a new paradigm of quality and a plea for an ecological, healthy, natural “New Culture of Building ”* in a perspective of the Common Good . Building activities are directly or indirectly responsible for more than 50% of carbon dioxide emissions, and convential modernism as well as so-called “Green Architecture” generously make use of the oil industry’s devil’s kitchen with its paraphernalia of products and chemicals offering dubious toxicological pedigrees and poor ecological performances. The “New Palladians” oppose a proven alternative to this “anti-humanist” and “un-natural” architecture: a durable, timeless, sustainable, and refined artisanal, “biophilic” building culture which creates identity, meaning and dignity, fosters community and pride, stimulates business and art, and operates immediate and sensible improvements of energy, climate and comfort performances. Besides “New Palladian” architecture is consistently popular and evident and quite widely considered as a highly desirable and valued cultural achievement. Interestingly the “New Palladians” are not locked and fanatically stuck in Palladio’s Villa architecture, in his elegant designs with magnificent symmetries, or in his finely proportioned temple fronts and column orders, etc. They like to refer themselves to a more comprehensive, more complex role model, to his integrity as a “Baumeister”, to his professionality as a practicing architect, to his sobriety and commitment as a student, apprentice and scholar and particularly to his subtle and creative balance between universality and province. They are interested in his built work in city, countryside and region, in his “Quattro Libri”, in his prolific work at drawingboard, desk, workshop and building-site, and in his admirable, virtuous and convivial craftsmanship. The “New Palladians” find no reason here for a melancholic nostalgia, but a positive inspiration and example of a conscientious professional normality, beyond stardom, beyond compulsory geniality, hollow fame and provocative non-architecture. They recognize in beautifully articulated buildings and projects the proportions of poetry and eternal harmonies of nature resonating with both our reason and feelings over generations, time and space. All the frivolities of false geniality and maniac Zeitgeist obsession seem so utterly out of place in presence of the highest aspirations of professional ethics and sound cultural ambition embodied in Palladio’s work and emulated by the “New Palladians”: creating buildings and places in harmony with nature, city and people striving to standards of beauty, comfort and permanence comparable with the timeless masterworks of generations of craftsmen and artists in human history. Palladio is the master of the “New Palladians”, the 21st Century is their building-site!