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New Palladians Dialogue A. Sagharchi & L. Steil

New Palladians Dialogue A. Sagharchi & L. Steil

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Published by Lucien Steil
Ali Sagharchi and Lucien Steil, co-editors of "New Palladians, Modernity and Sustainability of 21st Century Architecture" (ARTMEDIA Publishing 2010), discuss the relevance of Palladio in terms of sustainable practice, humanist and ecological economy and the dialectics of vernacular and classical traditions.
Ali Sagharchi and Lucien Steil, co-editors of "New Palladians, Modernity and Sustainability of 21st Century Architecture" (ARTMEDIA Publishing 2010), discuss the relevance of Palladio in terms of sustainable practice, humanist and ecological economy and the dialectics of vernacular and classical traditions.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Lucien Steil on Apr 18, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Professor Watkin’s Capriccio 
. Painting by Carl Laubin.
Alireza Sagharchi
Architectural historians as well as theorists havealways tried to condense the defining characteristics of architecturalproduction for a particular period by attaching various ‘isms’, CharlesJencks was perhaps the last of those who attempted to classifyor label the different trends for the latter part of the 20th century.I wonder if we can explore what constitutes New Palladians orPalladianism if indeed such taxonomy applies.For me, New Palladians is more than just a definition or a newtaxonomy of recent trends in architectural production. It relates totraditional architecture as a language, in a sense it is very differentto the late 1980s classification of the proponents of different trendsin architecture as a pure stylistic exercise. These classificationshave since collapsed into an absurd and trivial tautology, where theunclassifiable have become the main criteria. Now the new wave oftraditional architects, Classicists and New Urbanists have been ina ‘state of declassification’ for about the last twenty years, perhapssince the beginning of the construction of Poundbury and otherseminal projects. Here come the New Palladians....
Lucien Steil
New Palladians refers to a moral category of peoplewho very profoundly, actively do something to regenerate themeaning of architecture in the context of society, politics, landscapeand durable development. They are dedicated professionals whothoroughly believe that architecture is relevant in the contemporaryworld, and they design and act accordingly. Palladio is not at all theircult figure; rather he is a master, a colleague, and a tangible andreal role model. But at the same time Palladio transcends his owndefinition of architecture. The New Palladians are interested in thereality of Palladio’s cultural and didactic heritage, his example asa practitioner, as well as in an amplified and refreshed vision of anexpanded Palladianism.Palladio was an invigorating and compassionate modelcraftsman, artist and architect. A conscientious professional withhigh standards of integrity and ethics, he was neither the typical‘universal man’ of the Renaissance, nor a refined and eclectic‘dilettante’, even less a ‘star architect’. He was a rather modest,modern and archetypical practising architect, demonstrating solidprofessional knowledge and practical expertise combined with
Modernity and Sustainability for the 21st CenturyModernity and Sustainability for the 21st Century
A Discussion between Alireza Sagharchi and Lucien Steil
the wholesomeness and comprehensiveness of a humanist, anda generous, unpretentious nature. By accentuating the identityand character, as well as the contiguity of a limited territory, andsimultaneously transcending the local and provincial, he achieveduniversal significance, enriching Classicism permanently withnew, resilient and sustainable patterns and models. His moraland artistic continuity unfolds in both his dedication to his worksand his clients, and is durably illustrated in the living and timelessexcellence of his buildings. There is no aspect of his life where onewill find a transgression or betrayal; the harmony and virtue of hisprofessional work matched and embraced the whole culture ofhis life. This example of protection, fostering and emulation of theculture of Classicism, his virtues of professional excellence anddignity, combined with the delicate and lasting tribute of humanity tohis family, his clients and his community have proven to remain anappealing and living testimony of modernity, harmony and inspirationfor 500 years.In the context of today, Palladio offers a vital foundation, a newplatform for an evolutionary process of tradition and Classicism thatintegrates intelligently the vernacular and the classical. NewPalladians, rather than canonising a purely mimetic historiography ofPalladio, find and develop new resources of imitation, originality andinvention in a wider classical and Palladian tradition. ContemporaryClassicists may tend to sometimes limit themselves to orthodoxy andmay categorise themselves too restrictively, maybe not consideringenough the vitality and freshness they can capture from a vastamount of popular, sustainable, inventive and time-tested traditionaland vernacular culture. Classicism, however, has always been newand vibrant with a great capacity for emulation and complexity,assimilating and learning within its own traditions, as well as takinginspiration from various exterior, exotic, foreign influences, from theOrient or the North, and later from the Tropics and the NewContinents. England benefited from Norman, Gothic and Palladianarchitecture, the traditional architecture of friendly and enemycountries and later its colonies. Christopher Wren, John Soane andEdwin Lutyens brilliantly pushed and enriched the classical tradition,by being far more sophisticated in assimilating cultures, which werenot traditionally considered part of the classical milieu.
The New Palladians’ outlook has the determination, radicalismand boldness to further enhance this potential of emulation andcomplexity; it is much more relaxed, confident and creative inhandling and assimilating a positively enriching dialectic betweenclassical and vernacular traditions. Additionally there is anotherpotential that New Palladians are entrusted and empowered with:the integration of urbanism and architecture in a new, contemporaryculture of building. The synthesis resulting from the combinedcomplexity, ecology and intelligence of the traditional city with theclassical and the vernacular represents an effective, sustainable andessential new paradigm for the architecture of the 21st century. It isgenuinely articulating a new culture of building in a sophisticated,coherent, intelligible language based on solid linguistic andsemiological tectonics.
This new approach throws up a paradox. Nowadays what isexpected from whoever engages with any language of architecture, isthis constant thrust to come up with new ideas, new forms, ‘novelty’rather than ‘newness’, and every concept has to be invented fromscratch. When we talk about Palladio being influenced by Gothicarchitecture or local vernacular, at best that seems surprising tous as 21st-century architects; at worst it brings accusations ofplagiarism and pastiche. But when you work within a tradition,whatever has gone before forms the building blocks of the presentso reinvention is not the revolutionary, avant-garde ideology thatModernism instilled in the psyche of 20th-century architects.Nowadays reinvention has become the
raison d’etre 
and self-referential. Revivalism has become a self-fulfilling and repetitivephilosophy, regardless of whether it is the revival of 1960s Brutalistarchitecture, 1970s Kitsch or the New Corbusians models. Thisis something almost endemic and I think, we as Classicists andTraditionalists are not immune to this, however, we see reinventionin a much more organic way and quintessential to the progress anddevelopment of the classical language. For me Palladio, in a sense,is a finger pointing at the moon – if you concentrate on the finger, youmiss the essence of his genius. Otto Wagner, Karl Friedrich Schinkel,John Soane, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and all those who pushedthe boundaries and made the quantum leap in the development ofarchitectural language display the same characteristics. Palladioshould be evaluated in terms of the way he reassessed antiquity,the Renaissance, the regional and local vernacular and their mutualinfluence on the classical, and how free and mature his oeuvre is ininvention, composition and construction. His interest in reinventionis, for me, clearly very important to our age because we have cometo a very crucial point in the development of classical architecturewhere as a pure style or as an anti-style, it has found an organicrelationship with other strands that drive and connect it with society.Classicism has found a new frontier in ecology, environmentalismand tectonics, supporting, enriching and evolving its languageholistically. Traditional architecture in the form we experience todayemerged from an ideological struggle between the Modernists andPost-modernists in the early 1980s; so by reconnecting to the reasonand essence of tectonics, by adopting an agenda of environmentalstewardship and an organic understanding of the universe, of nature,of human culture, economy and society, it has the opportunity toonce again become a whole language that communicates humanely,meaningfully, intelligently and intelligibly. An architectural languageof that nature and magnitude withstands the critique of being ashallow catalyst of style or novelty.
I would like to add this is also why this language has foundsubstantial support from science. Nikos Salingaros and otherexponents of New Science have uncovered far more scientificconsistence and intrinsic complexity in the works of New Palladiansthan in the sensationalist production of Deconstructivism andModernism after studying and comparing thoroughly traditional andModernist buildings.They have indeed researched upon and found that complexityand fractal qualities are far more intense and rich in classical,traditional cities and buildings than in Modernist ones. Modernistbuildings seem stagnant, dead and rigid despite incredible effortsof distortion and animation, collision, contrast and conflict, theyremain boring and dull, confusing and alienating, and surprisinglywithin this fanatic ideology of deconstruction and fragmentation,often they look quite the same. They obviously lack the sensitivity,complexity and fractal richness of traditional architecture. Theexcitement, complexity and fun professed by Modernism are mostlydepressing, forced, provocative, disturbing, transgressive or chaotic.It is a fragmentation of a superficial, decorative and graphical nature.It is often an offence to good taste, comfort and well-being, notexpressing the high degree of sophistication, order, complexity andlife encompassed in fractal structures.Besides the more theoretical discussions of New Science,New Architecture and New Urbanism (see www.katarxis3.com) weshould also refer to some hard scientific facts in the context of worldpopulation, environmental problems, climate change and globalwarming, as well as to recent economic and social phenomena.The failure of a ruthless and irresponsible economic and production

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