Architecture Without Content

14. Blueprints for sustainable living

Roman project part 2 has a double agenda: to portray the systematic work by Palladio in the Venetian inland during the second half of the sixteenth century and to reuse the accumulated knowledge in order to deal with urgent challenges in contemporary Flanders; Learning from Palladio and Designing in Boom, since Palladio’s work seems to be one of the most prototypical incarnations – almost literal indeed – of a possible Roman Project. 

But there’s more to it. Palladio’s prolific work for the Venetian inland represents a tremendous effort to systematize the complexity of an entire territory, from city proper (i.e. Vicenza) to countryside proper (horizontal metropolis still to come). The incredible amount of professional opportunities he got, allowed him to develop a consistent vocabulary of architectural solutions. Central to our interests is the re-invention of the suburban villa, magisterially able to couple leisure and production while making visible again a clear territorial organization, reconnecting to the Roman Centuriatio and the subsequent works undertaken by the Opera Benedettina. Despite it being the result of a private initiative, the Palladian villa is clearly about collective housing. 

In the city proper, Palladio massively contributed to the redefinition of the idea of the urban palace and showed how that kind of palace is able to negotiate between private needs /ambitions and the public space / image of the city. All of his punctual operations in the Veneto finally had a systematic effect on the territory in its entirety, i.e. urbanism through architecture. Palladio was able to constitute a proper system out of a myriad of interrelated fragments, as such showing a consistent civic and territorial responsibility. 

Fundamental for our quest for a possible Roman Architecture is his specific use of the Classical language: there is a constant friction between that ambition of the language and the limited means of the time. The architecture of the Romans, built with unlimited means – through slavery – is here readapted to a completely different set of economical and social constraints. Ultimately, in this process, Roman architecture is completely reinvented. Simulation is a key word here; whispering a language whose values are still perceived as fundamental while being conscious of its unattainability. Painted marbles become the norm, while the lavish spatiality of the Architecture of the Empire is shrunk into of minimum degree. 

Learning from Palladio is also to recognize similarities in the external conditions. The economical and demographic pressure which shaped the Venetian inland after the decline of the Republic ambitions might mirror the context of one of the very few territories which are still growing in contemporary Europe: Flanders. 

Dealing with the sprawl in contemporary Flanders is about investigating the homogeneities and the differences in the apparently random systems of urbanization, inside of a given portion of territory. The ambition here is to discover latent forms, as possible blueprints for new territorial organizations. Densification, rationalization and readability are the keys towards a set of possible master plans. These master forms might be able in the long term to remove a bit of dust from the Even Covered Field, without fundamentally subverting its paratactic structure. The master plans will lead us to an array of individual projects of architecture proper, ready to inhabit the previously defined territorial forms. Housing and agriculture, landscape and production will be at the centre of these projects, heavily profiting from the precious knowledge cumulated while studying Palladio.

Blueprints for sustainable living