The Theatrics of the Italian Masters – Palladio and Scarpa

Day 4 – 20th May

Verona + Vicenza

And we are on the move again! Day 4 took the group from Milan through Verona and Vicenza to a number of fundamental Italian buildings by Andrea Palladio and Carlo Scarpa. It was a real treat to be physically acquainted with those architectural precedents we are all too familiar with, taking us back to texts from architecture school…

The first stop for the day was Verona where the group visited two Carlo Scarpa buildings:

  • Castelvecchio Museum (Carlo Scarpa) 1959-1973
  • Banco Popolare (Carlo Scarpa) 1973-1981

The first building, Castelvecchio, has an extraordinary history and is known as the most important military construction of the Scalinger dynasty. Originally it was built within a Roman fortress and moat to deter attacks from powerful neighbours. Over time the building has had a number of renovations and adaptations to cater for its changing occupation and use. As it stands it tells an extraordinary story through its built fabric which is a collection of moments in time.

Part of the magic is the journey and arrival to the building which is approached from a grand bridge allowing a vantage across the museum and courtyard. Castelveccio now takes the form of a museum with restorative work completed by Carlo Scarpa between 1959 and 1973. Upon beginning the work Scarpa identified the buildings significant changing past and its 700 year history of alterations and modifications. Scarpa recognised the extent of these changes rendered the front facade as ‘false’. This drove the approach to the renovations which conceives the entry as a stage set. Careful layering of doorways and windows paired with deep reveals to the facade give the impression of a backdrop to the courtyard. The means of entering the museum intentionally succumbs to this approach and is partially concealed through a number of stone screens.

The real delight is understood upon entering the space. The interior coveys a great understanding of Scarpas revolutionary display approach. Many of the objects which form the exhibition are destroyed and salvaged building relics from past earthquakes and floods. These objects sit independently in the space carefully and craft-fully hung, supported and mounted in a range of different ways with each method giving the artefact great importance. As you move through the building it is delightful as you pass through crafted archways, up and down staircases, through grand and intimate steel and timber doorways and across bridges. All the while windows with deep reveals carefully frame familiar sculptures constantly reorienting one within the space. The group agreed the museum was one of the trips highlights providing a wonderful intimacy and human scale through placing great importance on those objects being exhibited.

The second stop saw the group travel to the Villa Rotunda by Andrea Palladio – following the theme of exploring Italian masters work. The building sits on a hilltop just outside the city of Vicenza. It is elevated on a podium to gain prospect out across the rolling hills – a position which caught the cool breeze on our Sunday afternoon visit. Architect Andrea Palladio was approached in 1565 by priest Paulo America on his retirement from the Vatican to build a country house. Completed in 1592 the building is known to imbue Palladio’s fundamental design principles and has since become one of the best known Italian architectural legacies.

The group surveyed the building from the exterior and admired it from the grassy grounds. The plan of the villa is perfectly square and has four completely symmetrical facades, each oriented to a compass point. The building combines a cube (the villa) and a sphere (the rotunda). Members of the group were speculating on how these volumes might translate spatially and expected the dome would create an amazing internal space.

The final project visited was the Olympico theatre retrofitted in 1580 by Andrea Palladio. The design of the theatre is inspired by the Roman theatres, as described by Vitruvius – An elliptical terraced theatre framed by a colonnade, with a frieze topped by statues. The theatres first show had a temporary stage set designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. It was considered so beautiful it has remained to this day. The set reproduces seven streets from the city of Thebes and is animated by forced perspective which frames each of the streets. The theatres elliptical terraced design works beautifully with the set work creating a unique view from every audience seat.  The group enjoyed traversing up and down the stairs and around the eclipse to capture framed views of the incredibly detailed set. Day 4 was indeed a treat with the group sharing a common feeling of privilege in getting to see and experience the work of two true Italian masters.

Hannah Slater is a practicing Architect currently working in Sydney with Neeson Murcutt Architects. She completed her studies in Architecture and Interior Design at the Queensland University of Technology. Following her education she spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa, working with Peter Rich Architects on a number of significant cultural projects.

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