Villa Almerico-Capra “La Rotonda”, Vicenza (1565-1591)
By Andrea Palladio completed by Vincenffarzo Scamozzi.
I started my architectural training at the Bartlett School of the Built Environment, UCL in the mid 1980s, where we were taken on our first year trip to the medieval university city of Padua. We spent a week there exploring the city and more importantly being exposed to the wonder and evolution of the renaissance period.
For me, the most memorable part of the trip to Padua was seeing the Villa Almerico-Capra, better known as the Villa Rotonda. Designed by the master renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) the Villa Almerico-Capra has stayed with me to this day. Palladio did not complete the Villa in his lifetime nor did the owner, Paolo Almerico, see it complete in his; however the new owners, the brothers Capra, commissioned Vincenffarzo Scamozzi to complete the works and additions.
Palladio is also well known for his publications including the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, which explicitly set out the rules of architecture. These books became a must have for any educated European in polite society; including Lord Burlington who amassed the largest archive of Palladio and took much inspiration from his work when designing what was to become the quintessential “English House”.
Following a re-visit last summer to the Villa Almerico-Capra I thought I would share with you the joys of seeing this special plave for a second time!
From the gate an axial path rises up with the Villa positioned as a geometrical object, a “temple”, facing you as you approach. It looks delightfully welcoming, a peaceful object standing in a walled landscape. Much has been written about its geometry, it is square in plan, despite being referred to as the Villa Rotunda. Each of its four facades has a portico with steps leading up, so it has four entrances which all lead to a central dome hall.
I can imagine inviting a few hundred or so favourite friends, hangers on, and mis-fits, and having a deliciously mischievous time! The charming grounds are in complete harmony with the villa, making the most of the views to the surrounding countryside. This is where architecture is the stage for action, a real life un-scripted performance. It encourages meanderings; the spaces are not choreographed for a linear performance, but are truly organic promoting the en acting of untold stories. The magic ingredient is that it allows encounter and delight; it is deeply mysterious in moonlight and in the early morning when surrounded by mist, absolutely heavenly.
I am so glad I came back to these memories last summer, but it wasn’t only nostalgia that drew me, it is the longing to be delighted again, and like all great (and enjoyable) work, I felt like I was exploring it for the first time. For me, regardless of knowing its historical importance, it is a dazzling profound place where architecture, interior and exterior fuses with the landscape to create a beautiful place to be. For me this whole ensemble feels thoroughly modern.
With Thanks to Professor David Dunster, our first year professor who taught us what he called “Contextual Studies”, a lesson in what Architecture meant, through history and theory! Many thanks for his generosity and navigation!
ADDRESS: Via della Rotonda, 45, Vicenza, Italy