Eisenmann se mete con Palladio


 By Anthony Vidler

Peter Eisenman’s current exhibition at Yale School of Architecture leaves behind the mathematical analysis of Palladio’s villas espoused by Colin Rowe and replaces it with a volumetric analysis. In so doing, Eisenman overturns much of the traditional thinking around Palladio, and shows him to be an endlessly parametric experimenter and a paradigm for the present


Under the slightly misleading title of Palladio virtuel, Peter Eisenman has constructed one of the most instructive, intellectually challenging, myth overturning, and it must be said, beautiful, exhibitions of recent years. It is instructive because it does not assume the viewer knows everything, and its didactic texts, drawings and models tell a story on many levels.

It is intellectually challenging, because at the level of disciplinary architectural knowledge, it demands serious attention and a willingness to revise commonplaces. It is myth overturning because it sets out to critique many of the truisms attached to Palladio studies over the past half century. And its beauty stems from its impeccable presentation, superb model-making and drawing, and an inventive spatial installation. The models, indeed, in their apparent simplicity, their volumes coloured in white, grey and black, and set in illuminated frames within the pilasters of what seems to be a centralised Palladian villa, would be enough of an exhibition in themselves.

Palladio exhibit

The organisation seems simple enough: 20 Palladian villas from all moments of his career, modelled in three dimensions, are framed vertically in emulation of pages of Palladio’s own Quattro libri, joined, in an annexe, by as many analytical line drawings of the villas. Seemingly equally simple, because effortlessly represented, the central space of the exhibition is composed by the conjunction of two apparently disparate volumes: that of Palladio’s project for the Palazzo Dalla Torre (1555) and the church by Carlo Rainaldi, Santa Maria in Campitelli built a century later − a sign of imminent destabilisation that will characterise the exhibition as a whole.

The effect of the framed models in their niches, the abstracted columnar space that encloses them, allowing controlled glimpses into and out of the Rudolph gallery beyond, with a glowing golden light infusing the whole, is breathtaking and in itself a major aesthetic experience: Palladio within Palladio within Rainaldi within Rudolph − at the very least an exercise in architectural demonstratio that bears witness to a profound and knowing architectonic sensibility. This, however, is where the simplicity ends and close reading has to begin.


First, some historical context. It is well known that it was in meeting Colin Rowe at Cambridge in 1960 that Eisenman was confronted with an interlocutor whose intellectual reputation as a formidable critic of contemporary and modern architecture had been publicly established 13 years earlier by a now canonical article in The Architectural Review entitled ‘The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa. Palladio and Le Corbusier Compared’. We might, for the purposes of this review, assume that Eisenman’s introduction, not to Palladio, but to an intellectually interpreted Palladio, stemmed from this meeting and the ensuing friendship and Italian journeys.

Read the full article here

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