Newsletter | Mar/Apr 2006

Andrea Palladio's Cornaro

How I Became an Architectural Tour Guide

by Article and Drawings by Lucia Bogatay

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Lucia Bogatay; founding OWA member and practicing architect in San Francisco.

5:30 PM: A field trip to the construction site at Lucia and Tom's house will be offered. Those interested will meet at 3533 19th St and walk around the block to 3676 20th Street.
6:00 PM: Snacks and wine
6:30 PM: Presentation

Home of Lucia Bogatay and Tom Wickens
3533 19th St (between Valencia and Guerrero)
San Francisco, CA


How many of you are familiar with Andrea Palladio's work? How many have actually seen any of his buildings first hand? If you have seen them, you can probably guess why I was so delighted to become a tour guide, even though I have NO previous background doing it! The upcoming presentation will focus on my experience of becoming a guide for a tour of the Renaissance Italian architect Andrea Palladio's Villas and churches.

A bit about Andrea Palladio and his Importance

Andrea Palladio, who was without a doubt the most imitated architect of all time, began life in more humble circumstances. He was born as Andrea di Pietro in Padua in 1508, the son of Pietro della Gondola, a miller or perhaps a purveyor of mill stones. All we know about his mother is that she was lame.

He moved as a young boy to the nearby town of Vicenza where he was apprenticed as a stone mason. The position was ideal for moving up through the building trades, and Vicenza was a town where much building was going on. A local aristocrat, GianGiorgio Trissino introduced him to local Humanist circles (and gave him the name Palladio), and took him on several trips to Rome. In the late 1530's Palladio started designing buildings and, following his trip to Rome in 1540, moved quickly to introduce a classical style. In 1546, beating out many more famous and better established architects, he received his first public commission. It was Vicenza's principal civic building, the crumbling gothic Palazzo della Ragione. In these years he also designed several villas and palazzi. However, much of his influence stems from his immensely successful and influential Four Books of Architecture, published in 1570. It describes his work and his practical and restrained approach to design and construction. It includes wonderful illustrations of much of his work (including plans, sections, elevations and dimensions) and practical advice from the architectural principles (how to size an attractive room) and down to earth advice on construction (how to keep out the damp). It was widely translated and spread his influence throughout Europe and America.

We recognize Palladio's work largely from his country villas. The lands around Vicenza had been badly damaged in the war of the League of Cambrai in the early part of the century. In the peace that followed the Venetian hinterland including Vicenza was developed. Land was drained for agriculture, new crops, such as corn and rice, were introduced, and of course new buildings were needed. Although the villas were tied to farms, they were not farmhouses, for the owners lived largely in town and visited their land only periodically: in Spring to plant and prune, in Summer to escape the heat, and in Fall to receive the harvest. The rooms were multipurpose, with portable furniture, to be occupied as the season dictated. In addition, the villa needed to convey the owner's status and power. The Vicentine aristocrats competed with each other, as they did with the Venetian aristocrats who at this time begin to move onto the terrafirma. So the villas were highly visible and usually approached along an axis. From Roman temple architecture, Palladio adapted the columned front, making it, for the first time, part of the private building.

Palladio was apparently a charming man, as well as an incredibly talented and dedicated architect. This affability undoubtedly allowed him to negotiate the greater conflicts of Catholicism and Protestantism and the lesser shoals of Vincentine and Venetian politics. It is fascinating to read about the broad spectrum of his clients and to infer something about them from the design of their villas.

Palladio's career spanned 50 years, during which time he designed several hundred projects, a remarkable number of which survive today (there are still about 20 extant villas) In the early years his work was in Vicenza or the areas of the Veneto close around it. As he became better known, he received more commissions from Venice. It was there, at the end of his career, and as economic circumstances worsened, that he received his religious commissions: the facade of San Francesco della Vigna, the Convent of La Carita, and his two great churches: the imposing monastic church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and the beautiful votive church of Il Redentore (or Church of the Redeemer). He never did get to rebuild the Ducal Palace, however, although he had plans for the project. Through all this, he never lost contact culture of the times, the history, the theory of proportion, and interesting variety of his clients.

Note about the Presentation Location: The meeting will be held in the temporary home of Lucia Bogatay and Tom Wickens. The apartment itself is of architectural interest, having been created from the Southeast corner of the decommissioned 1910 B'nai David synagogue by another of our OWA members, architect Edda Picini, in the early 1980's.

Parking: Parking is difficult in the area, so from the East Bay, we strongly recommend using BART. Parking may be available on Hoff off of 16th, between Mission and Valencia, or 21st between Bartlett and Valencia in the public garage. Note that the unit is entered from the small door on the right of the synagogue, not through them main entrance.

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