Interview with
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi



Villa Magazine No.15, Villas in Itlay

Common among ancient writings, the villa enjoys the natural setting of restorative powers (otium) in opposition to the excesses of the city life (negotium). How do you think the concept of otium and negotium, as seen in ancient writings, can be applied to modern society and our relationship with nature?
Today, the concepts of otium and negotium are particularly topical. In fact, we live in a society that demands more and more performance and stress from us, and therefore the quality of a rest becomes essential. A good piece of architecture preferably a villa can be the necessary setting for us to restore ourselves and recharge our batteries. We must also consider that many jobs, especially creative ones, involve us 24 hours on 24. There is no longer a time to work and a time to laze around.
More and more people work from home, sometimes working even when doing sports, having friends over for dinner or even playing games. Everything becomes production but at the same time everything can become fun. Living in a pleasant and stimulating architectural environment helps a great deal.

As a distinguished director at INAIL, Mr. Prestinenza, we seek your esteemed insights on the crucial considerations architects should embrace when conceiving villas as pioneering prototypes for future endeavors. With esteemed relevance to this discussion, we invoke the legacy of the esteemed Andrea Palladio, who deftly shifted the architectural paradigm by placing practicality at the forefront of his villa designs. Could you expound upon the profound influence of Palladio’s prioritisation of practical terms in villa architecture during his era and its enduring impact on the contours of contemporary architectural practices?
Palladio was certainly an inventor of extraordinary forms. He understood that functionality is not enough to make a house. That is why he conceived his villas as ideal models. He was however also an architect with common sense and therefore ensured that these ideal models were both practical and functional. Hence the great success. A success such that for a long time Palladio’s villas became models to be copied everywhere in Europe, especially in England. The British, in fact, like the Venetians, appreciated that perfect union of ideality and impracticality.

In your notable literary work “Three Words for the Near Future,” published in 2002, you eloquently posit, “If our aspirations transcend the ordinary, let us dare to envision the future, for it is in the dreams of tomorrow that true innovation resides.” As two decades have transpired since the publication of your profound insights, we kindly invite you to provide us with an enlightened update, specifically in the context of recent projects, notably within the realm of villas. How has your perspective evolved, and what fresh wisdom would you inscribe as an afterword to this revered book, imbued with your experiences and reflections on the architectural landscape?
I don’t think the horizon has changed. Although today, compared to twenty years ago, there is more fear in the future. A fear that often pushes us to look at things with extreme caution. Our young people fear that the future will be worse than the past. That the world will drift politically and climatically. I do not agree that there is no way out, the situation is serious, but we must have the courage to dream and to pursue them, changing the environment and society around us for the better.

Your esteemed position as a professor of contemporary architectural history lends profound insight into the subject matter at hand. As the erudite Ackerman once opined, “The villa stands not only as an architectural archetype but also as an embodiment of ideology, a mythical creation born from our psychological yearnings rather than mere utilitarian necessity.” Indeed, the villa transcends specific architectural typologies, cultures, and historical epochs, representing a socioideological phenomenon that spans the annals of time. In light of this, we implore you to illuminate the evolution of the villa concept throughout history, delving into its intrinsic connection with the shifting tides of social and ideological values. How has the villa adapted and transformed, reflecting the ever-changing fabric of our society and the aspirations of our collective consciousness?
The villa has always been a testing ground for our architectural theories. It has been so whenever great architects have met visionary and courageous clients. On the other hand, it is easier to experiment with a villa than with an airport or a hospital, if only because the technical and budgetary problems of a small building are much less.

What distinguishes Palladio’s design process in villa projects is the transformative power of the “depiction” as a tool of knowledge, preceding the act of “build.” The interplay between image, form, and their intentional formation aligns with architectural theory, practice, and the projection of architectural knowledge. Did Andrea Palladio essentially popularise the “depiction” in architecture?
Architecture, even before it is built, must be imagined. Good architecture is born when the architect has a new idea of the future. Only if there is this idea can, then, a construction be realised that succeeds in making our utopia of the future concrete.

Did villas play a role in this?
The villa may represent our ideal way of living. So it is a model that concretely expresses our way of being in the world.

Did this subsequently establish a platform for pioneer architects to articulate architectural theories?
Most of the important works of the 20th century are villas. Some even made by non-architects. By painters, by psychoanalysts, by philosophers. I am thinking for example of Casa Malaparate in Capri designed by a writer or the house of the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung in Bollingen.

When exploring the annals of architectural history and the notable constructions that have graced the world, a remarkable pattern emerges a predilection among architects to select villas as fertile ground for the crystallisation of their innovative ideas. Evident in seminal works such as Adolf Loos’ Villa Karma (1904), Villa Muller (1930), Villa Moissi (1923), and Villa Steiner (1910); Alvar Aalto’s Villa Norva (1924) and Villa Mariea (1939); Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1928); Mies Van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat (1930) and Farnsworth Villa (1945); Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water Villa (1935); Kenzo Tange’s Villa Seijo (1953) and Villa Propia (1953); Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus Dessau (1928); Gio Ponti’s Villa Panchart (1953); Philip Johnson’s Glass Villa (1948); Robert Venturi’s Villa Venturi (1962); Michael Graves’ Villa Hanselman (1967); Douglas’ Douglas Villa (1973); Frank Gehry’s Villa Gehry (1978); Peter Eisenman’s Villa Eisenman (1975); Angelo Mangiarotti’s Villa Bianchi (1971); Peter Zumthor’s Zumthor Villa (1983); and Rem Koolhaas’ Villa Bordeaux (1998). It becomes evident that villas transcend mere architectural constructs; they become utopian settings that invite dialogue on “Architectural Inventions.” Thus, villas serve as the very embodiment of “Writing Architecture.” Can you share your thoughts on the significance of villas in this context, as incubators of architectural innovation and vessels for expressing visionary design concepts?
Yes, we said it before, the villa becomes the microcosm that reflects the world as we would like it to be. The villa is more than a mere dislocation of functions, it is, as Edoardo Persico said, the substance of things hoped for. This is, for example, why Curzio Malaparte called his: house as myself. Good architecture is always our portrait, the portrait of how we would like to be. Sometimes, clients argue with architects because they feel that the architect is making a portrait in which they do not fully recognise themselves. Or, worse, it is a self-portrait of the architect himself.

Your profound expertise in the realm of architecture prompts an inquiry into the multifaceted role of villas as a catalyst for exploring “Architectural Inventions” and their manifestation as a form of written expression. Could you expound on the significance of villas as a platform that fosters discourse on innovative architectural concepts and how they encapsulate the art of writing architecture?
Every architect experiments in the villa also with his own poetics. Think for example of Le Corbusier, who in Villa Savoye experimented with the 5 points of modern architecture. Or Mies van der Rohe who in Villa Farnsworth experimented with fluid space and almost nothingness. Just look at the history of architecture textbooks: villas have always played a prominent role. And there are more villas than other types of buildings.

Your esteemed expertise in the architectural domain serves as a beacon, beckoning us to delve into the enchanting realm of villas. With their emphasis on the celebration of landscape and the embodiment of villa life, villas transcend the confines of typological definitions, assuming the guise of a profound ideological construct. In this context, could you enlighten us by providing specific examples where the ideology of villa life has left an indelible mark on the design and construction of illustrious villas throughout history?
A good villa is never a sculptural object in itself. It is the construction of a new landscape. Just think, for instance, of the House on the Waterfall. Wright took an insignificant waterfall and turned it into a fundamental part of a work of architecture that we still admire today. In a sense it was he who invented the waterfall, giving it great prominence and designing a context for it.

I humbly request your esteemed perspective on a matter of utmost significance. Embedded within the fabric of art historical discourse, an enduring narrative concerning the villa, initially articulated in the 19th century by the distinguished Jacob Burckhart in his foundational exploration of early modern Italian culture, contends the following: “Villa culture, with its emphasis on the appreciation of landscape and villa life, is better understood as an ideological construct, rather than a strict, typological sense, and it can be studied as a historical and artistic phenomenon.“ In light of this profound statement, I eagerly seek your insightful agreement or divergence with this perspective. Your profound elucidation on the matter would be immensely appreciated, shedding light on your unique perspective and enriching our understanding of the subject?
I agree with Burckhart, good architecture always becomes art, it is never reducible to mere func-tion or mere typology.

I’d request your esteemed perspective on a matter of great significance. Within Andrea Palladio’s renowned work “Four Books of Architecture” (1570), the second book, dedicated to domestic architecture, delves into the multifaceted purpose of Villa establishments. Palladio eloquently articulates a tripartite role, encompassing agricultural productivity and enhancement, promoting physical exercise on foot and horseback to preserve the owner’s well-being, and providing an intimate setting for personal and contemplative pursuits. In light of this historical context, I’m intrigued to hear your reflections on the contemporary and future significance of Villas as spaces for human recreation and psychological health? How do you perceive the enduring purpose of Villas in modern and future societies, as sites that cultivate leisure and rejuvenation for individuals? Your discerning insights on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
In the villas of the future we will carry out many intellectual activities (for example: we will work remotely), recreational activities (we will play sports, in a minigym or with a small swimming pool) and perhaps even productive activities: we will cultivate, for example, the garden by planting vegetables for our table. I am convinced that compared to today we will want more comfortable houses to spend much more time in. And so more and better designed spaces will be needed. Perhaps it will be a necessity to avoid viruses and polluted areas. But this is not necessarily a good thing: life in public spaces is also important. A big problem for tomorrow’s society.

I would highly value your insights on a matter of considerable significance.  In the realm of modern architecture in Italy, could you please identify a Villa project that, in your esteemed opinion, has wielded the most profound influence? Furthermore, I am eager to understand the reasons behind its immense importance, as you perceive it.
The villa I like best in Italy is Casa Malaparte on Capri. It has a magnificent relationship with the sea. Abroad, I would gladly live in the house in Floriac designed by Rem Koolhaas. It has a magnificent relationship with the land and the sky.

Your latest book, “Architetti d’Italia,” which presents a comprehensive history of Italian architecture from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, is a remarkable testament to your expertise. Within its pages, you highlight the works of 108 architects, including prominent figures like Renzo Piano and Massimiliano Fuksas. It is intriguing to note that among the curated selection of 14 distinguished Italian architecture firms, their projects are showcased in the form of captivating Villas. Considering this unique focus, could you please share your insights on the significance and impact of presenting these architects’ projects through the lens of Villa design?
The Italians are specialists in villas also because they have always had to deal with the sea, the countryside and a thousand different geographical and historical situations. One of the best features of the Italian architecture is its ability to relate to the context and history of places.

Villas present a captivating opportunity for architects to experiment with new ideas and serve as prototypes for future projects. With this in mind, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on the “Diogene” house, an architectural prototype designed by the acclaimed Renzo Piano. How do you perceive its impact on the realm of experimental architecture and its potential influence on future design ventures?
It is always interesting to think of minimal houses that one can live in. Renzo Piano is a good architect but frankly I do not think the Diogenes module is one of his best works. I find much more interesting the minimal house for emergencies recently designed by Norman Foster and presented at the recent Venice Architecture Biennial.

I’d greatly appreciate your esteemed perspective on a matter of ut-most relevance. The subject at hand revolves around Villa Magazine, a publication available in both print and online formats. This magazine has garnered attention for its focused exploration of villa types as an ideal milieu for fostering dialogues on “Architectural practices” or the crystallisation of new concepts, techniques, and theories. In light of this distinctive approach, I’m intrigued to hear your expert opinion on the significance and merits of Villa Magazine’s emphasis on these architectural creations within the realm of villas.
It seems to me that yours is a great magazine. Congratulations and, as they say, ad maiora.

As the esteemed proponent behind the renowned “Renzo Piano Foundation Award,” I’m eager to glean your insightful perspectives on an intriguing matter. Specifically, I’m curious to explore the transformative potential of the Villa Award in igniting the imagination of architects, compelling them to transcend the confines of conventional design. How do you envision this prestigious recognition inspiring architectural visionaries to utilise villas as a canvas for audacious experimentation and groundbreaking innovation in their forthcoming endeavors?
My proposal is that you hold a competition for a villa that you then build. Once it is built you let it visit for six months and then resell it, returning the investment. A bit like the experience of the Case Studies Houses in California sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine in the 1950s, or the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart in 1927 organised by the Werkbund and entrusted to Mies van der Rohe.

Furthermore, I’m keen to discern your appraisal of the Villa Magazine Award as a commendation of excellence within the architectural realm. Specifically, do you believe it successfully lauds exceptional achievements in architecture, particularly in terms of pioneering new concepts and serving as a trailblasing prototype for future projects?
Certainly. Your magazine serves to promote good architecture.
I repeat, you are doing a great job.

I deeply appreciate your friendship and and your ever-present availability, which I value tremendously.
Thank you, I am delighted.



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