Villa Words No.15

Reflection to History:

Evolution of Italian Villa’s Architecture


Author: Hoda Sadrolashrafi
Developing Author: Stefania Varvaro

Step into the captivating world of Italian villas as we embark on a journey that spans centuries, unveiling the architectural metamorphosis of these iconic structures. From their humble origins intertwined with nature to their resplendent presence in today's landscape, we delve into the trans-formative power of Italian villas and their enduring influence on architectural design. The Roman civilization, with its grandeur and innovation, birthed the concept of the villa a testament to the harmonious fusion of architecture and nature. Originally serving agricultural purposes, villas quickly evolved into architectural marvels that transcended mere functionality. Through meticulous design, these structures came to epitomize luxury, elegance, and the epitome of societal aspirations.
In this exploration, we traverse the rich tapestry of Italy's architectural history, peer[1]ing into the lives of influential figures who shaped the destiny of these remarkable abodes. From the masterful grandeur of Hadrian's Villa, an opulent retreat hailing from ancient Rome, to the visionary creations of modern-day architectural luminaries, we witness the seamless blending of tradition and innovation. These magnificent villas, adorned with meticulously designed gardens, carry echoes of the past while embracing contemporary aesthetics. They have become living testaments to the evolving relationship between architecture and its surroundings, inviting us to ponder the significance of design in shaping our environment. Join us as we immerse ourselves in the allure of Italian villas, exploring their captivating stories, and unveiling the timeless beauty that continues to captivate architects, enthusiasts, and wanderers alike.

As mentioned above, the main character of Italian villa was the synthesis of the build ing with its context. From the Renaissance hegemony to get to the right proportions and dimension also included by architects. Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) in villa la Rotonda mastered the form of villa as a type combining principal proportion of ancient Rome presented by Vitruvius with human needs. Villa Rotonda demonstrates Palla- dio's mastery in crystallizing classical ideals of geometric form, absolute symmetry, and harmonic proportion in plan, dignified designs. Perhaps it is the most significant building of the Renaissance, revered for both its connection to Roman classicism and innovative design that would impact for generations to come suggesting a new way of employing a parametric geometry in the formal study of a classical building and its stylistic evolution.1
Over time the Renaissance has become a reference for the following architectural movement such as neo-classism in the 20th century which gave a new look at an cient architecture and later the first traces of simplifying elements to reach the mod ern movement. The classical tradition was the starting point for Giuseppe De Finetti (1892-1952)as for his master Adolf Loos (1870-1933) “one of the most influential architects of the late 19th century “,in the creation of truly modern architecture ,since both men envis aged true modernism as a combination of innovative and traditional ideas. With his significant work Villa Crespi(1938-1943)that was also inspired from Frank LIyod Wright(1867-1959) ‘s work .His works made a search for formal simplification of the classic elements that was in fact, the common element of Milanese architecture between the 1920s and 1930s.
In light of practical postwar needs, a modernity of dwelling was also sought with great attention to humanization of dwelling. Attention to structure, flexibility, industrialization, supported by ideas from the era’s artistic movement, were expressed in a pleth ora of highly innovative examples and yet, with looking back to history specially in Italy. Villa Bianca (1936-1937) by Giuseppe Terragni (1904-1943) is a great example of Italian Rationalism. It reveals Terragni’s research on shape and play with composition. Villa Bianca in Seveso described as illustrating example of how each technical choice, thanks to the “fantasy “and” sensitivity “of the architect, fits perfectly to the formal solutions and has therefore reasons that were not exhausted in elementary function alism following Palladian human measurements and proportions.
Alberto Libera(1903-63)’s imagination gave rise to a villa Malaparte(1938-43) in Cpri in the shape of a Pompeian red box, the secret image of a living space and the em bodiment of his own nostalgia as an icon of modern architecture that embraces the ideals of Rationalist geometry and right proportions. The villa is interpreted as a clas sical modern architecture in which classical in its imposing monumentality as a pyra mid, and modern in its domestic functional scale offering shelter and control over the landscape beyond. It is in this particular difference in scale that a certain duality is created in the home, especially in the way one interacts with its extraordinary nature surrounded by. Capri as a beautiful island in the Tyrrhenian Sea and only by walking along the paths to realize the importance of staircases in Capri’s architecture, like an Italian-style ancient theatre set.
Mediterranean house, the Baroque with Gaudì’s experiments, informal art with mathematics. The complex that opened up too many reflections; destabilized, fascinated, and unfolded in many paths, despite of taking concrete form in the beauty of an architecture, as Moretti himself mentioned that the symmetry of ancients should not be understood as designing axis but as a point of departure for the formative force ,the ‘seed of space’ that is always in shaded location :never on the exterior wall washed by sun or wind.
As Gio Ponti (1891-1979)mentioned his idea about Italian house in the first edition of Domus magazine in 1928 which was about the relation between Interior and exterior spaces of the house that are merged; the exterior penetrates in the interior in order to give “joy of living”. One of his great work is Villa Namazee (1957-64) in Tehran after his experiences in South America; Villa Planchart (1953-57) and Villa Arreaza(1954-56). The Villa has a seemingly reassuring decorative tone and a bright, comfortable fanshaped open plan layout, blending if perfectly with its suburban con[1]text. it is described as the “total art work “merged with “the democratic and industrial taste of the 1950s.As the architect says” “We should never block the perspectives, we should make people see ‘more than they can’, create enfilades, fugal points, openings of light, [...] fugal resources of natural and artificial perspectives, [...], of viewpoints, lights.” (Ponti 1960; 35)
Villa La Scala (1956-58) in Portese,Lake Grada, is in a perfectly balanced contrast between béton brut rawness and sliding-glass door lightness, the vibrant alternation of materials is the connective thread among architecture, nature and textiles. The new woven felts and natural textures dialogue with the vigor of concrete slabs and steel columns, which symbolize man’s ability to transform raw materials into pure poetry. In this remarkable location, the abstract forms of the new jacquard fabrics relive in the glass and metal reflections of windowpanes. An almost imperceptible transition between interior and exterior takes place, enabling the water and evergreen trees to enter the building, while the wide curtains, recalling natural colors or geometrical waves, open up onto the lake view from the verge of a steep slope. As Vittoriano Vigano (1919-96) the Architect of Villa la Scala said” Architecture is the tool of social relations, but it remains and makes history for everyone”.
Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978)’s respect for the existing landscape and local history was clearly manifested at Villa Ottolenghi (1974-78) in Verona. The villa was designed to integrate seamlessly with the undulating topography of the site, embracing its natural setting rather than imposing upon it.
The terraced gardens, inspired by the tradition al agriculture of the region, cascade down the hill, incorporating local vegetation and ancient olive trees. Elements of local history were woven into the villa’s design. Scar pa incorporated pre-existing Roman walls discovered during the excavation into the architecture, forming an intriguing juxtaposition of the old and the new. This histor ic layering added a depth to the villa, making it not just a residential building, but a dialogue with time and culture. Carlo Scarpa’s Villa Ottolenghi is a masterpiece that marries ancient history, the vernacular, and modernist design elements in one harmo nious composition. Its beautifully orchestrated sequence of spaces, engagement with the natural surroundings, and sublime use of light and material create an unparalleled architectural experience. Each detail, from the overall plan to the smallest fitting, re flects Scarpa’s unique touch and distinctive design philosophy. The reference to historical architecture was confirmed in the main body of the villa, where the corners of the walls feature staggered courses of stone ashlars, a system utilized in the models of villas from the Italian Renaissance onwards. However, this reference is always veiled by a slightly ironic tone. In fact, the relationship between the fineness and the roughness of the various architectural surfaces appeared re versed here; where traditional called for the use of a rustic stone in order to give the impression of the strength of the corners of the walls, composed of stones leveled or smoothed by plaster, in the case of Villa Alessi (1989-95) in Verbania, the staggered courses constitute a mere dentil-like arrangement of flat, white ashlars enclosing the granite surfaces with their lively texture and varied hues. In proceeding to the rein troduction of the four elements of Samos2, and in the pursuit of happiness, the Pal ladian theme of the recognizability of practical forms returned in the shape of refer ences. Aldo Rossi (1931-97) in fact as a sort of consolation carried out a process that was inverse to that of forgetfulness, recovering the individual pieces in the form of fragments of a more complex image and reconstructed the representation according to the processes of copying and of narrative and its distortions. A memory that is too strong and the reference to the balustrade reappear repeatedly in the path that lead ed from the entrance and traverses Villa Alessi, in which an old farmhouse was emp tied, rebuilt with the use of fragments and converted into a bourgeois retreat.

The first architect to pull the villa into the modern world was Andrea Palladio consid ered as one of the most influential individuals in the history of architecture. As men tioned above about the Villa la Rotona and his other villas, he consolidated the stand alone farm buildings into a single structure, and organized this structure to have a strong center and symmetrical side-wings. Since then, many architects have followed Palladio’s concept in different periods and became worldwide. In Italy the reflection of history and return to order has been a challenge for the architects in different pe riods, also with the arrival of the modern movement in the country and its tendency to simplify architectural elements ,looking back to history ,in particular the Palladian educations have always been topical for them as well.



[1] Villa Almerico Capra “La Rotonda” located on a hill in southeast of Vicenza was designed in 1566 by Palladio for Count Paolo Almerico (1514-1589), priest and apostolic defendant for Popes Pius IV and Pius V. The villa was completed by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi after death of Palladio in 1580.

[2] Samos is an island in Greek where Aldo Rossi traveled several times.



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