Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What I Learned Today: Palladio

I'm one up on William Shakespeare, author of Romeo and Juliet. I'm in fair Verona, where he laid his scene, and he never set foot in the place. But forget that: what I learned today made its mark up the road in Vicenzia, where I lunched in the shadow of the Basilica of Palladio, most influential of all the world's architects.

I suppose anybody who cares knew this all along but here's the deal: this Basilica is not a church. It began life as some sort of government office building. Apparent the old building fell down, or part of it, and they commissioned Palladio to build a new one. But here's the catch: they told him he had to build the new one around the old one. It's like that town in Maine that told the selectmen to build a new jail and to build it out of materials from the old jail, and not to close the old jail until the new one was finished.

So Palladio did as he was told (apparently he milked it for all it was worth--he won the contract in 1549, but it was still unfinished (and he still drawing fees) when he died 31 years later.

But here's the thing: Palladio did build the new around the old. He kept it interesting by turning the new into (per Wiki) "a loggia and a portico"-- a covered walkway lined with shop fronts. Translated: because of some silly rule imposed by the bankers, Palladio developed what must be the most standard single design for the 19th Century big-city shopping center. Here's a picture.

The moral of this story: when you've got a lemon, make lemonade.

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