This essay analyses the similarities and differences in design of two famous architectural works, House II, by Peter Eisenman, and Villa Rotonda, by Palladio.
House II (1969-70, Vermont) was designed by Peter Eisenman who is an influential post-modernist architect. It is organized around a square plan and a structured grid of columns. Eisenman added rectangular elements, lines, planes and volumes to create a complex space which followed the formal operation of de-constructivism. William J. R. Curtis writes that Eisenman argued that such buildings as ‘House II’ (1969) were explorations of basic formal syntax and the logical structure of space.1 Villa Rotonda (1567- 70, Italy) was designed by Andrea Palladio and is one of the most recognized buildings of the Renaissance. This villa models the ancient roman classical buildings but its innovative design still has an impact on future generations of architects all across the globe. The design is completely symmetrical which has a square plan with four facades each projecting a portico. Its simplicity led to Palladio calling it a pure work of art. An in-depth analysis of the design of the two buildings shows how these designs are surprisingly similar but contrasting as well to a great extent.
Both the buildings used nine square grid plans as a generative device in the process of design. House II follows a systematic development of how information can be interpreted which is by the interaction of formal relationships. It is defined originally as a square volume divided into nine smaller squares. These squares are marked by a matrix of sixteen square columns. The similar geometry of the square seem to apply to the plan of Villa Rotunda as well. Several imaginary squares can be identified which define the spaces in the villa. The grid pattern which can be seen in the plan of house II can be found in the façade of villa rotunda combining squares and rectangles of the doors and windows. The columns placed in house II follow an even spacing in the x and y axis. Thus the notation AAA could be used but Eisenman suggests the use of notion ABC due to the variations of the wall positions within the space of the design.Similarly, Villa Rotonda’s interior organization of volumes follow bilateral symmetry and follows the notion of ABCBA.The process of design in house II was a diagonal displacement of the pillar’s grid.Through a series of formal abstraction, the project became purely abstract.
blogblog Though Palladio was considered as a mannerist, displacement was seen in the plan and in the perspective of the elevation too.The disproportion was seen as spaces were compressed due to the rigid set of principles followed by Palladio in the nine square grid figure.Eisenman in his analysis of Palladio’ carefully constructs a series of analytic diagrams to trace out processes of spatial dislocation in villa Rotonda and giving the lie to the inherited—yet misguided—image of him as a truly classical figure.2 The site was important to the both the design of the buildings.House II was to be designed as a weekend home.So the site plays an important role of serving the purpose as it is adjacent to a barn with 110 acres of rolling meadows and woodlands.The picturesque backdrop from Villa rotunda is not coincidental.The lovely hills and the changing view of the breathtaking scenery from the portico was well planned with the design.
Palladio was considered a mannerist as he showed perfect symmetry, harmony and balance in his project. He also used rhythmical mathematical ratios to define his spaces and it’s a visual delight to the eyes due to its simplicity. Eisenman on the other hands used multiple set of operations to create a seemingly complex set of spaces which are unconventional. His design totally disregards symmetry and proportion. Palladio’s villa was a timeless structure as Palladio used classical elements to define a universal architecture language. Visually soothing and technically sound Villa Rotonda was used as a residence as well as a space for agricultural production facility.
Eisenman’s design was technically and functionally not practical. The owners of the house complained that it was hard to live in and poorly detailed. There were are series of odd elements in the design like a column in the middle of the bed room, stairs which lead nowhere, holes in floors etc. Villa Rotunda was designed in keeping the public and private spaces in mind which would be used for different activities whereas House II did not have a prior motive of creating well planned spaces. It followed a set of operations due to which spaces were created. Palladio was a humanist architect who establishes a genuine reciprocity between landscape and architecture. Eisenman on the other hand is conceptual in his way of approach and gives his attention to the form of the design focusing on plan elevation and section.
Eisenman designs are concerned with construction of art whereas Palladio’s design is related to art is construction. It is a clear distinction between method and madness. Both the designs started from a similar nine square grid plan and had complexity involved in designing of the spaces. Palladio added simplicity to the complexity and Eisenman added complexity to complexity. It cannot be said that Eisenman was not thoughtful about his design as he had multiple iterations for this designs. The major difference lies in the goal what they wanted to achieve. Eisenman’s goal could be referred to as dumb practice as he was concerned only about the visual complexity and not about the practicality. Palladio succeed in pragmatic realism as he managed to create both practical and visually appealing design. It is an irony as a Renaissance building succeed in practicing the right mix of architecture design over the building designed in postmodern era. A right balance of modernism and mannerism is the key to successful designs in the 21st century.