Andrea Palladio would turn over in his grave if he saw the proliferation of "Palladian" windows creeping into every new subdivision and every new addition. The so-called Palladian window has turned into the architectural clich,e of the '80s, a fenestration phenomenon not seen since the proliferation of the greenhouse window.
The day may soon come when we will be able to stroll into the local hardware store and pick up a do-it- yourself-Palladian-window kit. But before we rush to stick one into any windowless wall, it might be wise to take a good look at the window that, in various forms, has been reappearing since the Renaissance.
Andrea Palladio in the mid-16th century discarded the heavy gothic influences in architecture and promoted a return to antique, classical styles. He studied the clasics, drew the ancient temples of the Romans and turned them into villas and contemporary basilicas; in 1570 he authored Quattro Libri dell'Architettura di Andrea Palladio, four of the most influential books on classical architecture. In the collection, Palladio presented his ideas about the way in which classical orders should be combined, about the importance of harmonious proportions. He presented designs for an archway with three openings described in a 1537 treatise by Serlio on classical architecture. And even though the famous Renaissance architect Donato Bramante had used the same motif, it was Palladio's designs for villas in Vicenza and his sketches that really popularized the archway that has come to be known as Palladian.
The English 17th and 18th century architects picked up on Palladio's designs and adapted them to the English neoclassical movements: the two openings on either side of the arch started to give way to a single arched window, a window that defined a space, that helped give a building a focal point .
In America,Thomas Jefferson, one of America's most famous architects, was a great fan of Palladio, as evidenced by his designs for Monticello. In fact, much of Colonial American architecture derives from the Palladian influences -- the use of a central core, the use of arches and fan windows, the emphasis on classical columns and pediments.
Look at a Colonial reproduction home, or even some simple Victorians, and the famous Palladian window appears -- with muntins and mullions, but the arch is there and the great window is used as a focal point of light in a central hallway or above a door.
It is ironic then that when the post- modernists began to look at classical motifs, they turned to the purist of the pure -- Palladio -- and adopted his arch in a new context. But where today's Palladian goes wrong is when the arch is no longer surrounded by the same proportional rules as dictated by Palladio, when it has been overblown, made cartoonlike. And while few are leaping to build thoroughly post-modernist houses, the one element that has emerged for the common man is the Palladian arch -- the window everyone wants in their home.
I have seen a classic clapboard Virginia farmhouse ruined by a series of arches that just didn't belong. A Colonial home with rectangular windows throughout suddenly sprouts a "Palladian" bedroom window -- not as a focal point, but rather an afterthought.
Whether Palladio would approve is not the question. What is important
is to look at the rhythms,
lines and volumes created
in the rest of the house. If
the Palladian window
works with them, then go
with the centuries-old