„(…)AND YET THE GRAND COUNTRY RESIDENCE, OR VILLA, CAPTURES OUR ATTENTION BECAUSE IT HAS, OVER THE CENTURIES, COME TO REPRESENT THE OPINIONS AND IDEAS OF A RANGE OF CULTURES ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TOWN AND COUNTRY, BETWEEN NATURE AND NURTURE, BETWEEN THE FORMAL AND THE INFORMAL. THE VILLA GIVES SHAPE TO UNIVERSAL HUMAN QUESTIONS”. This is an extract from a piece written by James S. Ackerman for the catalogue for the Andrea Palladio e la villa Veneta da Petrarca a Carlo Scarpa exhibition, held in 2005 in Vicenza by the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in collaboration with RIBA the Royal Institute of British Architects.
This was not, then, simply an exhibition about the Villa Veneta as an object frozen in the history of architecture, but rather a study of it as a living organism surviving through the centuries to become emblematic of changes in society, themselves represented by those that commission the residences and their architects. History has provided us with a concept of the Villa as a grand country residence immersed in nature and regarded as a piece of architecture that represents its time. Nature and Architecture have always been part of a single whole in the definition of what we perceive as The Landscape, and this is particularly true in the historical evolution of the Villa Veneto from which we still see features that characterise these residences over time: the formal and visual relationship with the surrounding countryside, whether flat or hilly, the manner in which the house is laid out and the prospects of the countryside provided by this layout, the monumental character of the work, the building materials used, and much more besides. All of these are design solutions which are conceptually similar but which are stylistically representative of their times. A modern Villa should, as in the past, tell us something about ourselves, about the architects and the people who commission these residences, together seeking in the countryside an ideal architectural model for living.
In the heart of the Veneto, between the Dolomite mountains and the sea, there is a unique area bordering with the river Piave to the north and the river Brenta to the south. This is the Marca di Treviso, an area as ancient as it is lovely, described as far back as 1200 as “marca gioiosa et amorosa” (a joyful and loving place). The historic Marca has now become, more or less, the Province of Treviso. The area has undergone significant economic growth over the last few decades, growth which has profoundly altered the landscape through the construction of many, too many perhaps, manufacturing and industrial zones. And yet, in almost romantic defiance, Beauty still holds out in small, ancient cities filled with art ready to surprise and delight even the weariest traveller. Towns and cities nestled in an extraordinary hillside landscape, planted with olive trees and vines and fed by a unique microclimate. This microclimate comes from the sheltering effect of the Grappa range which protects the area from the cold Dolomite winds. Monte Grappa itself provides the snowy peaks that bring the special light which is the defining feature of works by Giorgione di Castelfranco Veneto and Cima di Conegliano. It is against this remarkable backdrop that a unique architectural project has taken shape. A project where an abandoned hillside has been brought back to life and where the Villa and the hillside have become one through the use of shapes and materials which fully respect the surrounding landscape.
The way the building plan is laid out, following the contours of the hill, generates a symmetrical fan-shaped form which as it turns provides constantly changing prospects of the surrounding countryside. The building has two floors, both partially inserted into the hillside, the upper floor being set back so as to follow the line of the hillside. The facade of the building on both levels is then angled so it too follows the line of the hillside. The result is that from wherever the Villa is observed it blends into its surroundings, allowing the eye to travel uninterrupted along the line of the hill.
The layout of the floorplan provides for three zones made up of a large, partially double-height, central area and two zones laid out symmetrically on either side. This is a respectful homage to the layout of a classic Andrea Palladio villa, yet adapted to our time and to its particular location. To the eye the ground floor roof is permeable to the landscape as it is made up of two large terraces separated by a glass structure. The second floor roof flows uninterrupted into the hillside as it has been planted with the same grass that grows on the hill. The front of the building is dominated by four monumental wooden beams which rise vertically from the ground and fold back into the line of the roof. These elements section up the front of the building symmetrically and frame the entrance, once again recalling the traditional model of the classic Villa, which presented a solid threedimensional block onto which a facade was attached (Palladio used this technique to pay homage to the classic temple). Seen from the side, the beams reveal themselves to be structural supports for the wooden slab which forms the roof of the open-plan ground floor. These wooden elements are made up of load-bearing glulam beams around which there is an empty space designed to accommodate the drainpipes, which remain invisible, and also the hardware connecting the exterior cladding, made from sheets of heat-treated ash.
Following in an almost forgotten ancient building tradition, the stone used throughout the project is taken from the rocks removed from the hillside during construction of the foundations. Stonemasons from the local Grappa area skilled in the ancient traditions of marble cutting and working cut the large golden blocks of stone – formed from ancient glacial sediment – using water saws. They produced stone slabs in a range of sizes which were then hand beaten to create the raw, iridescent surface which adorns the walls of the villa, both inside and out. The front of the Villa presents four full-height glass and steel motolenrised windows, inclined to the same angle as the facade. This solution required a specific design project from the architect and complex manufacturing solutions from a company of internationally renowned specialist artisans based in the area. In keeping with the philosophy of maintaining a connection with classic country residences, a strikingly contemporary glass-enclosed area sits symmetrically between the two large central beams. On the inside, this double-height space, alongside floor-mounted glass sections, ensures that natural light from above flows down to the ground floor. This glass and steel structure is used in winter to house the plants which spend the summer on the large terraces, shaded by wooden brise soleil. The inside presents further examples of local artisanal excellence with all plastering done using
Stucco Veneziano, a technique much loved by revered architect Carlo Scarpa. The bespoke internal furnishing solutions were made by a local carpenter, while the steel and wood stairs and railings were made in a specialist workshop. The building is rated in Class A for energy consumption which is the result of careful research into the thermal insulation of the villa and of the design – by the project architect – of a contemporary-styled open-sided storage building which has a state-of-the-art PV system on its canopy roof. This building is used to house the agricultural machinery and equipment used to maintain the old olive grove which had fallen into a state of abandon. The recovery of this olive grove is a key part of the overall project and, once complete, will bring back a piece of the traditional landscape to the Asolo area.