Buy This Book!
Now available in the United States, New Palladians (eds. A. Sagharchi and L. Steil) documents the work of 48 modern architects or teams whose work is in some way rooted in tradition. The value of this book lies primarily in the quality of the built work by those whose practice is most rooted in the classical tradition. It is still likely to be true that much of the public is unaware that such built work exists (partly because so much of it is private), or that there are such architects committed to building all’antica. This mission to disseminate (with all of its implications of seeding) is the book’s great merit, and it deserves as wide a readership as we can gather for it. What starts off as a polemical tract settles into a coffee table format soon enough, and while I am all for polemics the public is more likely to be convinced if seduced by beautiful buildings, and in a number of cases that could actually happen with this publication.
It is also one of the merits of this book that it affords equal space to each architect represented, regardless of status or quantity of built work. Set out on such a level playing field, it is no longer inevitable that the biggest firms offer the most compelling work, although there is an inevitable relationship between a client’s resources and the quality of building. Also inevitably, there is an abundance of private and developer work, and a small percentage of institutional—libraries, colleges, museums, etc.—work, which is unfortunately fairly representative of classical architecture’s market access today (and, in fact, tallies pretty well with the distribution of private and public in Palladio’s career).
Make no mistake, the Palladianism of this book is a somewhat artificial construct, tacking onto the tail end of the Year of Palladio a survey of modern architects whose work can loosely be described as “traditional” (see my earlier observations on that problematic word); for those not invested in the arguments put forth in the essays at the beginning of the book (none of which, tellingly, are written by the architects whose work is most obviously “Palladian”), what some of the new work and the buildings by Palladio in Carl Laubin’s rather chilly capriccio have to do with each other may be hard to grasp. No matter. I for one am comfortable with the “Palladian” label (and no doubt many of us included are also) because it implies “classical;” and if that word shows up surprisingly rarely in the book, it may be a natural consequence of a movement that still isn’t quite comfortable in its skin, or is trying hard to band together (for strength in numbers) a body of work that actually represents quite disparate points of view. It is to the credit of the British and European editors that such a catholicity of points of view is so fairly represented. This is a much-needed book, since there has been quite literally nothing else like it out there since The Classicist’s Xth Anniversary edition, and one hopes it will be followed with some regularity by similar publications.