Andrea Palladio freed European architecture to the full glories of the classical Renaissance, founding a style that is fresh and vigorous to this day. To John Ruskin he was a hidebound traditionalist who buried the soaring inspiration of European Gothic in out of date rules and pagan temples. Who was the most influential architect?
Arguing for Palladio are Robert Adam and Dr Manolo Guerci.
Robert Adam begins the defence of Palladio by criticising the way in which Ruskin prioritised architectural theory over architecture itself. Adam sees this as the main reason why architects are now marginal figures in the construction process. He argues that it is the 'practicality' of Palladio's architecture that has ensured Palladio's place as the 'Godfather of the greatest period in British Architecture'. Palladio's four books, Adam argues, contain a combination of lessons in classical architecture, examples of ways to design up-to-date classical buildings, and a method of using these principles for any design.
Dr Manolo Guerci declares that Palladio has been misunderstood. Beginning with an examination of who Palladio was and his beginnings in 16th century Veneto, Guerci emphasises that he epitomises a balance between practice and theory, while Ruskin represented theory only. That he invented a formula was a reason for his success, but his architecture was hardly ever formulaic. According to Guerci, Ruskin's charge that Palladio's architecture does not work in its context is wrong: without the context you can't have Palladio.
Arguing for Ruskin are Robert Hewison and Simon Jenkins.
Robert Hewison begins the defence by criticising Palladio's desire to impose his own vision on the world, when he himself often deviated from his own strict rules governing that vision. Whilst Palladio was just an architect, he argues, Ruskin was also a critic, an artist, a geologist, a botanist, and a naturalist. But above all, Ruskin saw the Classical architecture that Palladio championed as an attempt to cut mankind off from ‘God's creation’, and tried to use Gothic architecture to reconnect people with nature.
Simon Jenkins explains how he has never looked back since his personal discovery of Ruskin's Venice. He says the debate is not about whether Palladio is a bad architect, but about preference. For him, Palladio is unexciting, dreary, and rule-bound, and is about the mathematics, not the magic, of building. Jenkins uses Parliament Square as an example of gothic imagination, excitement and liberation. It is not rule-bound like Palladianism, which is at its best only when the rules are broken. He ends with the suggestion that Palladio is the forbear of the least exciting elements of architecture, and asks that we vote for Ruskin and beauty instead.
The Final Vote was declared a draw.