I. Wolfgang Lotz’s Argument
Contextual architecture represents architecture and designing in particular context, i.e. historical or vernacular context. The theory of contextual often referred to compatible architecture by taking into account the building design surround or the urban concept in vaster sale. This notion can be easily understood through the analogy with the “Context” in the natural language by expressing the ranges of compatibility from superficial repetition of architectural styles or elements or cosmetic treatment of building facades to the meaningful inspirited designs and the symbolic representation of certain place in building. It has a wide range of applications, from the infill projects to the new building design in historical context (Abada, 2002). One of the cases of contextual architecture has been brought forward by Wolfgang Lotz in his criticism of Palladio’s basilica in Vicenza. In his essay “Reflections of Palladio as Town Planner”, Lotz mentioned the fact that the document concerning Palladio’s basilica in Vicenza gives no indication that the architect ever thought about an overall arrangement of the building ringing the Piazza dei Signori and the Piazza delle Erbe. Further to this statement Lotz also indicated that regardless of the fact that Palladio took into account inherent structural and functional demands, the final outcome conceived as an independent monument by its stately bulk the buildings and dominates its surroundings hence incompatible with the earlier buildings around the basilica especially in the height of its loggias and horizontal articulation terms. The lack of integrations of the basilica at Vicenza with its neighbours seems to be not the result of external circumstances, but is rather due to some precise architectural intention on Palladio’s part. Other evidence which simulate similar case has also been stated by Lotz during the construction of the Loggia del Capitano that planned several years before Palladio began work on and the Loggia Bernarda project which according to Lotz is anything but integrated with the surrounding buildings. The colossal order is no less dominant over the piazza than the superimposed orders of the basilica opposite. A similar judgement as a non contextual urban planning has also been drawn in the design of San Giorgio Maggiore’s facades, the Redentore, the cathedrals of Milan, Siena, Florence, and Orvieto where Palladio recommended the Gothic structure should be adopted which led toward disintegration with the adjacent buildings in a unified piazza scheme and being reluctant in the use of portico. The arguments of Lotz towards Palladio’s design can be viewed from following figures.
From figure 2 it can be indicated that regardless of the similar repetition pattern the implementation of structural columns on Palldio’s design are indeed stood on its own right comparing to its surrounding which can be viewed from figure 1. The scale of each column and opening cosmetically form a bulk image which according to Lotz could not perfectly blend with the adjacent buildings which looks fairly flat. This worsened by the existence of the tower on the left wing of the basilica. Similar case has also been outlined in Piazza delle Erbe which can be viewed from following figure.
Comparing to its surrounding again the implementation of structural columns and opening either in appearance and scale does not fit the adjacent buildings which can be indicated from following figure.
Reflected from all these arguments it is obvious that Wolfgang Lotz truly consider the contextual concept as one of his design foundation with respect to urban planning. Contextual architecture is different in scope, objectives and approach from the appropriate technology based architecture. Contextual architecture confirms the continuity of the present with the past and extends to the future, depending on the quality of design and understanding of context (Brolin,1999).
As stated by Broli (1999) Contextual architecture envisages “future” and in fact, “contextualism”, “contextuality” and all related terms reflect a comprehensive awareness of the “context” within which one’s design is to be “fit in”. It’s very essential to notice that contextual architecture shouldn’t by all means be an obstacle to innovative and creative architecture that tends deliberately to stand out from the built environment. However, a creative contextual architecture that delineates a mixture of old and new and captures successfully the spirits of both time and place is a true challenge to all contemporary attempts towards achieving contextual compatibility.
II. Palladio’s Renaissance Schemes
Apart from basilicas discussed above, by 1550 Palladio had produced a whole group of villas which in this sense of discussion can be assumed as less intriguing scheme. These villas were built using more complex contextual aspects such as social and natural environment. One of these is the Villa Rotonda which can be viewed from following figure.
The scale and decoration of the villa is matching the wealth and social standing of the owners. The villa was built with loggia façade realised with stone piers and rusticated Doric pilasters. It was able to give presence and dignity to an exterior simply by the placing and orchestration of windows, pediments, loggia arcades. Its social context have been appreciated by looking at the possibility of being able to enjoy impressive buildings without having to spend much on stone and stone carving. Palladio’s reputation initially, and after his death, has been founded on his skill as a designer of villas. According to Burns (2007) Palladio’s villas met the need for a new type of country residence and at the same time become the new set of residential scheme which compatible with its surrounding in term of social and environment. His designs implicitly recognise that it was not necessary to have a great palace in the countryside, modelled directly on city palaces, as many late fifteenth-century villas in fact are. Something smaller, often with only one main living floor was adequate as a centre for controlling the productive activity from which much of the owner’s income probably derived and for impressing tenants and neighbours as well as entertaining important guests. These residences, though sometimes smaller than earlier villas, were just as effective for establishing a social and political presence in the countryside, and for relaxing, hunting, and getting away from the city.
Burns (2007) stated that Palladio in his residential scheme designs sought to co-ordinate all these contextual elements, which in earlier complexes had usually found their place not on the basis of considerations of façade compatibility, symmetry vista and architectural hierarchy but of the shape of the available area, usually defined by roads and water courses. In his design, orientation was also considered as crucial aspect. Palladio states that the barns should face south so as to keep the hay dry, thus preventing it from fermenting and burning. In term of building façade compatibility, Palladio found inspiration in large antique complexes which either resembled country houses surrounded by their outbuildings or which he actually considered residential layouts with fine Doric capitals.
III. Design Comparison
To give better understanding on Palladio’s concept, the following design has been taken from Michelangelo’s St Martin Square as a comparison.
Villa Rotonda situated on the top of a hill of Vicenza suburb. This Villa also known as Villa Capra, and it was designed completely symmetrical with a central circular hall. In general Villa Rotonda has a square plan with loggias on all four sides, and every loggia is connected to terraces and the landscape. At the very center of the plan, the two stories of circular hall with overlooking balconies were designed by Palladio to be covered by roof in a semicircular dome. A lower dome was added after Palladino passed away by Vincenzo Scamozzi and designed after the Pantheon with a central oculus that open to the sky. The proportions of Villa Rotonda’s rooms are mathematically precise which in general becomes one of Palladio’s characteristics. From the porticos wonderful views of the surrounding countryside can be seen which was deliberately designed by Palladino to implement a contextual concept with the landscape which makes Villa Rotonda while appearing completely symmetrical poses deviations and designed in order for each facade to complement the surrounding landscape and geographical condition of the hill. This contextual relationship can be seen in variations of the building’s facades such as the width of steps and retaining walls.
Comparing these two designs, it can be clearly indicated that both architects implement a similar treatment to each building façade design. Similar to Palladio’s approach, the repetition pattern becomes a dominant aspect of the square. In the St Martin Square despite of the building style difference of each façade the whole building are brought unified by a reasonably similar scale. Moreover the size of the square itself plays a significant part for each building to be measured and appreciated. Villa Rotonda on the other hand possesses a slightly similar approach with respect to contextual design. As previously mentioned, Palladio found inspiration in large antique complexes which either resembled country houses surrounded by Villa Rotonda outbuildings. Contextual wise, both design had tried to take account the whole neighbourhood to be perfectly able to blend into its built environment.
IV. Argument of Lotz views
What is the actual definition or how to define the “contextual architecture” as architecture sensitive to its context? Systemic theory talks about a “relevant context” of a system, for example context, being in interaction with the system. For a building, it is not only its physical surroundings but also its social and cultural milieu, including its past and its future. However, as initially mentioned contextual architecture reflects a comprehensive awareness of the “context” within which one’s design is to be “fit in”. Once again it’s very essential to notice that contextual architecture shouldn’t be an obstacle to innovative and creative architecture that tends deliberately to stand out from the built environment and on the same time a creative contextual architecture that comprises a mixture of old and new need to captures successfully the spirits of both time and place which in turn will be a true challenge to all attempts towards achieving contextual compatibility. In many cases it is not as simple as “copying” the cosmetic ornaments built on the surrounded buildings and the scale of its surrounding especially when it comes to designing a monumental building in the middle of secular environment. This type of buildings such as basilica are meant to be built in how its supposed to be built in term of vertical and/or horizontal scale which becomes an inherit value from earlier period, a building which need to reflect its function such as a place where the government rules the place or a worshipping place. In some extent Palladio has indeed taken into account a heritage value where some building need to be designed in different scale both vertically and horizontally, hence in a way the contextual aspect is preserved. Additionally, Palladio makes use of a standard series of overall types, of room shapes, of forms for the orders such as structural columns and opening. Palladio considers the distance between the columns as an integral part of each order, for instance two and a quarter column diameters serving as the intercolumniation for the Ionic order, and two for the Corinthian. The order thus becomes a potential generator both of two dimensional and three dimensional schemes. His work displays an adherence to a system of design, which makes use of a grammar of forms and proportions, and a “controlled vocabulary” of motifs which if placed in an existing environment built from previous time period might triggers a contextual issue. However such contextual issues sometimes need to be wisely addressed as the aspect of contextual theory can be very broad and often can not be judged only by its appearance. In his essay Wolfgang Lotz indeed outlined what Palladio’s designs lack, however that does not necessarily reflect the actual concept of the building itself.