Traditional Architecture Group
A Linked Society of the Royal Institute of British Architects

Subscribers Newsletter No 12

4th July 2011

Palladio, Villa Rotunda, Vicenza (1566-1569)  ©Scala, Florence, 2006, ARTstor
“As architects we recognize a colleague, a guild master who, in spite of more than four hundred and fifty years’ distance, we yearn to see as one of us.”
N.J. Habraken, Jonathan Teicher,

From Vernacular to Classical:
The Perpetual Modernity of Palladio

International Conference 10-12 June 2011

“Palladio and his Legacy, a Transatlantic Journey” (RIBA)
“New Palladians: Modernity & Sustainability in 21st Century Architecture”

University of Notre Dame, School of Architecture and Snite Museum
South Bend, Indiana

Alireza Sagharchi addresses the gathering

Gallery Talk given by TAG Chairman, Alireza Sagharchi,
on the occasion of the opening of
the New Palladian Exhibition at the  University of Notre Dame 19th June 2011

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Fellow New Palladians
Some thirty years ago, I sat in a lecture theatre as a first year student of Architecture, in London, the then polytechnic, and a young architect in a packed lecture hall imaginatively named Lecture Theatre 1, opened his talk by saying; ‘People ask why I do not build, and I answer, because I am an architect’. You of course all know that young architect was Leon Krier, the moral compass of the Classical and Traditional Architecture movement.

Today the shock of such a statement to a student of architecture can still be felt in the architecture educational establishment, which is by and large dominated by Modernist dogma. This is true of the majority of schools in the US and Europe and certainly the rest of the world and particularly in the developing world which looks to west for ideological & technological hegemony.

Thirty years on, the promise of being able to build and being an Architect, came out of the success of a new generation during decades of persistent pursuit of the classical ideals of; Humanism, Beauty and Propriety in the face of the established orthodoxy and cult-like exclusion of any form of ideological dissent which challenged the status quo, be it in Urban Design or Architecture. This persistence saw off post modernism, de-constructivism and will outlast its later guise today in parametricism.

The pursuit of the ideal was helped along with new challenges faced by humanity in preservation of the environment, heritage and culture, spread of diversity and democracy and on a mundane level, the pure realization that it was in most part just common sense. This helped to propel the ‘New Palladians’ into the forefront as an architectural Avant guard that did not simply accept the one size fits all and the alienating anonymity of Modernism or the unsustainable mode of development and urbanisation.

Left to right: Dean Michael Lykoudis, Calder Roth, Scholar and Historian (pointing to the model) and Stuart Cohen Architect.

For the first time here was a holistic and comprehensive agenda which brought urban design, architecture, construction tectonics, craft and representation of local culture, all together in a coherent whole. An architecture which harmonized contemporary complexities rather than fragment them to avoid their resolution.

For this generation as James Joyce’s Stephen Hero says ‘Classicism was not a manner of any fixed age or of any fixed country: it is a constant state of artistic mind, it is a temper of security, satisfaction and patience’ and as Theodor Adorno put it “Modernity is a qualitative not a chronological category”. In the same manner New Palladians belong to their distinctive cultural fabric but are at once transcended and global and are modern by way of their qualitative response in their projects.

The term ‘ New Palladian’s’ which Lucien [Steil] and I found best described this generation, was not simply referring to a servile homage to a past master, nor to a search for the divine orders, or indeed an appetite for nostalgic novelty. It referred to an attitude and a approach which pointed to a modernity fashioned by a classical sensibility that characterised the Master’s work and the ability to go from Classical to vernacular within the same language and tectonics.

This re-definition of the meaning of Contemporary and Modern Architecture itself in the current social, political and Climatic conditions, this re calibration comes with a breadth of culture as does with geography. Although predominately a transatlantic phenomena, New Palladians span continents from South America to the deserts of Middle East to the mountain plains of China. Whenever we find tradition and culture, New Palladians will thrive.

The excellent and exemplar projects by the American New Palladians such as Fairfax and Sammons, Stroik, Duany, Mayernik, Gordon Smith to European Architects like Patzchke, Adam, Terry, Cenica Celaya, Da Silvas, Porphyros, Bontempi, Krier and further a field like El Wakil etc. as well as the work of all those exhibited in different corners of the world, paint a picture of a global movement that has finally established itself beyond the fashionable introspection of a particular decade’s architectural production.

New Palladians do not look for nuances or merely tinker with the short comings of a digital/technological ages, they challenge its assumption, consumption and legacy and offer a relevant solution that at once elevates and responds and by doing so reclaims the idea of modernity.

Left to right: Robert Adam, Dr David Watkin, Professor Gill Gorski
of Notre Dame, Leon Krier and Mark Hewitt, Architect Historian

The work of the past thirty years has resulted in an inventory of building and urban design projects which Lucien and I felt was not only worthy but necessary of marking, and the 500th anniversary of Palladio seems to be an apt point to stop and take stock of what has been achieved. The exhibition that you see here today was first staged by the Traditional Architecture Group and Princes Foundation at the foundation. It was then staged at The Gorcums Museum in Netherlands and then moved to the Delft School of Architecture. Lucien and I then followed the exhibits with the book which has been well received.

In our endeavour, the role of several institutions was pivotal in this achievement, The University of Notre Dame through its world class professors & Dean Lykoudis’s guidance, the Driehues prize in recognising excellence, the Vision of Europe, the ICAA, TAG, INTBAU. The Princes Foundation, all the New Palladians regardless of being featured or not; historians and Theorist David Watkin have all been instrumental in providing the necessary soul searching, enquiry and professional support to New Palladians. The ‘Espirit De Corps’ among us is almost unique among professionals, where the master apprentice relationship is re kindled in an age when the rivalry & Ego of the Star Architect is what is celebrated. The confidence that characterizes this new generation has much to do with the support of these organisations and individuals.

The political maturity of New Palladians is also a key factor. In an age where Pluralism, Diversity and Localism and Sustainability is taking the place of blind rampant globalisation. New Palladians have a natural alley in realising the aspiration of cultures where their very identity depends on how they express their values.

Looking at the range, the diversity of building types and scale of projects exhibited, I think we can all safely declare in the presence of Leon that we build traditional and Classical because we are Architects.