The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa
There are two causes of beauty-natural and customary. Natural is from geometry
consisting in uniformity, that is equality and proportion. Customary beauty is
begotten by the use, as familiarity breeds a love for things not in themselves love-
ly. Here lies the great occasion of errors, but always the true test is natural or
geometrical beauty. Geometrical figures are naturally more beautiful than irregu-
lar ones: the square, the circle are the most beautiful, next the parallelogram and
the oval. There are only two beautiful positions of straight lines, perpendicular
and horizontal; this is from Nature and consequently necessity, no other than
upright being firm.
-Sir Christopher Wren,
As the ideal type of centralized building Palladia's Villa Capra-Rotonda (Plate
1) has, perhaps more than any other house, imposed itself upon the imagination.
Mathematical, abstract, four square, without apparent function and totally memo-
rable, its derivatives have enjoyed universal distribution; and, when he writes of it,
Palladia is lyrical.
The site is as pleasant and delightful as can be found, because it is on a small hill
of very easy access, and is watered on one side by the Bacchiglione, a navigable
river; and on the other it is encompassed about with most pleasant risings which
look like a very great theatre and are all cultivated about with most excellent
fruits and most exquisite vines; and therefore as it enjoys from every part most
beautiful views, some of which are limited, some more extended, and others
which terminate with the horizon, there are loggias made in all four fronts.'
When the mind is prepared for the one by the other, a passage from Le Cor-
may be unavoidably reminiscent of this. No less lyrical but
rather more explosive, Le Corbusier is describing the site of his Savoye House at
Poissy (Plate 2).
Le site: une vaste pelouse bornbee en dome aplati.
La rnaison est une boite en
... au milieu des prairies dominant Ie verger Le plan est pur
juste place dans l'agreste paysage de Poissy
.... Les habitants, venus
cette campagne agreste etait belle avec
sa vie de campagne,
ils la contempleront,
maintenue intacte, du haut de leur jardin suspendu qu des quatre faces de leurs
fenetres en longueur. Leur vie domestique sera inseree dans un reve virgilien.?
The Savoye House has been given a number of interpretations. It may indeed be
a machine for living in, an arrangement of interpenetrating volumes and spaces, an
emanation of space-time; but the suggestive reference to the dreams of Virgil may
put one in mind of the passage in which Palladia describes the Rotonda. Palladio's
landscape is more agrarian and bucolic, he evokes less of the untamed pastoral, his
scale is larger; but the effect of the two passages is somehow the same.
Palladia, writing elsewhere, amplifies the ideal life of the villa. Its owner, from