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Palladian Design

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Palladian design is a philosophy of design which was based on the work and books of a 16th-century Italian architect Andreas Palladio, who is the only architect to date to give his own name to an architectural style. Palladio’s style was heavily influenced by ancient Roman architecture, and one of the main architects whose ideas he followed were those of a man called Vitruvius. Palladio made several attempts at domestic Roman architecture which was based upon partial ruins which had been found, but then these ideas were widely imitated throughout Europe, especially in 18th-century England as British designers drew on these ideas to create a classical British Style.

Palladian style is still being used some 500 years later and has many clearly defined characteristics. These include columns with acanthus leaf capitals at the top, symmetry, and designs over doorways and windows usually on the outer surface of the building, but occasionally on the inside. This style also incorporated masks based on Greek and Roman art and scallop shells into the building design as in Roman mythology, the goddess Venus was born of the sea, from a shell.

The RIBA is currently hosting an exhibition in London whose dates coincide with the 300th anniversary of the two books which spread the ideas worldwide. The exhibition showcases different aspects of Palladian design and how various architects such as the 17th century Inigo Jones and the 18th century Lord Burlington turned it into a national style.  Despite the rise of modernism in Britain and America and subsequently post-modernism, many designers and lay people would gladly hark back to Palladianism given the chance. It’s thought that one of the reasons it became popular in the first place was because wealthy landowners and industrialists, keen to suggest they had bred and were well educated, were very happy to be associated with anything Ancient Greek in the hope that this air of sophistication would rub off on them. I suspect that this is still one of the reasons why so many would still choose this as the style of their mansion, given the chance. To some extent the Palladian look often described as Georgian (another reincarnation of Palladianism), was, overused in the 70s by house developers as a “one style fits all” type of architecture. When done well, Palladian is magnificent and very stylish but when watered down it is pretty horrid and frankly pathetic. I suspect another reason for the popularity of such styles is that it is invariably symmetrical and this seems to visually please many. Generally the UK Planning Authorities are not keen these days on the Palladian style and you’ll probably have a fight on your hands if that’s what you want to build.

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