Villa ideology as literary production and writing architecture

Villa ideology as "literary production" and "writing architecture".

Author: Amirabbas Abutalebi
Subject area: Architecture


Villa ideology as   

Villas as Writing Architecture


Villas can be regarded as experimental houses that enable architects to study a technical or functional aspect in concrete terms or to develop spatial ideas.

The tradition of villas has often included a return to the pioneer spirit; many architects view these buildings not only as a residence but as testing grounds for new ideas or the crystallization of concepts and theories.

Villas provide an opportunity for architects in testing new concepts and serve as a prototype in future projects. Common among ancient writings, the villa enjoys from the natural setting restorative powers (otium) in opposition to the excesses of city life (negotium).

Andrea Palladio began prioritizing practical terms of architecture over theoretical ones with Villas. As evidence, he designed impressive works such as Villa Capra La Rotonda, The Villa Barbaro in Maser, and Villa Godi.

As Ackerman said, “the villa is a paradigm not only of architecture but of ideology; it is a myth of fantasy generated by psychological rather than utilitarian needs.” It is not limited to any particular architectural type, culture, or historical moment but rather is a social and ideological phenomenon discernible throughout history.

What stands out about Palladio’s designing process is the transformation of “sketch” as the objects of knowledge, before “build”. The relationship between image, form, and their formation corresponds to the theory and practice of architecture and the projection of architectural knowledge. Palladio’s illustrations are evidence of this correspondence. In this sense, Palladio’s lines stand for remarkable visual definitions illustrating not only architectural spaces but also images of concepts. In other words, as it is stated, his work conveys not only the constructional formation of ‘building’ but also the representational formation of ‘image’.

Considering the architectural history and the architectural constructions in the world, it can be noticed that most of the architects chose villas as the appropriate testing ground for the crystalization of their new minds notions, such as villa Karma (1904), villa Muller (1930), villa Moissi (1923) and villa Steiner (1910) by Adolf Loos, villa Norva (1924) and villa Mariea (1939) by Alvar Aalto, villa Savoye (1928) by le corbusier, villa Tugendhat (1930) and Farnsworth villa (1945) by Mies Van der Rohe, Falling Water villa (1935) by Frank Lloyd Wright, villa Seijo (1953) and villa Propia (1953) by Kenzo Tange, Bauhaus Dessau (1928) by Walter Gropius, villa Panchart (1953) by Gio Ponti, Glass villa (1948) by Philip Johnson, villa Venturi (1962) by Robert Venturi, villa Hanselman (1967) by Michael Graves, Douglas villa (1973) by Douglas, villa Gehry (1978) by Frank Gehry, villa Eisenman (1975) by Peter Eisenman, villa Bianchi (1971) by Angelo Mangiarotti, Zumthor villa (1983) by PeterZumthor, and villa Bordeaux (1998) by Rem Koolhaas.

To conclude, Villas are utopian settings for conversations about ”Architectural Inventions”.

While the villa holds a central place in the history of Western architecture, it has long roots in neighboring civilizations such as Persian, Greek, and Egyptian: Hanging gardens of old Babylon, and the Tachara, the palace of Dariush the Great (Achaemenid Empire), can legitimately be described as the first villas. The long-entrenched art historical narrative of the villa, articulated in the 19th century by Jacob Burckhart in his foundational work on the culture of early modern Italy, holds that:

“Villa culture, with its emphasis on the appreciation of landscape and villa life, is better understood as an ideological construct, rather than a strict, typological sense and it can be studied as a historical and artistic phenomenon”.

Villa Purpose

In four books of architecture (1570), the second book of which was devoted to domestic architecture, Andrea Palladio discussed Villa establishments in terms of a tripartite purpose: agricultural production and improvement, affording exercise on foot and horseback to maintain the owner’s health, and sustaining the owner in private, inwardly directed activities: A Villa, is quasi a lodge, for the sake of a garden, to retire, to enjoy and sleep, without the pretense of entertainment of many persons; and yet in this age, the humor takes after that, and no the other. Then the villa was a family space, a social space, and a site of recreation, but not yet especially private space. The Villa was a site “where the mind, fatigued by the agitations of the city, will be greatly restored and comforted, and be able quietly to attend the studies of letters, and contemplation,” and where, unlike in “city houses” one “could easily attain to as much happiness as can be attained here below”. [2] The main object of this encyclopedia of the cottage, farm, and villa architecture, is to improve the dwelling of the great mass of society, in the temperate regions of both hemispheres: a secondary objective is to create and diffuse among mankind, generally, a taste for architectural comforts and beauties.[7]

Villa Culture

The social and economic practices that grow up around the villa can be labeled as a “villa culture”. The villa accommodates a fantasy that is impervious to reality: villa culture has thrived from the first cave dweller to Babylon gardens, to ancient villas to Roman “vill”s, to French “ville”s to British villas, to Mediterranean culture, to contemporary suburb houses and finally to an unbuilt detached or semi-detached residence in future. The long-entrenched art historical narrative of the villa, articulated in the 19th century by Jacob Burckhart in his foundational work on the culture of early modern Italy, holds that villa culture, with its emphasis on the appreciation of landscape and villa life, is better understood as an ideological construct, rather than in a strict, typological sense and it can be studied as a historical and artistic phenomenon. Such an account leaves out the world beyond western European Christendom, including the great villas, and villa cultures of Iranian antiquity that so inspired the ancient Greeks and Romans.[5]


Villa As A Sign

The villa inevitably expresses the mythology that causes it to be built: the attraction to nature, whether stated in engagement or the cool distance, the dialectic of nature and culture or artifice, the prerogatives of privilege and/or power, and national, regional, or class pride. The signifiers range from the siting and form of the building as a whole to individual details and characteristics. Since signs and symbols convey meaning only to those who know what they signify, they are usually chosen from past architectural usage or occasionally imported from other types of construction. Intimate engagement with nature is signified by a site and design that permit the villa to nestle and extend out into surroundings, by asymmetrical and open design, colors reflecting the setting, and natural and varied textures. Distancing from the setting, on the other hand, is signified by a compact form, cubic in outline, often with a podium or similar device to elevate the living quarters off the earth, studied proportions, and the emphasis on the plane surface of white or of light color which disguises the nature of the materials.[1] Villa is a medium of the architect’s manifesto that represents an ethical and aesthetic environment with natural origins, function, and form.

Villa Life

The repertory of the benefits of villa life echoes down the millennia: relaxation, recreation, conversation, health (mentally/ physically / spiritually), and inserting a domestic life into an imaginary life. Estates such as “Kushk”, ”Emarat”, “Garden House”, “Munya”, and “Kakh”, have similar benefits in eastern life. But To my mind, and before that, “villa life” is a “Bagh life” that is worthy of comparison with the better-known examples of Persian empire evidence. Today villa life cannot be understood apart from the city; it exists not to fulfill autonomous functions but to provide a counterbalance to urban values and accommodations, and its economic situation is that of a satellite. The content of villa ideology is rooted in the contrast between country and city. Today everyone can enjoy villa life: The most radical mutation in the history of the villa occurred in the early 19th century when the villa ideology became democratized and accessible to the growing body of lower-middle-class city dwellers.[1]


Villa Typology

The villa, as the eminent architectural historian James Ackerman observed, is not limited to any particular architectural type, culture, or historical moment but rather is a social and ideological phenomenon discernible throughout history. It is generally used to describe any type of detached house that features a yard space and doesn’t resemble any particular architectural style or size. The yard space would also typically feature some qualities and characteristics of “Baghs”. The basic program of the villa has remained unchanged for more than two thousand years since it was first fixed by the participants of ancient Rome. This makes the villa so unique since the other architectural types have changed in form and purpose. But the villa has remained substantially the same because it fills a need that never alters, a need which, because it is not material but psychological and ideological, is not subject to the influence of evolving societies and technologies.[1] Since antiquity, the Villa had been the building type most closely associated with literary production, constant with the ideology of the villa to foster otium, or the contemplative life.


Villa As A Media

Throughout history, the villa has demonstrated human thoughts, skills, dreams, and ideas.
The villa shapes universal human concerns.
The villa is mentioned as a worthwhile identity or as a messenger art for architecture.
The modern man of one hundred years ago had images and ideas for his future life, and with helping of invention, innovations, and advanced technological tools quickly reached his imaginary ideals.
The villa has always been an interesting experience that continued even after the emergence of modern cities, from building villas in Rome to modern villas which are made by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Wright, Louis Kahn, and even the Virtual house designed by Farshid Moussavi and Shigeru Ban, Peter Zumthor’s country houses, etc,
In fact, villas are a manifestation of humans’ imaginary life in each period.
The villa poses a cultural paradox.
Yet the mythical nature of villa ideology liberates the type from mundane restrains of utility and productivity and makes it ideally suited to the creative aspirations of patron and architect. Often this creativity is limited to the sphere of taste, like that of fashion in apparel, which has also been motivated by unchanging mythology since surplus wealth first offered its temptations.
But the villa draws our attention because through the centuries it has articulated concepts and feelings of different cultures concerning the dialog between city and country, artifice and nature, formality, and informality.[3]

Villa Ideology

The villa is a paradigm not only of architecture but of ideology: It is a myth of fantasy which is generated by psychological rather than utilitarian needs.
A long tradition of literature celebrated Villa life, design, and decoration in a variety of forms, notably poetry and prose panegyrics, ekphrastic set pieces, letters, dialogues set in villas, architectural treatises, agricultural and husbandry text, and theoretical exercises.[4]
Because literature is a primary depository of ideological myth, the ideology of the villa in every epoch is richly illustrated in poetry and prose. Indeed, literary works have not merely reflected the villa culture of their time but have promoted villa concepts of later times.
Major revivals of the villa from the past to the future have been explicitly justified by reference to writing. Each villa revival has been accompanied by a revival of villa literature: many writing examples and other vital moments in villa history were also marked by literature devoted to the design and improvement of western villas. Painting and miniature as well as literature bolster the ideology.[1]



[1] Ackerman James S., The villa: form and ideology of country houses (Princeton 1990)
[2] Archer, John, Architecture and Suburbia: From English Villa to American Dream House, 1690-2000 (Minnesota 2005)
[3] Brothers, Cammy, Michelangelo, Drawing, and the Invention of Architecture (Yale 2008)
[4] Elet, Yvonne, Architectural Invention in Renaissance Rome: Artists, Humanists, and the Planning of Raphael’s Villa Madama (New York 2018)
[5] Glaire D. Anderson, The Islamic villa in early medieval Iberia: architecture and court culture (Farnham 2013) p.6-7
[7] Loudon John Claudius, An Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture and Furniture (London 1833) p.01




Author © 2019 Amirabbas Aboutalebi. 

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