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These exhibitions were on simultaneously in London in Spring 2009

Andrea Palladio, His Life and Legacy was at the Royal Academy

Le Corbusier - The Art of Architecture was at the Barbican

Both exhibitions, with their attendant events, looked at their lasting influence, and in particular for le Corbusier the sources of their ideas. A comparison of the two architects produces interesting similarities between Palladio and le Corbusier.

Neither was the architect’s real name;
Neither began their careers as architects;
Both used the latest contemporary media to publicise their ideas and built work;
Both can be said to have democratised architecture;
Both mixed with the celebrities of their day, including artists, academics and intellectuals;
Both collaborated with artists;
Both used their commissions for experiments;
Both invented new building types;
Both were concerned with proportion, volume, siting, light and shade, and proposed their own proportional systems;
Both innovated with materials;
Both can be considered global architects;
Both exerted considerable influence in their own times and have done ever since;
Both are still claimed as inspirational by today’s architects,
And both have been vilified.

Corbusier in particular has been blamed for every poor quality derivative of his Unité d’Habitation and for his apparently destructive urbanist legacy. Indeed there are a lot of badly designed inappropriate sub-Corbusian buildings about, but there are also many illiterate Georgian and neo-Georgian buildings. Palladio is not blamed for them,  although Gavin Stamp has argued that his influence has not always been beneficial. (AT Feb 09)

Corbusian influence is generally seen stylistically in concrete buildings, while Palladian influence in proportions (unless in a classical building) most often goes unnoticed. A few buildings are influenced by both, most noticeably the work of Alison and Peter Smithson.

Is there a particular architect Christians should follow as a role model? Either in terms of design, as a Christian might learn from Palladio or le Corbusier, or perhaps more importantly as a spiritual role model, but with a direct relationship with architecture?

Arxitecture has recently put a short study of Antonio Barluzzi on line. He was the architect responsible for many of the pilgrimage churches in the Holy Land. In spite of his work and name being well known to pilgrims, and praised in the guide books, very little has been written about him.

The only book on him (Monuments to Glory by D M Madden published in 1964 for Credo Books) focused on him as a role model for children, rather than as an architect!

But this book does bring out a number of interesting features of his life.

At the beginning of his career Barluzzi had thought about entering the priesthood after he had already trained as an architect, but left the seminary after a few weeks. Then after being commissioned for the first two pilgrimage churches Antonio returned to Rome and visited his spiritual advisor, Father Corrado. He recorded in his diary "I go to Father Corrado the confessor of my youth, I explain my circumstances and ask what I must do. ’Go and build the Sanctuaries and then we’ll talk again.’ It is like liberation. I return to Jerusalem with my plans, in order to demobilize. [it was 1918] The great honour of the task entrusted to me is matched by adversities, difficulties, misunderstandings, bitterness and sorrows."

He persevered and worked through the difficulties of two world wars and the partition of Palestine, which brought many practical problems of acquiring materials and labour.

He lived among the people he served, often staying at a monastery and sharing in the simple life of the monks.

His initial enthusiasm lasted throughout his career, and he dedicated the whole of his life to the shrines of the Holy Land "which had captured my mind, my heart and my entire soul."

Barluzzi wrote to the Rev P Bello "I am not looking for remuneration… I am more interested in an eternal reward. Ultimately the works themselves declare that the Lord can use even such as myself to render Him glory. Understand, Most Reverend Father, that for me it is not a question of bread (which is never lacking for someone who works seriously), but rather soul, which seeks to interpret the Will of God."

"He did all to the glory of God, and was never concerned about personal acclaim or recognition. He had been showered with high honours but never talked about them…. As Father Pacifico Gori has written: ‘he renounced the advantages which his profession could have brought him and wanted only to live and die poor in the company of the Franciscans of the Holy Land.’ "

When we look at his work the following becomes apparent.

His churches are visited by thousands each year. They are concentrated in a small area, and most people visit several. Architects visit them. But he is the most neglected of early twentieth century architects.

Each church is specific to its site, historic context, and the event it commemorates. Each building is formally simple, often iconic, and makes a clear statement even without the integral works of art that put the message into words and pictures.

Barluzzi "would meditate for hours on the mystery his next church was to commemorate."

Of Barluzzi’s churches H. V.Morton wrote in the introduction to In the Steps of the Master:-

"They are remarkable for their originality and the variety of their design, which owe less to any architectural style or tradition than to the piety of their creator. All Barluzzi’s shrines attempt to create an emotional response to the Gospel story. For example, one should compare the majestic gloom of his basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane with the joyful little Christmas carol of a church in the Shepherds’ Fields at Bethlehem. The same contrast may be seen in his Church of the Visitation at Ain Karem and his basilica on Mount Tabor. Barluzzi will be recognised as a genius in years to come."

And Father Pacifico Gori has written of Barluzzi’s churches;

"In order to obtain the grandest, most solemn, and most moving artistic effects, care has been taken to achieve maximum simplicity of line; those profound and universal qualities have been sought that would produce maximum results with a minimum of fuss. Almost an attempt to translate into architecture the majesty and simplicity of the bible: these works have been carried out more with the heart than with science, seeking out the soul of things and cutting out the inessential."

See Antonio Barluzzi and the Pilgrimage Churches for a fuller account.

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