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The Perfect House: A Journey with the Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio

by Witold Rybczynski

Witold Rybczynski is perhaps the closest we have in Canada to a Renaissance man. His works, which usually begin from a tightly focused locus point – the absence of the concept of comfort in architectural writing (Home) or a short history of the screwdriver (One Good Turn) – expand to incorporate, or at least dip into, nearly all spheres of human understanding, from architecture and engineering to social history and biography to music and mathematics. His writing is bold, expansive, and inclusive.

It is therefore appropriate that with his latest book the architectural historian turns his attention to a Renaissance subject. The Perfect House is Rybczynski’s examination and celebration of the works of 16th-century architect and builder Andrea Palladio, whom he refers to as the most influential architect in history. This is not an exaggeration: Palladio’s influence can be seen in most if not all North American cities in the grand classical revival styles of banks and public buildings, including the White House.

The Perfect House is organized around a tour of Palladio’s surviving villas. Rybczynski approaches these buildings not as architectural monuments, but as functioning houses (some of the villas continue as private homes). Rybczynski has a gift for description that’s lyrical yet concrete and welcomes the lay reader. His writing, accompanied by his own sketches and Palladio’s original plans, allows the reader to walk through the villas with him, from the usually austere yet grand entries through the ornate, carefully reasoned interiors.

This architectural tour opens into a biographical exploration of Palladio’s life, from his humble roots as a stone-cutter to his later architectural acclaim. The Perfect House also explores the society of the Italian Renaissance, and follows the influence of Palladio’s architectural vision through England and Scotland and into the New World. The Perfect House will delight any reader with even a passing interest in architecture or history and will be devoured by Rybczynski’s loyal readers.