Every semester at Cornell, architecture professors emphasize the importance of looking at historical precedents for our design projects. Even though we may feel as if we are designing novel buildings, we are not, and historical examples show us different possibilities of what our current building could be, and sometimes what it should be.
During a recent weekend trip, we visited three very important historical sites that many of us have previously researched: the Temple at Palestrina, Villa d’ Este in Tivoli, and Hadrian’s Villa.
The Temple of Palestrina looks out over the low valley below with a commanding presence. Originally a Roman Temple, the building complex was rebuilt as a Christian church, used as a foundation for medieval houses, and bombed during WWII. Today the temple is a museum which speaks to the importance of its design and long history. It was great to hear a classmate shout out “Sweet, it’s so cool to visit the site of my previous studio project!”
After a short bus ride, we arrived at Villa d’Este, which was just as impressive with it’s beautiful earth-toned frescos and gardens filled cascading fountains that have made the villa famous. We explored the garden’s many pathways admiring the various sculptures and imagining life as elite Italian individuals.
Lastly, we arrived at Hadrian’s Villa, my personal favorite of the three. Having studied the villa numerous times before, my classmates and I were eager to walk throughout the complex to understand the grand scale of this miniature city. We marveled at the bath houses’ marvelous architectural and engineering feats of the large domed spaces covering multiple baths each with different water temperatures to choose from, a dinning hall that overlooked an immense pond once surrounded by white statues, and how all of the brick walls were once covered with polished marble. It was obvious that Emperor Hadrian knew how to live well.
While the three tours were eye opening, it was also clear that we had only begun to scratch the surface of the projects, and that much more individual investigation would be needed to fully understand them. However, the next time our professors ask us to research these sites, we will be able to tell them with excitement how we visited the sites and what it felt like to be there.