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

Witold Rybczynski
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Nov 2002
The bestselling author of ONE GOOD TURN pursues his most appropriate subject yet: Andrea Palladio, the Shakespeare of Renaissance architects, who gave us the word 'Palladian' but about whom little is known. A journey along the Brenta River in northeastern Italy, just a short distance from Venice, reveals the origin of the architecture of the private house, an art first practiced by Andrea Palladio. Until Palladio began designing simple, gorgeous, perfectly proportioned villas, architectural genius was reserved for temples and palaces. Palladio not only designed and built, he wrote. His 1570 architectural treatise was read and studied by great thinkers as diverse as Thomas Jeffferson and Inigo Jones, and it proved to be critical to the design of Monticello and the White House. More than just a study of one of history's seminal architectural figures, THE PERFECT HOUSE reflects Rybczynski's intimacy with and enthusiasm for his subject. He not only reveals why the villas were so architecurally and culturally influential, he also imparts his enormous affection and admiration for the man who designed them. Embracing the elements of Rybczynski's most successful books on domestic architecture, HOME and THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HOUSE IN THE WORLD this charming, revelatory meditation explores the dawn of domestic architecture, and provides a new way of looking at every building we inhabit or visit today.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (4 Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743205863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743205863
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 645,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He is the architecture critic for Slate, and is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Home and the award-winning A Clearing in the Distance. His latest book is The Biography of a Building. He is the recipient of the National Building Museum's 2007 Vincent Scully Prize. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
Read his blog at

Product Description


Cheryl MendelsonAuthor of "Home Comforts"Rybczynski leads us through Palladio's beautiful villas, illuminating each room for its own sake and helping us understand what Palladio thought was ?the perfect house' and where so many of our own ideas on that subject have come from. He puts his great historical and architectural knowledge to work to explain private houses?the small, the intimate, the domestic. The result is a delightful and enlightening book, full of warmth and intelligence.

About the Author

Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, raised in Surrey and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He is an architect and Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books and his exploration of domestic comfort, HOME, has been translated into eight languages.

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Forty miles northwest of Venice, the flat plain that starts on the shore of the Adriatic runs abruptly into the base of the Dolomitic Alps. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect House 3 Feb 2004
By A Customer
As a tale about an American travelling around Northern Italy looking at and staying in villas designed by Palladio this is a good read. It does not have a highly technical approach to classical architecture and so avoids the turgidity that so often creeps into this subject. Living in Palladio's villas as an architectural observer and critic, the writer is able to comment on the quality of light in the villa as it changes through the day in a manner not often encountered. Similarly, his commentary on the quality of spacial arrangment and room proportion is inciteful and helpful when looking at the plans and elevations published elsewhere. This is a multi-facetted book, part travel, part history of architecture, part social history and part hypothesis, but don't let that put you off, it remains a good read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Read 13 Oct 2010
Having a passing interest in Palladios work,I purchased
this book to reead someone elses views on his architecture.
I have read the book numerous times now,and still enjoy
reading it.

Great for Palladio buffs
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect House by Witold Rybczynski 23 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I took the book with me while visiting Palladian villas in and around Vicenza. The style of writing is very informative, but without being dry and academic. Most enjoyable and definitely more use than many of the travel guidebooks. Highly recommended
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Influential Architect 7 Oct 2002
By R. Hardy - Published on
Who is the greatest architect who ever lived? It's an impossible question, of course. Perhaps one that might get closer to a real answer is, Who is the most influential architect who ever lived? Witold Rybczynski has an answer, and it is a convincing one: Palladio. In _The Perfect House: A Journey with the Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio_ (Scribner), Rybczynski looks at the villas Palladio produced around the mainland of Venice in the sixteenth century, not as historic monuments but as useful and beautifully architectured homes. He places Palladio firmly within his times, but drawing on the classical architecture of Rome and drawn on by Inigo Jones, Thomas Jefferson, and countless others. It is hard to disagree with Rybczynski's conclusion about Palladio's influence, and after this book, a reader is likely to see Palladian themes not only in grand homes, but in diminished form in modern suburban ones as well.
Palladio was merely the son of a miller or maker of millstones; the historical record is not clear. He was trained as a stonemason, and early showed enough talent that Count Giangiorgio Trissino, of an old Vicenza family, noticed his ability. This was his introduction to higher things, especially his ticket to Rome, where the ancient buildings proved a continuing inspiration for his villas. He designed about thirty of them, several of which never were started and if started were not completed; clients of architects then and now faced over-optimism and reversals of fortune. Seventeen survive, some in excellent preservation and some a bit seedy. They are Palladio's main legacy, and remain beautiful and durable; most are still lived in. Rybczynski gives a wonderful introduction to the tools at Palladio's disposal - pediments, porches, entablatures, apses, and more. These were all juggled and adjusted in each specific case. And while there is a unity to the composition of the villas, Rybczynski demonstrates that there is no such thing as a "typical" Palladian villa: "Some of his designs incorporate temple fronts, some do not; some have pedimented windows, some have plain openings; some porticoes are supported by elaborate Corinthian columns, others by unadorned piers. His fertile imagination brimmed with ideas." Architects and artists have been learning from Palladio ever since. The book has the author's line drawings of each of the buildings, and some reproductions of Palladio's sketches or plans, but they are really not sufficient to understand the massings of space Palladio so expertly managed. When I read the book, I checked up on various websites to get fuller pictures.
Rybczynski has lived for a short time in one of the villas, and his words on what make them special are worth reading, although no one will fully be able to explain it. He gives enough examples from all over the world (in America, Monticello, the White House, local courthouses and countless southern mansions are Palladian buildings) to make entirely sufficient his argument about the architect's influence. It is easy to catch Rybczynski's enthusiasm. Those who don't know Palladio will find this book, which is a capsule biography, travelogue, and architectural appreciation, a fine introduction. Those who are already Palladians will rejoice in the clear descriptions and the first hand accounts, coming from an experienced observer and an entertaining storyteller.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read, Not Seen 29 May 2006
By Valjean - Published on
I'm sure anything I say about the scholarship of Witold Rybczynski's `The Perfect House' would be superfluous. Mr. Rybczynski has written several books (most of which I've also had the privilege to read) on the history, techniques, and important personages of the architectural trade; he holds a professorship at Penn; he clearly loves his subject matter. I therefore really can't quibble with the fundamental material here; the book is literally stuffed with facts. I did, however, have difficulties with the author's style and structure--which ultimately affected some, though gratefully not all, of his story.

To say that Mr. Rybczynski has an eye for detail would be the grossest of understatements. The book's very format--a visit to nearly every Palladio-designed villa still standing in Italy--seems to encourage the author to discourse on every entablature, frieze, and architrave in sight. If you don't immediately recognize these terms--and would be annoyed by constantly referring to the endnotes--Rybczynski nearly compensates by conveying his clear love for these centuries-old designs. Without sounding defensive, he lets the purpose of his journey (see below) unfold.

As with his other books on architectural history, the author clearly shows in `The Perfect House' how historical, even ancient work remains relevant to 21st century architecture. Palladio's work fits this pattern well: his residential villas - as opposed to, say, royal palaces or working factories -- ooze domesticity and we can attempt to identify with their inhabitant's daily lives. Keeping with this theme, Rybczynski strains to discover by the last chapter what he hints throughout the book as Palladio's "secret"--why his buildings are so *good* (i.e., livable). I'll leave the review-reader in suspense but can assure you the reason is neither overly technical nor actually much of a secret, architecturally-speaking.

If that sounds like a demerit, it's not. This conclusion is actually a great relief from far too many minute spatial descriptions that repeat themselves, villa after portico'd villa. Rybczynski makes every attempt to help the reader *see* what he's seeing in these historic sites, but I ultimately found it a failed exercise. Without the jargon--and the painfully banal personal travel notes ("I munch contentedly, stared outside at the villa ...")--one is left with a well-padded visual journal, full of dimensions and data but far too few images or even straight-ahead descriptive prose.

In a self-defeating note - at least relative to his overarching purpose--Rybczynski even quotes Goethe saying "you have to see these buildings with your own eyes to realize how good they are." In a similar vein, a front jacket perp from The New York Times extols it as "... the perfect traveling companion". Ultimately I have to agree with Goethe and The Times: Palladio's villas should be seen, and this book would be a fine traveling resource. Reading it at home was an informative, inspiring, yet visually frustrating experience.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book. Needs more illustrations. 16 May 2003
By Leonard Testa - Published on
Excellent prose. Fantastic selection of villas. It would be helpful if subsequent editions had more illustrations. I found myself constantly flipping back to try to determine what the author was mentioning. All in all, though, a worthwhile read.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rybczynski phoned this one in... 8 Dec 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on
This is a surprisingly lazy effort for Rybczynski, whose other writing on architecture I've found to be quite good, even exceptional. "The Perfect House" is a travelogue and collection of notes on the work of the 16th century Veneto architect Andrea Palladio, with a handful of sketches and photos sprinkled in to illustrate the works discussed. While Rybczynski does get an important point right -- that Palladio's work ought to be experienced first hand to be properly appreciated -- his pedestrian observations and low-key, easygoing style seem drastically mismatched to the drama of Palladio's architecture. And if Palladio must be directly experienced to be understood, why not provide proper photographs and drawings of the buildings to support the argument?

It's unclear who the audience is for this book since its discussions (while well written and earnest) are introductory, yet the few postage stamp black and white images don't give much of a sense of the material to a newcomer. I imagine only in architecture could one get away with such laziness, where chatting about the friendliness of an historic house's current owner has some place, perhaps. I can't imagine there would be any use for a book on Rembrandt, for instance, that would describe a visit to a painting, maybe the coffee one had afterward with its owner, and then include a quick little sketch instead of reproducing the painting itself.

This book conveys the author's enthusiasm for Palladio's work, but the repeated assertions that Palladio made houses that are well-built and comfortable to live in can hardly be counted as a great insight. If you want a decent introduction to Palladio's work, "Palladio" by James Ackerman is a classic, and Taverner's "Palladio and Palladianism" is good too.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Palladio - The Shakespeare of Architecture 22 Nov 2002
By Colin Clark - Published on
Witold Rybczynski does it again. This book is definately up there with Home, A Clearing in the Distance and One Good Turn. Rybczynski's travelogue style suits his subject matter perfectly, turning a potentially dry academic subject into a gripping read for anyone remotely interested in history or architecture or both. In this hard-to-put-down book Rybczynski describes the genius and creativity that was Palladio, a man who is to architecture as Shakespeare is to the English language. Rybczynski uses this one telling comparison to make a clear point that as we walk through our world of 2001, echoes of Palladio are all around us. I'd recommend new readers to Rybczynski to follow this up with Rybczynski's One Good Turn.
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