I was fortunate to travel with fellow UVA students to study in Vicenza, Italy during the summer of 1986. Our professors introduced us to the works of Renaissance maestro Andrea Palladio, and also to those of the modernist virtuoso Carlo Scarpa. Reconciling the two was the genius of our teacher Mario di Valmarana. To paraphrase Mario, who I came to know well over subsequent decades, the greatest responsibility of the architect is to “steadfastly preserve that which deserves preservation, but when intervention is appropriate, to design and build in a manner that enhances that which came before.”
Design is a very personal endeavor, and it has taken me years to find my voice; much of which reaches back to lessons taught by Mario (and many others). For me, the balance between modern intervention and rigorous historic preservation is an obvious goal; embracing the past and present simultaneously is as necessary as balancing form and function. We cry when landmarks are destroyed, yet we cannot thrive and prosper in museums. James Turrell’s SkySpace which we recently visited in Lech is a wonderful and provocative architectural work of art, but it does not need to satisfy the simultaneous preservation and modern usage needs of the hotel Rote Wand.
I believe what Mario was teaching in the end of the day was rigorous sincerity. Solving today’s challenges with exuberant design solutions, while simultaneously endeavoring to preserve our history and architectural heritage for future generations.