During the summer of 1986, I traveled and studied in Vicenza, Italy with fellow UVA architecture students. We were impressionable undergraduates and our professors enjoyed introducing us in person to the majestic works of Renaissance maestro Andrea Palladio, and at the other end of the spectrum, to those of the modernist virtuoso Carlo Scarpa. Reconciling the two was the singular genius of our teacher, and founder of the first study abroad programs at UVA, Mario di Valmarana. To paraphrase Mario, whom I came to know well over subsequent decades, ‘The Architect has a great responsibility to steadfastly and aggressively preserve that which is deserving, but when conservation is not warranted, to design and build in a manner that enhances that which came before.’ What was so spectacular and liberating about Mario’s teachings was that he found Palladio and Scarpa not oppositional, but rather, both to be worthy of adulation and celebration.
Design is very personal, 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, combining modern intervention with historic appreciation is as foundational as balancing form and function. A second lesson we learnt form Mario is that historic structures need to be utilized, not turned into museums. We cry when landmarks are destroyed, yet we cannot thrive and prosper in museums, no matter how much we enjoy visiting them.
After years of reflection, I believe that Mario’s teaching can be synthesized as a quest for rigorous sincerity. If we follow his lead, we will succeed at satisfying today’s challenges through exuberant design solutions, while simultaneously endeavoring to preserve our history and architectural heritage for future generations.
Note: Sadly, we lost Mario in 2010, and his family asked that I speak at his memorial service. I wrote my remarks the night before, and as short as they were, I barely made it through. A few months later, one of my friends shared that I am indeed a terrible public speaker. I only hope that my comments were better than my delivery, or my handwriting. If you can follow along, my remarks are copied here: