Villa d'Este, an Italian Villa-Garden
BMH 04 - 02 - 2010

Prior to the Renaissance in Italy, Medieval gardens were enclosed by walls and intended for food production or, in the case of a monastery, for prayer. With a revitalization in classical culture, however, the Italian Villa became an exclusive retreat for reconnecting with nature. In Villa as a Paradigm, James Ackerman regards the villa as unique typology that addresses the “psychological and ideological” constants of human inquiry. The villa represents the cognitive link between the seemingly contradicting forces, culture and nature. As such, the villa is dependent on it's proximity to the city's edge, often on the side of a hill. The villa is usually a u-shaped building featuring a porch or viewing area that overlooks the villa-garden into the landscape beyond. Promoting relaxation, seclusion, and serenity, the villa also stood as a symbol of power and prosperity as only the wealthy could afford such accommodations. The well-groomed landscape filled with sculptures and water features is regarded as a living museum, a display of high-culture. Villa d'Este at Tivoli unites all these factors to evoke contemplation and reflection. Today, this might be regarded as an awakening of self. Aligning awareness with the present, Villa d'Este draws inspiration from the Italian countryside to engage all the senses. From the aromatic landscape to the audible water features, from the changing textures to the stunning views, Villa d'Este is filled with surprises (Bottom, Right Image). Unique to Villa d'Este, the garden is home to the Water Organ Fountain, which replicates the whistling of birds in a juxtaposition of nature and culture. An attempt to unite the natural landscape with architectural and cultural landscape, the complex's garden does not contain a single, focal point, rather it encourages exploration and a sense of discovery. Inspired by classical ideals of order and beauty, the garden contains a central axis with a variety of cross-axial experiences and geometric patterns that lead to an array of exciting grottoes, water troughs, fountains, and scenic overlooks. Reinforcing the central axis and symmetry, a central pool leads to a double flight of stairs flanking the central fountain (Top, Right Image). The garden also contains numerous sculptures that provide lessons in morality. The Tribute to Tivoli and Hercules combined with the steep climb up the staircase, encourages the user to reflect on the moral struggle between virtue and vice. While the group did not visit Villa Lante, it too contains similar design ideas linking it to the Italian Villa-Garden family. Following a primary axis, the garden steps up a hill slope through a series of terraces, transitioning from the urban landscape of the city into the natural landscape of the wilderness. The garden employees choreographed water features, ranging from the Fontana dei Mori at the center of the complex to the stone table with a flowing water channel on the third terrace. In fact, there are numerous examples of Italian Villas, and the typology is not too dissimilar from the Scholars' Gardens in China. Both promote a sense of discovery, contemplation, and relaxation - all topics of discussion under the following prompt: Analyze the similarities and differences between Italian villa-gardens and the gardens developed by scholars, merchants, and government officials in Suzhou (Master of Nets and Lingering Gardens) and Shanghai (Yu Garden). More to come!

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