Austin + Mergold: The Four Books of Architecture

In the last several years AUSTIN + MERGOLD (A+M) found themselves working on a number of projects in rural areas of Central Pennsylvania. There they had to contend with local vernacular typologies – such as bank barns, farm houses, grain dryers, scare crows and vast quantities of vinyl siding – and the local established tradition of developer construction that is founded on very pragmatic (and often very rigid) approach to building, where the architecture is shaped by builder’s preferred methodologies and his/her take on the aesthetic demands of the customer base, aka the curb appeal.

A+M had attempted to channel the Central Pennsylvania modern vernacular into a new aesthetic language. This process of deriving a new architectural discourse from the vernacular is similar to the transformation of the rural farm typologies of Veneto into private villas in the 16th century, as was presented in The Four Books of Architecture by Andrea Palladio. The same way that The Four Books became the catalogue of local agricultural form infused with the surveys of miscellaneous details from roman antiquity, A+M found themselves admiring pre-established agrarian typologies and the material quantity- and cost- driven local architectural detailing. Palladio’s frequent allusions to Vitruvius as the source of ultimate truth were in this case substituted with references to the forces of the market and the ever-mysterious curb appeal.

In 2008, the year of Palladio's 500th anniversary, A+M had considered collecting their nearly-Palladian experience into a visual treatise form. Taking clues from Palladio's Four Books in separation of content (Book I – architectural orders, wall types, details, site selection; Book II – private residences & housing; Book III – bridges, fountains, site planning, miscellaneous typologies; Book IV – places of public assembly) and presentation technique (wood cut – the most common way of disseminating drawings in Palladio's times, but produced from blocks designed in AutoCAD and laser-engraved – thus also using the most common commercial architecture tools of today), emerged The Four Books of Archiculture, Discovering Palladio in Central PA and Beyond. This edition presents built work as well as speculative projects, musings, directions, guidance and a small touch of wisdom assembled by A+M in Central Pennsylvania and beyond.

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