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CIRCA School: Palladian Arch

by Jon Valalik (photo by Don Shall)

In CIRCA School, we uncover the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details. Today’s lesson on the Palladian Arch takes us all the way back to the 2nd century!
Having a discussion about historic American architecture is next to impossible without mention of Andrea Palladio: Italian architect, High Renaissance master, and owner of a pretty incredible beard. Because of an immense amount of talent as well as very influential connections and clientele, Palladio’s influence has been shared throughout the world for nearly 500 years. His ability to adapt ancient Roman architectural ideals to what were modern types of buildings played a major role in his popularity and ultimately led to what may be his single most recognizable motif: The Palladian Arch!

To be fair, Palladio did not invent the design that now bears his name. Before him it was used by Sebastian Serlio (also and Italian architect with incredible facial hair), and can even be traced to back to the villa in Tivoli belonging to Hadrian, a roman emperor from the 2nd century. But this is what made Palladio so great. Architects during the Italian Renaissance wanted to reference their ancient Greek and Roman predecessors as much as possible, but the challenge they found was trying to adapt older details to new types of buildings. Palladio handled the task beautifully.
The Palladian motif is essentially an arch, flanked by two narrow rectangles. Its simple versatility was also a large reason for its success, as it can and has been used in windows, balconies, cloisters, and porches. In the U.S. it’s frequently used as a window and depending on the location and type of home, can vary wildly in ornamentation. Keep your eyes open though, because they’re everywhere and can sometimes be easily overlooked!

Photo courtesy of buffaloah.



Jon grew up in South Carolina and studied Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. His time in Charleston sowed a deep appreciation for both classical and vernacular styles and the importance of their conservation. He is currently working in Charlotte, North Carolina and hopes to break into the field of architectural preservation soon.


  • Jeff

    Thanks for the lesson! I just stumbled
    Across this, what a great idea. I never knew it was called a Palladian arch. I look forward to learning more.

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