Steve Chambers, AIA, Studies Sustainable Design in Italy's Veneto Region: Focus on Palladio's Bridge

01-bridgePonte degli Alpini, designed by Andrea Palladio, straddles a river running through Bassano del Grappa at foot of Monte Grappa


Dallas architect, Steve Chambers, received a fellowship to study sustainable design in Verona, Italy last fall. During this trip he drove through the Veneto Region to see, firsthand, the architecture of Andrea Palladio. Bassano del Grappa lies at the foot of Monte Grappa in this region. The Brenta River separates the town in two distinct parts that are conjoined by the graceful Ponte degli Alpini,  a bridge designed in 1569 by the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio.  Palladio was influenced by Roman and Greek architecture and is widely considered the most influential individual in the history of Western architecture. Palladian style, named after him, reflects classical Roman principles that he rediscovered, applied, and explained in his work and writings. Bridges are not normally associated with Palladio, but form a distinctive category within his work. He was the first modern architect to write and publish extensively on the subject and provides us with insight into his thought processes about design in wood and stone, as well as signaling the future trend of a return to classical forms in Renaissance architecture. The return to classical ideas ushered this "age of awakening” in Italy, France, and England, eventually spreading throughout the modern world.15-steve

While a young mason, Palladio was noticed by an Italian scholar and soon began studying mathematics, music, philosophy, and the Classical authors. From 1541 he made several trips to Rome to study ancient ruins. The wooden bridge at Bassano del Grappa was reconstructed many times, but the current iteration remains essentially true to Palladio's design of 1569. The design features a covered walkway with wooden Tuscan columns and an architrave or main beam across the top of the columns. A classic touch of open spaces between the columns in the colonnade introduces a decorum traditional to Tuscan design.

The town is also synonymous with Grappa, a fiery drink and another exported ‘art form.’ It is not for the faint of heart or mild of palate. Grappa is uniquely Italian and traditionally made from pomace, the discarded grape seeds, stalks, and stems that are a by-product of the winemaking process. Grappa has been around since the Middle Ages. For generations, Italians have sipped this "firewater" after meals and even added a little to their morning espresso, to "correct" it. Once considered an acquired taste, popular only in Italy, Grappa, today, is making itself known around the world. Distilleries from Australia to Oregon, as well as Italy, are trying their hand at making Grappa, with surprisingly good results and variations on the original theme.

Bassano is well known for its majolica, decorated and glazed earthenware, much of which is on display in the Palazzo Sturm. There are many beautiful frescos on the buildings, walls, and ceilings throughout the city dating from the Renaissance, which can be seen in the photographic gallery below. Some of these paintings are still surprisingly vibrant and wear their age quite well. Grappa bottles lining the Grappa Museum wall can also be seen in the gallery of photographs below. Upon his return to Dallas following this tour of Italian architecture, Steve turned to the book, Andrea Palladio The Architect In His Time by Bruce Boucher, to discover a painting by Roberto Roberti (c. 1813) and drawings of the bridge as designed by Palladio (seen below). The design remains as modern today in its simplicity of form and functionality as it was in the 16th century. 




For the Brine:

1 1⁄2 cups kosher salt

1 1⁄3 cups sugar

8 cups water

For the Meat:

One boneless center-cut pork loin roast (3 to 5 pounds)

White cotton butcher’s string, if needed

For the Spice Rub:

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 1⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, removed from stalk

10 fresh sage leaves

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sea salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Dried Fruit:

1 3⁄4 cups dried apricots, plums, peaches, and apples

1 1⁄2 cups water

2 T turbinado (raw) or regular sugar

Juice of 2 lemons

2 bay leaves

Pinch of cracked black pepper

1⁄4 cup grappa


( Hint: When you cook the fruit in Step 5, it will look like it’s drowning in the liquid. No worry: it will eventually soak up the grappa, and the sauce will reduce, once it sits for a bit.)


1. To brine the meat, bring the salt, sugar and water to a boil in a large pot, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Transfer to a heatproof container and cool completely.

2. Cover the pork with the brine and refrigerate for 45 minutes, then drain and pat dry.

3. Set an oven rack in the center position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the spice rub, mix together the garlic, fennel seeds, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper on a cutting board, and finely chop with a chef's knife. Pour the olive oil over the mixture. With your fingers pressing on the side of the knife, holding the knife at a slight angle, grind the herbs and spices by rocking the knife back and forth and pulling the mixture across the board—or grind with a mortar and pestle. The mixture should have the consistency of wet sand.

4. Rub the pork all over with the spice mixture, making sure to rub into the folds of the meat—tie with butcher’s string, if the meat tends to fall open. Set in a roasting pan. Roast until the internal temperature registers 140 degrees on digital meat thermometer for medium, between 1 and 1 1⁄2 hours, depending on size. Let rest for 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the dried fruit: Combine fruit, water, sugar, lemon juice, bay leaves, and black pepper in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer until the fruit soften and begins to break apart, about 20 minutes. Add the grappa and simmer for 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and remove from the heat.

6. Slice the pork into chops. Serve topped with the fruit and grappa sauce.

Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser. Copyright 2010 Amanda Hesser.