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a life in architecture

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Julian Barnes

The novelist Julian Barnes envies the owners of Villa Barbaro (below) above all other house owners. The villa, at Maser, in the Veneto, was designed by Palladio, and decorated with magnificent trompe l'oeil frescoes by Veronese. Barnes finds it grand but 'of completely human proportions', and enjoys the way the landscape appears to flow through it to the grotto in the rear garden. 'We like to believe that architecture has a moral influence,' says Barnes, 'but few people seem to notice anything but its negative effects. I can't believe it's possible to live in that house and not be a better human being.'

The Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, is his second choice, 'partly because the French have been so snooty about the British contribution to the Channel Tunnel. It's nice to stress the one area where we have outdone them.' He thinks of it as an optimistic building, 'it always makes you feel you are going somewhere interesting'.

Barnes' third choice, which he thinks is arguably the only surviving contemporaneous monument to the French Revolution, is the Monument Sec in Aix en Provence, built in 1792 by a timber merchant, Joseph Sec. The stone tower is crowned by the Spirit of Law and decorated with niches featuring a mishmash of statues representing scenes from the Revolution, biblical figures, and Masonic insignia - 'a deeply eccentric monument'.

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