What a 16th-Century Painting Taught Billie Tsien About Awe

saturated detailed renaissanceesque painting of a monk at a desk with a quill in his hand and a small dog looking at him
Billie Tsien Finds Rapture in a Single Painting Getty Images

Above: Saint Augustine in His Study (1507), by Vittore Carpaccio, at the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice.

I saw Vittore Carpaccio’s Saint Augustine in His Study for the first time in Venice in 1983. Northern Italian paintings are very clear and full of messages about an interior world. This painting, although it seems as if it is only about a room, encapsulates a kind of attitude toward architecture itself. Augustine is looking out of his window and contemplating a vision in his head. I find that moving.

The most impactful architectural spaces we make affect one’s emotions and internal life. What we design for is the human experience inside; our forms are not determined by the outside. A good example is our firm’s redesign of David Geffen Hall’s public spaces in New York City’s Lincoln Center, which reopened in early October.

We referenced a memory of rose petals falling through the opening of the Pantheon, in Rome, in a fabric we designed for the space. We wanted to create a blissful experience in the same way St. Augustine is captured here in a moment of rapture.

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This story originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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