Tag Archives: italy

Integrated School Complex

Integrated Elementary-Middle School Complex in Rome, Italy by Herman Hertzberger and Marco Scarpinato, 2012.

Writing about this recently completed school in the Romanina section of Rome is not an easy feat, given that Herman Hertzberger's buildings beg to be visited to be understood (more than many other buildings) and are designed to be "completed" by the users (as described in an article at Domus by Massimo Faiferri). Therefore the task runs the risk of being an architectonic exercise, mentioning those traits but focusing on plans, sections, and materials, and speculating on the success of the project once the teachers and students figure out how to use the various spaces, indoor and out.

For the duration of the project Hertzberger worked with Marco Scarpinato (AutonomeForme) as Hertzberger + Scarpinato. The duo developed a plan with a repeated courtyard structure that is reminiscent of Hertzbberger's "cellular" designs, in which rooms of various porosity are oriented to shared spaces. Classrooms, a gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria serving 500 students are spread across the large site in a complex circulation network that seems to blur the differences between inside and outside.

The spatial component of education that Hertzberger proposes in the Romanina school reveals an ethical stance that — even in the light of widespread social behavior across Italy — rarely finds suitable models that respond adequately to the problems of education in our times. -Massimo Faiferri, at Domus

As the photos here attest, the architecture of the school and its potential is in the steps. Open steps that serve as amphitheaters are a common device in Hertzberger's schools, be it a primary or a secondary school; see the De Salamander extended school (2007), Dalton College Leerpark (2008), and De Spil extended school (2008) on his website for examples. Yet here the steps are in abundance, creating places for assembly but also serving to remove the students from the neighborhood by bringing them below grade. Moving down the steps they enter the world of the school.

Further, interior spaces don't appear to be separated by walls but by more steps, all apparently rendered in wood, a contrast to the concrete and brick that otherwise prevails. It is possible that some of these spaces may receive partitions for acoustics or other reasons, but of course that would be in keeping with the framework that Herzberger and Scarpinato have setup.

Coincidentally, this week I'm reviewing a book that looks at a project decades after its completion, the antithesis of the photos documenting this school. Yet the Hertzberger + Scarpinato creation would be a perfect subject for a similar book. In a decade, or even less, the spaces and places of the school should fill themselves out in terms of how they're used and how successful they are. Seeing the building in the future will be so much more valuable than seeing it today.


Milanofiori in Assago, Milan, Itlay by OBR, 2010.

The following text and images are courtesy OBR.

The Milanofiori housing complex is part of the master plan by Erick van Egeraat characterized by a series of functions (offices, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, leisure, residences) that together define a cluster whose elements appear to follow the characteristics of the surrounding landscape, creating a public park as the extension of the existing forest. The design seeks the symbiosis between architecture and landscape, so that the synthesis of artificial and natural elements could define the quality of living and the sense of belonging by the inhabitants.

The interface between the building and the garden becomes the field where interaction between man and environment takes place. This interface is defined by the "C" form of the complex which encompasses the public park, and by the porosity from interior to exterior that characterizes all 107 apartments. The two facades are designed differently: the one facing the street outside is more urban, and the one towards the inner park is more organic. The design of the urban facade stimulates a sense of belonging thanks to the composition of white frames which identify separately the units. These frames include vertical wooden panels of different widths which can slide across the frames and control the inner light as necessary.

The organic facade overlooking  the garden features double glazed bioclimatic greenhouses. The co-planarity between the glass of the greenhouse and the glass guardrail covering the string-course creates an effect where the shape of the construction and the background merge and reverse their roles constantly, producing kaleidoscopic effects overlapping the reflection of the public garden outside with the transparency of the private garden inside. The geometry of the building is shaped by translation of the upper levels in line with positions of optimum solar exposure and by tapering of the external terraces in order to increase introspection among residents. The winter garden has a double value: an environmental value in providing a buffer zone which allows thermal regulation, and an architectural value in allowing extension of the interior living space towards the exterior landscape (and vice-versa) permitting different uses from summer to winter.

Through the overlap of different natural layers (the public park, the open terraces and the winter gardens) the project seeks a kind of a holism of nature, where various personal interactions of these natural layers create an intensive landscape that is directly and personally customized by each resident. In line with ever changing developments in contemporary living, the porosity of the architecture makes Milanofiori residential complex an evolving organism, in perpetual change, preferring the dynamic exchange between architecture and nature and stimulating the interaction between man and environment.

The Architecture of Modern Italy: Volume 2

The Architecture of Modern Italy: Volume 2, Visions of Utopia, 1900-present, by Terry Kirk (Volume 1 here)
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Hardcover, 280 pages

The second volume of Terry Kirk's history of architecture in modern Italy picks up where volume one left off, at the turn of the 20th century, when architecture was seen as an expression of the recently unified country. Politics plays a much greater role in this time frame, especially during Mussolini's reign between the two World Wars. Like many other European country, a dramatic break with history is the popular past of the time, Italy's called Rationalism and embodied by its most popular proponent, Guiseppe Terragni. While the author doesn't devote many pages to the architect, his presence is visible in both his contemporaries and followers. But Kirk stresses that Terragni was an exception to the overriding tendency of the time, which was characterized by a pull both forward and back. In other words, mid-century Italian architects didn't want to completely obliterate their past, but at the same time they didn't want to repeat it. While Italy never recaptured its ancient influence that spread far beyond its shores -- nor a clear national identity in architectural form -- its late 20th-century personalities -- such as Aldo Rossi, Mario Botta, and Renzo Piano -- are indicative of a cultural climate accepting and nurturing of pluralistic voices that eventually do spread Italian culture via their work in other countries.

The Architecture of Modern Italy: Volume 1

The Architecture of Modern Italy: Volume 1, The Challenge of Tradition, 1750-1900 by Terry Kirk (Volume 2)
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Hardcover, 280 pages

The first volume of Terry Kirk's extensive, though not exhaustive, history on the architecture of modern Italy (not to be confused as a history of modern architecture in Italy) begins with the Enlightenment -- when architects eschewed the dominant style, Baroque, in favor of a rediscovered Classicism -- and ends at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries -- when architecture was called upon to create a visual identity for a unified Italy. In between, the author paints short but highly descriptive and informative vignettes of well- and lesser-known buildings, landscapes, and projects created or completed in the 150-year timeframe. The variety of works presented is one of the books best assets, from the theatrical spectacles of Giuseppe Jappelli to the late 19th-century design of Florence's cathedral. The well-known Giovanni Battista Piranesi is obviously present, his influence permeating the book, even though the architect/draftsman/engraver only created one building, Santa Maria del Priorato in Rome. Through Napoleon's brief reign, 19th-century Romanticism, and the aforementioned unification, we see reinterpretations of the historical elements and assemblages of architecture spurred by this unique personality's take on Italy's past and its potential future. What comes across is that in this period of Italy's history the physical expression of political power, via a fusing of the country's classical past with its new ideals, is of the utmost importance.

Ferrari Headquarters

Ferrari Headquarters in Maranello, Italy by Massimiliano Fuksas, 2004.

The new Management Headquarters for Ferrari in Maranello, Italy by Massimiliano Fuksas is one part of a redevelopment project that also includes a paint technologies building by Marco Visconti. Close to this building and Renzo Piano's Wind Tunnel of 1998, the new office building attempts to bring nature into the employees' work lives. This is accomplished via a simple plan that creates generous courtyards full of bamboo and the use of water that further dematerializes the ephemeral building.

The most dramatic feature of the 150,000 s.m. (1.6 million s.f.) project is the cantilever of the second floor 7m (23 ft) beyond the first floor, above reflecting pools. Floor to ceiling glass helps to realize the intention of bringing nature to the employees, while also exposing the interiors at night. It appears that the hours after sundown were a consideration for the architect, as the reflection of lights via the reflecting pools adds another layer of sensory information that definitely makes the simple composition seem more complex than it really is.

The use of bamboo in the courtyards can be seen as a way to control the "natural" environment that the employees experience, be it through the glass wall or through the stairs and walkways that traverse these outdoor spaces. As well, the round columns supporting these last two are an artificial reference to the bamboo sticks, creating a unified design in the courtyards.

One of the most creative aspects of the Headquarters' design is the negation of the first floor roof through the use of reflecting pools. The ground floor is carried to the second floor to create another ground plane, at least visually for the occupants. The image at left is a view from the "yellow room" on the second floor, a room surrounded by glass walls on all four sides, surrounded by nature. It is a perfect culmination of the project's intentions, with nature in the round as well as reflected in the water.

[Thanks to Eric Morehouse for some help on this week's dose. Google Earth link]

Thomas Demand Exhibition

Thomas Demand Exhibition in Florence, Italy by Caruso St. John Architects.

Last week's dose featured a modern exhibition in a modern setting. The large-scale, blurred photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto, and artist-designed exhibition, complement the gallery spaces in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, a severe, neo-Modern assemblage of boxes. This week's dose looks at another photographer's work exhibited in a classical setting, the Thomas Demand Exhibition at the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. A collaboration between the artist and London's Caruso St. John Architects, the exhibition is an investigation in contrast and integration, attempting to fit the works of the popular German artist into an ornate setting.

Thomas Demand's photographs appear to represent reality in their visions of modern interiors, but in fact each image is a full-size cardboard model of an interior based on another, factual photograph, most likely from a newspaper or similar media sources. This technique blurs the distinction between the real and the fabricated - his attention to detail furthers this blurring - while questioning the legitimacy of photography as the medium of truth. Similar in vein to Gregory Crewdson and Ben Gest, each artist stages their subjects in particular ways that create a surrealism, each image familiar yet unsettling in its slight detachment from reality. These artists are adding a complexity to photography that is enriching while using different media in ways that is purely artistic.

Inserting Thomas Demand's photographs into the spaces of the Pitti Palace was not a simple task for the artist and the architects. First, they were not allowed to touch the interiors for the exhibition, meaning the work could not be mounted on the walls or any other surfaces. Second, the clean and minimal images of the artist's work can not compete on their own with the highly ornate interiors of the rooms designed for the King of Italy's parties. Their solution was to mount the images on panels that sit on large pieces of furniture placed near the edges of each room. In effect, the dark-toned panels increase the size of the artwork, creating a large "frame" around the image that acts as a buffer between the photograph and the pilasters, moulding, paintings and other decoration of the Palace.

Seeing the contrast between the dark, hard-edged creations for the exhibition display and the soft, light interiors is reminiscent of the last act of "2001: A Space Odyssey" in which the astronaut Dave finds himself in an ornate bedroom suite with the black alien monolith. From a purely visual perspective the contrast between object and setting in the film is surreal. A similar effect was achieved at this exhibition in Florence, appropriate given the artist's surrealist tendencies.

[Google Earth link]

Brembo Research Office

Brembo Research Office in Bergamo, Italy by Jean Nouvel.

Last week's dose featured German car-maker BMW's attempt at creating an image for itself through architecture, not a novel idea. Coop Himmelb(l)au used computer technology to design what might ultimately become a dated design more attuned to its process (computer) than its content (car). In contrast, Jean Nouvel's design for the automobile brake-manufacturer Brembo's Research Office and Workshop in Bergamo, Italy uses its location, alongside the Milan-Venice Highway, as an opportunity to create a strong image that responds directly to a car's horizontal movement.

Selecting the site for its visibility to drivers between Venice and Milan, Brembo's physical identity will use its trademark red, in this case a one-kilometer long wall which also acts as a sound barrier to the offices and other uses on the other side. The wall, made of grooved, lacquered aluminum, will appear to extend into the horizontal parking surface on the highway side. By locating a parking podium between the moving cars and the red wall, Nouvel has attempted to mediate between the highway and the office that are reached by piercing through the wall.

The aerial view at left (click for expanded view) illustrates the various parts of the development, including the red wall and parking podium, the approach road, the pond, and the offices integrated into the landscape beyond. The architects decision to locate office spaces beyond the wall - and the wall itself - ironically recognizes the automobile by stifling its physical effects. Therefore the Research Office acts as a symbol of the company who manufactures parts that attempt to lessen an automobile's destructive impact, hopefully allowing the driver to stop before hitting another car, for example.

In contrast to the colorful, yet bare highways side of Brembo's Bergamo facility, the office buildings are transparent and integrated with trees and other landscape to create an oasis apart from the speeding cars. Reminiscent of Nouvel's earlier Foundation Cartier in Paris, landscape is treated as a zone between the building and the greater urban condition. In the former the condition was the streets of Paris, in the latter the condition is the roads connecting cities. So in turn the landscape plays a greater role in the building's design, a commendable offset to the image-oriented facade of the trademark Brembo-red wall.

[Google Earth link]

Tower of Pisa

Tower of Pisa

Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy.

Although the Leaning Tower of Pisa has been barely standing for over 800 years, recent threats to the tower's stability, demanding a mixture of old and new engineering, warrant its inclusion on this page. The tower has begun to lean so far that a computer model cannot replicate the real tower's actual position (5.5 degrees off perpendicular) because the model collapses at 5.44 degrees. Due to this drastic situation relatively new methods are being implemented at a fast pace; mainly removing portions of the earth under the tower's north end (the tower leans toward the south).

The diagram at left illustrates the stages in the tower's construction. Each stage represents an awareness of the tower's leaning, the most obvious being the opposite lean of the belfry. With each delay the structure's weight was able to compress the loose soil and clay which it sits upon: without delays the clay would have failed under the tower's load. The tower's lean is due to the 30 feet of dense river silts it sits on, with the silt layer more compressible on the south side. And while the tilt continues the increase the tower has ceased to sink; the clay now strong enough. Instead the tower is rotating, the north side moving up toward the surface.

John Burland, specialist in soil mechanics in London (responsible for the Jubilee Line extension and a parking garage under Big Ben), saw that the solution to the tower's tilting problem was not above ground, but below. Previous attempts focused on the tower itself: most prominently the strapping of 600 tons of lead weights to the north ground story. Burland concluded that soil extraction was the key to bringing the tilt back to the goal of five degrees. The many tests required would take a very long time so a temporary solution was proposed: "replace the lead weights with 10 anchors buried 180 fee underground, in the firmer sand below the Pancone clay." This procedure required freezing the ground the prevent ground water flooding the walkway at the ground story. Unfortunately this made matters worse as the tower lurched south due to the compression of the soil from the freezing (since water expands when it freezes gaps were created once the water melted). Adding 300 tons of lead weights temporarily halted the southward movement.

Burland and his colleagues were not very popular after that moment, but in 1998 plastic-sheathed tendons were wrapped around the first-floor loggia to prevent cracking and any southward movements from the soil removal to get under way. No problems were experienced with the tendons and the soil removal began in February of this year with almost immediate positive results. About 40 drill pipes dig at a 30 degree angle around the north side of the tower. Each pipe uses ancient engineering: an corkscrew-like tip (an auger) to channel dirt up through its blades. Ten tons of soil has been removed in the first four months, enough that the city's Mayor hopes to open the tower (closed for ten years) on June 17, 2001, the feast of San Ranieri, patron saint of Pisa.

[Google Earth link]



Cretto in Gibellina, Italy by Alberto Burri.

Italian artist Alberto Burri is known for a series of works titled Cretti, monochrome pieces composed of paste left to dry and crack eventually revealing fissures. These fissures are the focus of the work, illustrating the process and the artist's minimal involvement. Burri is a guide toward an unknown end as opposed to the general attitude towards artists as realizing an ideal vision. This self-reference relates the Cretti series to paintings by artists like Jackson Pollock's drip series, which reveal their means of production, while lacking figural relationships. The Cretto, in Gibellina, Sicily, resembles his Cretti series, though the former, a monumental work, exists on a deeper level, binding intimately to a time and place.

In January 1968, the same period Burri was working on the Cretti, an earthquake shook the western edge of Sicily in the Belice river valley. Gibellina was among twelve towns completely destroyed, though rebuilding happened differently here than in other towns. Instead of building atop the ruins of the old town the Gibellina was built approximately 20 km away, near a train line and highway. In 1981 Burri visited Gibellina, proposing the massive Cretto over the ruins of the old town.

Similar to the Cretti's fissures the streets of the old town become the cracks of this new work. The concrete masses solidify a moment in time when the old town existed, though the integration of the old building's rubble into the concrete reminds one of the earthquakes effects. Moving through the sloping site the visitor's gaze is slightly above the slanted planes of concrete that contain both the remains of the containers but also the contained: personal effects of an exiled population. Here we realize the Cretto's superiority over the Cretti; the latter exists as a two-dimensional piece to be looked at while the former is both an object in the landscape and a spatial experience, occupied irrespective of its overall form.

The Cretto's existence is best summed up by the architects Cristina Diaz Moreno and Efren Garcia Grinda:

"The Cretto is above all an act of negotiation with the place and memory, which Burri gives to an alienated, uprooted population; by identifying the form of a process of restructuring of matter - in some ways similar to what happened at Gibellina - and the form of the destroyed town, he creates a mechanism to link events, configuration and time."

Villa Ottolenghi

Villa Ottolenghi

Villa Ottolenghi in Lake Garda, Italy by Carlo Scarpa, 1978.

Built late in his career, the Villa Ottolenghi is one of Carlo Scarpa's more overlooked buildings. Located in the Veneto region of Italy, the house portrays some of the themes used in the architect's work, particularly the relationship between the natural and the artificial and the unpredictable nature of human life. And although this building pays particular attention to the craft and detailing of construction, typically the most appealing aspect of Scarpa's designs, it also expands beyond much of his other work in its attention to space, a product of site factors and practical concerns.

Due to zoning regulations the villa could be a maximum of one story with a limited interior area. In response to this the architect decided to bury much of the house into the terrain, reducing the scale of the house, but also creating a unique relationship to the land on all sides of the villa. The entry facade, the only true facade, fronting Lake Garda, presents the visitor the only true facade, composed of plaster walls with irregular openings juxtaposed with a taste of the thick columns that dictate much of the design (as will be discussed later.) The other side of the villa is defined by a "calleta", a deep incision in the ground that refers to the winding streets of nearby Venice. The rooms adjacent, although buried underground, received natural light from the fissure in the ground.

The villa alone seems reliable, generous, trustworthy, and truthful. Managed with diligence and love, it never wearies of repaying you. Reward follows reward.   -Leon Battista Alberti

The living areas orient themselves toward the entry and the more direct relationship to the exterior. These spaces were shaped by both the natural terrain of the landscape and the seemingly random structural location of nine large columns, making up the structure of the villa. Changes in elevation occur between living, kitchen, dining and bathroom areas that otherwise have little, if any, physical separation between each other. This direct response to landscape is rare in Scarpa's work, except for possibly the Brioni family cemetery which was being worked on almost simultaneously with this project. Both projects also have in common the architect's treatment of water as a vehicle to expose his theme for a particular design. In the case of the Villa Ottolenghi, water is used to express the distinction between outside and inside, natural and man-made. Influenced by both Wright and Japanese architecture, the calm pools of water join the exterior and interior but also make one aware of the separation, especially distinct with the heavy walls and irregular openings. It is in Scarpa's use of water and, almost an opposite, the heavy columns, that he makes the visitor aware of these differences.

Futile to comprehend their structural coherence nor their unorthodox texture, the nine columns, located in a seeming lack of relationship to each other, combine to create the overall meaning of the house. Constantly shifted and detailed by Scarpa the columns deny an orderly composition found in both his and other architect's (especially his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright) work at the time. Ignoring this tendency, Scarpa arranged the columns to both create spatial transitions and differences, but also to express the inability for architects to bestow an order upon something so unpredictable and natural as human life.