Country House in Virginia


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The design of Country House is based upon an existing building. The building in quetion, a manneristic piece of rigorous and self-conscious beauty, posesses all the conditions for becoming an architetural type. It is precisely this latent power, plus the house's impeccable architectonic calligraphy, among other things, that prompted me to select the edifice, to transcribe it, and to critically transform it having in mind its insertion in a cultural context - the Piedmont region of Virginia - so different from that of its birth, northern Italy. In a similar fashion this type of organization could have been clothed with the air, painted with the tones, rendered with or actualized through the technical means of so many other various contexts, since it is, as type, strong and potentially prolific. Before and during the design of Country House, two themes (or, literally, two pre-texts) were ever-present in my mind. They can be seen as the latest manifestations of my long preoccupation with the question of meaning in architecture. In turn, they have significance both personally and in relation to larger architectural issues. At a personal level (whose important role in design I could wish to assert, perhaps unnecessarily, since it is today such a well-known fact) this work is strongly linked to my history as a designer: in 1963 I extensively studied Villa Emo Capodilista, called Montecchia. Built in Selvazzano, in the proximity of Padova, in 1570by Dario Varotari, Villa Montecchia constituted a milestone in my apprenticeship in architecture, becoming an obsessive presence, at times forgotten, once dreamed of. This act of designing Country House is then a tribute, a loving reenactment, a new mise-en-architecture. It ignores those features of Montecchia that are bothersome; it exaggerates or repeats those that are especially pleasurable. Concerning architecture, the theme upon which Country House elaborates is a double one; I would like to refer to it as "rooms and attributes." It relates to my interest in figurative techniques in architecture and derives, besides, from a rather complex functionalist concern. The notion of room should be understood as opposed to the historically younger, abstract, specialized, and preciously elaborated notion of space. The type of space commonly known as room can be opposed to the space that is said to flow, to the space generated according to mostly pictorial or, more precisely, cubist techniques, to the space endowed with refined transparencies or produced by layering, to the space qualified as taut or planar or deep, to the so-called flexible space, to the space containing representations of soace of distorted or corrected perspective, to the spatial chain with articulations, to the one that, remaining undefined, is labeled "postmodern," or to so many other varieties of convoluted spaces, depending on the architectural codes at work in their making. Rooms, in turn, appear as accessible and legible entities, even for the untrained beholder, as well-defined forceful units without "spatialisms" of any kind. It could be said that the origin of rooms is pre-architectonic (and, as such, interwoven with the notion of construction, even though they have been architecture's favorite "raw material" for centuries), and that they might transcend, in a few cases, cultural differences. In this case particular rooms are treated as geometrically equal chambers, non-directional and not exactly cubical, grouped in a series without either beginning or end, displaying an almost stately "tempo." In a certain way this exercise attempts to recover - and to revise critically - a most useful design technique that has been officially forgotten for too long a time: the composition of rooms, the design of chambers. The notion of attribute, historically related to the symbolization of functions and the production of character, is in this work opposed to abstraction, to "indifferentiation," to neutrality, to a signifying void, to the lack of marks, of indications.

At the first-floor level the house consists of four rooms and of four exterior "gardens," which are functionally determined and/or semantically qualified by the rooms opening onto them; in this way, diagonally organized and mutually conditioning chains of functions take place. Both rooms and gardens contain attributes that support their significance and produce their specific character. Attributes are little buildings - monumentalized objects emphatically placed within the rooms and the gardens and treated as if they were domestic totemic structures, enthroned and deified. The attributes are architectural pieces; they belong to architecture. On the seconf floor, four bedrooms display the same idea at work, executed with variations. The choice of furniture reinforced the figurative and architectonic nature of the attributes. Apparently, a design technique seeking the attribution of specific meaning to rooms should exploit to its benefit the question of size and form of rooms; by refusing to do so the signifying power of the attributes can be better tested. The theme of "rooms and attributes" can be formalized as follows: Interior Rooms/Exterior Rooms : Interior Attributes/Interior Rooms For instance: Library/Cloister : Shelves/Library And reciprocally: Exterior Rooms/Interior Rooms : Exterior Attributes/Exterior Rooms For instance: Cloister/Library : Grotto/Cloister Architecture in the past has used, generally, two modes of attributing meaning to rooms: one pictorial, consisting of an array of iconographic motifs, mostly allegorical in nature, sometimes completed with mottoes, veritable narrative pieces linked to the function of the room; the other decorative, consisting of an extremely detailed an complete repertoire of pieces of furniture and minutely codified objects and art pieces, Specific architectural codes, which, for instance, could have exploited variables of measure and shape, were not really totally developed with enough precision. Within modern architecture, some marginal attempts to provide that kind of emphatic indication remained just that: incomplete stammers of an architecture that could hav been parlante. This design attempts to attribute meaning through architectural devices. At a personal level, to work with rooms gives a momentary feeling of relief - at the level of the ongoing architectural discussion, this work seeks to revise the notions of room, of attribute, and of the representation of functions.

Year: 1977
Client:
Private Residence
Location:
Piedmont, Virginia

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