Traditional Building Portfolio



In Palladio’s Shadow

A new house in Italy looks to regional precedents and local building crafts.

Project: Residence, Rosà, Italy

Architects: Andrea Pacciani Architect, Parma, Italy

General Contractor: Benacchio Costruzioni, Rosà, Italy

By Marieke Cassia Gartner

In the region where Andrea Palladio built many of his villas, in Rosà, Italy, a house that follows the tradition with symmetry, regularity of volume, rigorousness of proportion and simplicity of detail was designed by Andrea Pacciani Architect.

"The project was born from the request for a family house that was simple and livable in all its spaces," Pacciani says. The goal was a traditionally styled house with the comforts of the contemporary world. "In spite of the architectural Modernism that has invaded Italy as a whole, local current house building still has characteristics of traditional building, thanks to the presence of local artisans," he adds. A tradeoff has occurred in this region, where a hybrid of modern architecture and material and forms that are recalled from the past has become common. "There’s a compromise between planners who have never built in a traditional manner, and customers who request houses that recognize their real cultural identity," he explains. "My goal, then, was to exploit the local construction abilities for a project that supports architectural tradition in its essence, without compromise and without constituent excesses."

In comparison with the Classical Palladian villas, the dimensions of the new house are reduced, and a more simple language was adopted. The district within which it is sited is densely built, but comprised of simple houses that look to local tradition. "The results are sometimes uncertain, so this house seems to be the ‘older sister’ to which the others look for inspiration," says Pacciani.

The structure of the house is plastered 40-cm. working brick. "Working bricks are big bricks with holes called ‘poroton’; they are thermal insulation bricks with little air bubbles that form during the heating process," Pacciani explains. The pillars of the portico and the balcony, the molding and the windowsills are in Vicenza stone, "an easily workable local sandy stone that hardens with time, used in all the Palladian works," he says. "The attic is in wood, with only one warping of the beams – that is, a system of same-sized parallel beams that run from wall to wall." The chimney pots are in tile on top of handmade brick. "These are the construction techniques of the tradition of the place, which I wanted to respect entirely to better guarantee the duration of construction," he says. "Reinforced concrete has only been used in the stringcourses of the attic, roof and basement." The roof tile comes from Possagno, and is antiqued to better resemble the roof tile of the oldest houses in the area.

The interior is also simple, and regulated in the distribution of the spaces, with the central staircase and living and dining rooms to the sides on the ground floor; the kitchen and laundry lead to a small veranda; three rooms with baths and wardrobes are on the first floor. The master bedroom is given prominence from three window gates and from the balcony, seen from the garden on the south of the house. No space is too big, allowing a livability as well as a connectedness among the rooms.

In addition to following the ancient local technology, the new fir beams in the house "give an appearance of warmth," says Pacciani, as well as adding a rustic look and lifting the useful height of the environment.

The lighting in the house is nearly always achieved with wall or floor fixtures, in order to use shadow to its maximum effect. The exceptions are two chandeliers, both of Venetian manufacture, one new, in red glass by Murano, and one ancient, in wood. "These gave diffused, vertical light in the dining room and the staircase," says Pacciani.

"We wanted to avoid ceramic flooring on the ground level," he explains. The staircases and baths are fabricated from clear stone that is harder, but similar to the Vicenza stone. The flooring on the first floor is oak. The portico is paved with a seminato, "an ancient Venetian technique in which marble fragments are placed in a bed of colored cement and then smoothed," he says.

In the end, the choices made were well carried out by the artisans, who were a "little rusty in recovering the forms and the workmanship of the past" at first, says Pacciani.

The biggest challenge the architect faced was getting the local authorities to give him permission to build, since the building commission of the town felt that the plans for the house were too much inspired by the past, and that this would create embarrassment. "In Italy, where everywhere there are the wonders of the history of architecture, the Modernist choice is successful because not conversing with the historical architecture avoids embarrassing comparisons between the contemporary designer and the teachers of the past," says Pacciani. To solve this problem, he worked around it. "I used the same approach of the Modernists in the first years of the 20th century to ensure that the authorities would allow them to build," he explains. "It’s known that [Giuseppe] Terragni [a father of Italian Modernism] presented to authorities his masterpiece Casa del Fascio, in Como, as if it were a period building, but he ‘forgot’ to finish the roof, the moldings, etc. I presented the least possible detail on the drawings, so it seemed a project of mixed traditional and modern styles like the ones they used to see. The less you draw, the more they can imagine the house they want and it’s easier to convince them.

"I don’t believe in self-referential architecture," concludes Pacciani. "I believe that when a house is finished, it has to appear to have been there always, without the arrogance to show when and by whom it was built. Its materials must age, and its technologies must be sustainable. It must be able to widen and modify in time. Without that, its forms become a momentary fashion, forced to binding restructurings. The only architecture that has these characteristics is that consolidated in the time and place where you build."  

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