Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Recovery Project for a rural building in Salento, Italy by Luca Zanaroli Architetto
November 15th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Luca Zanaroli Architetto
“When I discovered what would have become my refuge in the Salento area, my first impression of the building and the location was its “monumental nature”. Not for any special artistic or architectural value (it is, in fact, a rather rudimental and poor building), but for its expression of strength and character, which is typical of the nature and culture of the area. That was when I decided that the restoration project should have had the purpose to maintain my original impression intact.”
A typical example of dry stone rural architecture in the southern Salento area, it is, in fact, formed by two constructions of different type and from different periods, adjacent but not communicating. The oldest one, the so-called pajara, dates back to the 18th century and has a truncated pyramid shape on two terraces, with a circular plant and dome vault. It was used all year round as a tool and wood store. At a later date (around the end of 1800) a larger building was added, called the làmia, characterized by a truncated pyramid shape with a square plan and barrel vaults, used as a refuge and seasonal home for the field workers. Often, as in this case, a large oven was built near the house, where the bread used to be cooked or the figs and almonds used to be baked after they had been sun-dried, laid out on cloths on the flat roofs, which could be reached by small stairways dug into the stone walls.
“The local people knew the place well and they still tell me about the summer evenings when they all used to get together here after a day spent in the fields, men, women and children, to play, sing and dance, to tell stories sitting on the stone benches, which are still at the entrance of the làmia, or the nights sleeping on the straw beds on the floor. I truly appreciate the relationship with the land, and in general with the nature, which emerges in such a physical and direct way from the daily living acts, like sleeping. The choice of removing the beds and the furniture of the house comes probably from this, from the will to get back some kind of physical contact with the ground”.
The building had been abandoned for years and was in a terrible state. The oven had virtually collapsed and there were large damp patches on the inside walls due to water infiltration. Luckily, the greater part of the building had been conserved and that special patina left by the time on the outside walls, which I have respectfully conserved, can still be seen.
The kitchen has been built in the collapsed oven construction. A small extension has been made, in order to gain the bathroom and the closet. Finally, all the interiors have been joined by long corridors dug out of the thick walls (sometimes digging even without knowing where they were going to peep out), joining the different level floors through slightly inclining ramps to emphasise the idea of spatial continuity. The proposal was to avoid any clear interruption or sharp corners and to reduce the vertical partitions to a minimum, so that as much light and air as possible can enter.
In order to achieve the desired result, the choice of the window and doorframes was decisive. On one hand there was the need to guarantee the necessary comfort and safety to the house, on the other, the total integration and blending between interior and exterior, with the natural surrounding environment as an integral part of the nature and identity of the place.
Moreover, there was the need of elements able to fit in with the previous architecture through the smallest impact as possible, but at the same time able to stand out visually and to qualify the project in terms of design, function and performance.
White epoxy powder painted steel frames, recessed into the brick walls to reduce their visual impact on the outside, were the solution.
The interior surfaces, the floors treated with cementicious mortar and the plaster made from lime and tufa, bind the different volumes and gently reflect the natural light coming in from the numerous small windows to light up the interiors.
The use of totally glazed windows and doors allows to completely enjoy the unique and special light there is here all year round.
The aim is to create a “contamination” of local materials, making marked contrasts through lights and colors, using steel inox (for the drawers in the kitchen), concrete in grey and black natural shades, raw linen (the one also used for backdrops) as covering for the vertical surfaces, like the cupboard doors in the kitchen.
The interior design, conceived by the architect and his wife Silvia Bernabei, is characterized by the choice of “contaminate” the rural atmosphere by using some metropolitan style materials, colors and furnishings able to harmonically fit in with the context, thanks to their neutral and minimal appearance, enhancing its original quality and nature without corrupting them.
The furniture is minimal and it is an integral part of the building, as organic architecture with everything. Every object is a local poor handicraft and is a result of a meticulous research through the region, while the architect personally designed the art works, as the sculpture in rusted wire hanging on the dining table, privileging recovery materials. He likes contrasts, melting cold surfaces as iron with warm ones as stone and fabric, design objects as the AJ floor lamp from Arne Jacobsen (Louis Poulsen) or the Boalum from Castiglioni and Frattini (Artemide) with local handicrafts like the illuminations or the olive wood tripod stool.
The natural surrounding environment is an integral part of the quality and the identity of the place. Besides the secular pre-existing olive trees, the vegetation has been included within the autochthonous species system, such as carob and palm trees, in order to harmonize the building with the outside, without corrupting the balance between built spaces and landscape.
The final result can be considered as a synthesis between rustic simplicity and understated elegance, or even, on the contrary, the contrast between the unchanging perfection of shapes and the erratic imperfection of things.
Light and air constitute the essence of space, the built environment and the natural one are part of a single architectural space, which is the result of a continuous research on the essence of shapes and materials.
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