On the outskirts of a small town in the heart of South Tyrol’s renown wine region, Visibilio House sits squarely along the northern edge of an elongated lot. Replacing an existing structure, the hollowed out, scooping gesture of the new volume to the south draws the protracted site inwards to form a reciprocal relationship between inside and out. Perched atop a plateau with commanding, panoramic views of the Adige Valley the house presents itself as a single-family residence when in fact it is divided into two separate living units: a larger residence designed for a family of four and a smaller one originally intended for the grandparents. A mixture of different vocabularies, technologies and textures are crystallized into a single architectural body, seasoned by the hands of many tradesmen and artisans.
The push and pull of the opposing and complementary forces of the line and the curve— that which is regular and that which is irregular—underpins the driving spatial and formal qualities of the project. The sickle, the palissage, Ellsworth Kelly’s abstract reliefs, and other artistic works constitute an eclectic set of references that fuse together the agrarian heritage of the site with more distant contexts. Taking cue from Gustav Mahler’s quote “(t)radition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire,” the project revisits and reconfigures an inventory of vernacular building types and elements: the forecourt, the compact and carved out volume of the South Tyrolean farmhouse, the slippage between the roof and the structure below, the overhang, the excavated wine cellar, and the large wood burning fireplace.
The three levels of the house—one below grade and two above—define not only the programmatic distribution of the domestic spaces but also their haptic qualities. A large garage, a design studio, a small wine cellar, a family room and various service spaces are located at the underground level while the double-height living room acts as the fulcrum for the surrounding spaces of the entry vestibule, the open kitchen and dining area, the guest quarters, the study, and the multi-media room. On the upper level, all of the bedrooms, the laundry room and a small library are located on either side of the double height space of the living room. A cabinet-lined gallery with a reading nook at its center overlooks the stair and living room with a view out into the garden through the glazed South façade. Light and airy hues belong to the top floor and meet the lower level’s earthbound materials halfway at the ground floor with a mediating palette of materials. This understanding of the house as a melding of ground and sky is but one of the many backdrops onto which the family’s domestic scenes are layered.
Faced in handmade brick with thickened mortar joints on three sides, the house appears as a figure sedimented over time. Not unlike the interiors, the elongated bricks move from the ground up in dark to lighter tones to create a vibrant, tactile surface interrupted by a few windows and a steel channel beam embedded within the brickwork. Both a lintel to the large window at the ground level, and a base for a sculpture in the shape of the house’s footprint, the blackened steel channel is revisited in a number of different ways. For example, on axis with the large window and set against the backdrop of the nearby town, a steel channel water fountain gurgles into a shallow water basin to form one side of the exterior entry space, a forecourt of arrival marked by a horizontal cut into the front façade clad in blackened metal that groups together the two entrance doors. The South façade is a continuous glass wall, curved at the concave corner and overlaid with a steel beam framework.
The house offers a host of different outdoor living environments that complement the interior spaces and provide for different ways of engaging the outdoors throughout the year; a sunken garden becomes part of the design studio at the lower level, on the ground floor the living room pivots around a stone paved patio, the kitchen gives onto an outdoor breakfast area and a raised vegetable garden, the indoor dining area is mirrored by a double height covered eating porch, and finally, on the upper level, the bedrooms extend outwards to include covered balconies while a small terrace connects the main bedroom with the library. Each of these indoor-outdoor adjacencies take into consideration sun and wind exposures over the course of the year to provide an assortment of domestic microenvironments. Bringing the brickwork into some of the living and sleeping areas further ties the indoor and outdoor spaces together. The entry forecourt on the other hand is a threshold between the property itself and the surrounding context and acts as a prelude to the multi-sensorial qualities of the interiors.
The interiors of the house are distinguished by a number of surprising, custom made features. The central stair for example is a steel frame structure infilled and wound with twisted, corded rope by the client herself. A 1:10 scale mock-up of the stair lay the groundwork for the design collaboration between the architects, the structural engineer, the metal fabricator, and the client. A similar collaborative approach complete with handmade and 3d printed mockups was also undertaken for the design of the fireplace: an organic protrusion off of the living room wall. The fireplace integrates the latest technologies of wood burning stoves with an artigianal texture of a finely granulated lime finish of mother of pearl aggregates and crushed, local “lasa” stone.
The flooring and wall finishes are also sites of design inquiry, favoring tactile solutions that add warmth and depth in the interplay between surface and natural light. For example, the square terracotta pavers upon entry from the garage are sunken within the thickset clay mortar which are then ground up and mixed into the lime based plasterwork that envelops the interiors, following the sinuous lines of the scenographic light well. The cement based terrazzo floors and stairs similarly contain crushed terracotta mixed in with various locally sourced aggregates. A change in aggregates and their respective ratios respond to the various spaces of the house with three different terrazzo floors colorations; bordered, marked down the center, lighter and darker—the terrazzo floors inlay an added layer of shapes and textures.
Buried within the thickness of the roughhewn surfaces lies a well-oiled machine for living—the client’s love for automated solutions and a belief in the added-value of technological systems bolstered the starting point of common-sense ecological considerations. The glazed, south facing façade maximizes sun exposure which is then tempered by controlled sun-shading systems in the warmer months while the robustly insulated building envelope together with the low thermal conductivity of the brick help to regulate the indoor temperatures year round. A combination of radiant floor and ceiling heating and cooling systems work in tandem with the mechanically controlled ventilations system. Rainwater is harvested for the irrigation of the landscaping—a mixture of a wild meadow towards the street and a more formal garden closer in to the house. In this balance between low- and high-tech solutions, the house is a CasaClima Gold Nature certified project, the highest level of certification with an overall efficiency of 2kg CO2/m2a. The “Nature” label assesses the eco-compatibility of the materials and systems used in the construction and the water impact of the building with the intent to guarantee the comfort and healthiness of indoor environments, the precise requirements for indoor air quality, natural lighting, acoustic comfort and protection from radon gas are transformed into tectonic solutions throughout the house.
Oltradige (BZ), 2021
Project TeamSandy Attia, Matteo Scagnol, Martina Salmaso
15 Luglio 2022