Transit was founded in the early Seventies. In forty years it has figured as one of the capital’s most active practices. It has built many underground railway stations; popular economy building complexes; three towers in the Tiburtino district, now familiar landmarks; commercial centres like Cinecittà Two; office buildings such as the Health Ministry’s on viale Oceano Pacifico; urban plans like the new 805,000 m3 Europarco-Castellaccio centrepoint. Since 2005 the firm has been going through a reshuffle to replace two founder members who died, Maurizio Macciocchi and Evaristo Nicolao, and a third, Danilo Parisio, who opted out to design interiors. Gianni Ascarelli’s team is now Roberto Becchetti, Manuela De Micheli, Alessandro Pistolesi and Sergio Vinci. One of the buildings that best illustrate the practice today is the recent brief for some 90 dwellings at Casalbertone. The area stands in Rome’s first periphery which has been in the throes of a housing boom. The firm’s operation shows an approach to planning which is both novel and reassuring. Novel, since it goes for the contemporary look using dynamic shapes, some of them deconstructionist in origin, and modern materials in line with experiments in other European cities that are less traditional-minded than our own capital. Reassuring, because this is a zero-cube operation, in the sense that it adds no new volume to what it substitutes and restyles. Again following the Italian approach, its buildings dialogue with the surrounding older architecture: it avoids glaring breaks with the street plan or town skyline and mingles modern with typical existing materials. The practice is also based on sustainable principles and has won several certification with Casaclima and with the American LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The Casalbertone building that replaces an ice factory develops on a rectangular plot cut through by a sideroad and abutting on the highway that forms the backbone of the district. The ensuing design strategy boiled down to three moves. To devise a more prestige façade clad in travertine marble on the main-road side. To turn the other three elevations into an unbroken set of loggias lined with micro-perforated metal sheeting and shuttered by sliding panels in the same material. To transform the laceration that is the road carving across the building plot into a complex array of curving balconies. The aim here is twofold. To offset the metallic straight-lined façade with a dual elevation that is soft and alluring. At the same time, to make this in-between space an ideal centre of the whole: a formally characterful feature standing out from the drab monotony of the surrounding periphery. Choosing materials that differ from the usual run of building in the capital meant close attention to detail on the drawing-board and on site. “Paradoxically, control was actually tighter” says Gianni Ascarelli “where the operation looks simplest. For instance, on the white-rendered curving terrace parapets we had to use resin to avoid spoiling the overall design by an unending series of thresholds or flashing strips.” Again, to prevent the loggias being spoilt by impromptu screens, we warmed them by central heating; that way they can be used in winter without people boxing them in with higgledy-piggledy improvisations. The outer façade walls at the back of the loggias are dressed in dark majolica-ware of the Japanese split-tile variety. The doors at the back are in corten steel. This textural effect enhances these mini-flats and puts them in the medium-high property bracket. Another added value was the decision to bring in an architect to design the underground garages. Italian-born Spaniard by adoption, Teresa Sapey, is known for her injection of colour and welcoming spaces amid Madrid’s dreary, off-putting ‘box’ architecture. Lastly, the hallways are to figure artists’ installations. The second zero-cube building is the multi-purpose complex on Lungotevere degli Artigiani rising where a line of car repair and maintenance workshops had been demolished. The whole volume is arranged along a kind of knife-edge, ten storeys above ground, three for parking below. Picking up the line of the adjacent buildings, the structure is of reinforced concrete bays, the dividers of which jut out like enormous vertical sun shields, each oriented slightly differently. These apartment loggia dividers with their 3-D effect contrast with the glass box-like first two floors housing a sports centre, and the partly recessed third floor which is again for sports activities. By these expedients the light is modulated; its marked chiaroscuro is the main organizing principle of the whole project. The third operation is the firm’s conversion of an office building on Piazza Don Luigi Sturzo in the EUR district, right opposite the celebrated Saverio Muratori building which long housed the Christian Democrat headquarters. To offset Muratori’s stylistic pastiche, Transit opted for a double skin designed as a miscellany of smaller modules standing out from the façade line, some by 80, others by 140 cm. The outer skin is selective and filters sunrays; the inner is low-emission and contains heat.On either side-wall two vertical strips of travertine marble contrive to link the building ideally to its surrounds - though in my opinion (and this also goes for the travertine façade at Casalbertone) they could have done without such a link. High up at terrace level, visible from the square, the occasional jutting beam-end awaits photovoltaic panels, assuming it is decided to hang them. Again, the severe foyer travertine recalls works by Mario De Renzi. But there is a note of contemporary, thanks to the odd green wall. Inside, the courtyard area is lit by solar tubes that capture light from the sky and by an arrangement of mirrors direct it where needed.
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi