The project to revamp a slightly rustic building, with a small garden in the old heart of Catania, proved an opportunity to mix innovative architectural solutions, attention to certain traditional details and the refurbishment of comfortable contemporary living spaces. Entrance to the lozenge-shaped garden is through a metal gate with stylized decorative patterns at the end of a small alley that intersects Via Etnea, one of Catania's key streets. This secluded space is mere metres away from the busy main street, but the sense of recollection and tranquillity is manifest.
The actual building, used as an office and a house, is two storeys with a single south-facing façade looking onto the garden. Light can flood in through the large windows with metal frames and the skylights on the southern pitch of the roof, although the zenith light from the latter tends be more controlled and diffused. When opened, these skylights also provide natural ventilation to remove excess heat in the summer months. The combination of materials used for the main elevation provides a clear sign of the desire to leave traces of the local building tradition. Rows of dark grey lava stone alternate with double layers of bricks, creating a fold effect on the wall and suggesting the renewal of tradition. Lava stone is one of the key colours in local architecture, meaning its use here has both structural and emotional elements. The main entrance is characterised by a solid glass and metal canopy structure that allows some Mediterranean light to seep in.
The interior is built around the full-height central space that, in many senses, could be called an indoor courtyard. Once again, this area receives light through the old skylights that were conserved. Various connected elements are used in the large area, especially to reconcile the work and private dimensions of this building. On the ground floor, the kitchen and dining area is separated from the office by slight differences in level. The bedrooms are in separate areas that look onto the central double-height space and are connected by a suspended gangway made of structural glazing. These rooms are completely independent with en-suite facilities and, given the height, sleeping lofts. The composition of materials and colours is striking, with sections done with local handmade bricks (from Giarre) and others that use the texture and colour of lava stone. A wall on the first floor is in deep blue cobalt, marking a sort of boundary, and then there are the light coloured walls and the weave of the wooden beam ceilings. Glass and metal are the other key elements. The stairs up to the first floor are a central architectural feature, tied into the double height internal courtyard. Geometry and materials are used to dynamically interpret space relationships and to build on the subtle play of light that is reflected or traverses transparent or empty space. This light is also important in revealing the bolted steel structure that holds up the glazed steps and the thin rectangular stainless steel handrail.
This is a multi-faceted space in which the multiplicity of different architectural emphases emerges in a composition that highlights the combination of materials and geometries, but also doses the degree of concentration and sensation in accordance with the different uses.
Architects: Santa Contarino
Photography: © Giuseppe Famoso
Santa Contarino lives and works in Catania. She graduated from Venice’s Istituto Universitario di Architettura in 1987. Her university studies included the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of architecture, which, together with mythology and psychology, today form the underpinnings of her approach to the art of design. Her early experience with a major practice in Catania, alongside her work with architect Giacomo Leone, saw her consolidate the necessary practical and functional skills required by the practice of architecture For Contarino, design is an experience that creates balance between art and technical investigation. It is a dynamic relationship between innovation and respect for tradition that takes its lead from the sensory and emotional aspects typical of Sicily through an appreciation of contrasts as well as the intuitive and instinctive elements of design. She has completed post-graduate courses in fields ranging from bio-architecture to restoration. She also completed Marco Piva’s course in hotel design at Politecnico di Milano. In September 2001, together with her colleague Seok Chulkkim, she participated in a themed event at the exhibition ‘Abitare il tempo’ dedicated to the ‘Caress of Water & Feng Shui’. Her work centres on residential building renovation and the design of hospitality premises. She has been responsible for the renovation of numerous hotels, including the Hotel Kore in Agrigento, the Zagarella Hotel & Resort, and the Cristal Palace in Palermo. In 2010 she designed the new Ibis Styles Hotel Catania Acireale. More recently, she was responsible for the renovation of the historic Hotel President in Palermo, transforming it into another Ibis Styles property.
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