The medieval town of Sarteano, nestling in the Sienese countryside, is the setting for a large semi-circular tower that is home to "a collector's house". Designing this apartment started with an excruciating analysis of the existing building before any transformation work began, thus ensuring the historical elements could be maintained, while including an articulated, deeply-integrated sense of modernity. Perhaps comfort and meaning would be even better terms than modernity as the collector's house is a place to live in, study, socialise and host people in a rational, yet poetic setting. The term modernity does, though, fit the way collections are displayed, filled with precious objects from a whole array of interests.The beauty of the items is elegantly presented and the displays are themselves compositions, creating a virtual pathway of discovery, an itinerary that formalizes the surprise produced by viewing the art on display.
The house seeks a merger of architecture and sophistication of gaze. As such, the design provides subtle ways for identifying and separating indoor spaces, bringing unity to the dark grey lava stone slabs for the floor, while laying bare the stainless steel joints in a braided oblique pattern that suggests the direction to move in. The geometrical effect of this 'pathway' mirrors the mutual relationship between modernity and the building's historical spaces and materials, which are revealed in the private dwelling in the bare brick and wooden ceiling beams and planks.The entrance hall seemingly invites visitors to pause for a moment and rest in front of the glazed wall, granted a glimpse of what awaits as they follow the expansion joint that runs across the house, linking the floor and masonry walls with their glass cabinets. The joint is a physical line of shiny metal that draws the visitor to look closer. The glazing also allows a preview of the rest of the house, without giving everything away, enticing guests to go in, crossing a virtual threshold. In the entrance, it becomes clear that the design lacks main axes, as the connections between rooms become hints that lightly draw one towards the interior. The glass cabinets reinforce this idea that an amazing universe lies within, built on transparency and the intermingling of space. Views inevitably criss-cross, forcing the viewer to explore details and relationships between the objects, creating an elegant weave of art. The sense of 'amazement' that underlies so much collecting becomes an essential basis for the design, helping to interpret it. The objects and the collection as a whole form a relationship with the architecture, while in turn the architecture guides the view and creates a coherent whole. The in-built display cases become focal points, providing reflective glances and creating continuity. The visitor gradually moves forward, following the luminous pathway marked by the metallic frames of the cases and the internal patterns. One of the galleries stands to the side of the spaces framed by the glazing at the entrance and it is also partially visible through angled glazing. The overall dynamic of the gallery moves towards a circular window at the far end, passing in-built cases and a bench made with basalt slabs. This window provides light as it corresponds to an exterior window and it is made of a fixed glazed section and a movable vertical part.
The house not only has the "display" areas, but also a private section that also uses some of the semi-circular tower and is characterised by the powerful walls. The design adopts the historical shapes, giving them lightness and elegance, without downplaying their importance. The views of the landscape are also central, often visible in a mixture of solids and voids. The kitchen unit follows the imposing shapes of the tower, adding formal elegance to the composition. It is a single piece that, housing the sink and cooker, is created in concrete and steel, rising up from the floor and guiding one's gaze to the poetic Sienese landscape beyond. These interpretative details help to differentiate and characterise the spaces, creating a contrast to the walls. They are also used to form a space for a shower, in a niche covered with mosaic tiles.
Location: Sarteano (Siena)
Gross Floor Area: 96 m2
Window Fixtures: Centro Infissi Nofroni
Coverings: Ceramikada Roma, Basaltina Roma
Photography: © Enzo Ragazzini-SNA
Susanna Nobili Architettura
Susanna Nobili began her career while still at university at the practice of Pier Luigi Nervi. She graduated in Rome in 1976.
In 1984, she designed four mixed residential and office buildings in Guatemala City, which included the new records office of the Italian Embassy. In 1990, together with Constantino Dardi, she was responsible for the restoration and functional conversion of Palazzo Poli and the Calcografia Nazionale in Rome, which became the new premises of the National Graphic Art Museum, including exhibit design and the colour scheme. In 1992, with Gae Aulenti, she designed the renovation of the Museum of Energy in Rome. Together with Piero Sartogo and Nathalie Grenon, in 1993 she won the national competition for the new records office of the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C. The building, completed in 2000, received numerous awards.
In 2008, she participated in the third Architecture Biennale in Beijing. In the same year, she took on the role of lecturer in the master’s degree in interior design at IED in Rome.
Highlights among her major urban planning, industrial design, and public architecture projects include the redevelopment of brownfield sites along the Ospedaletti–San Lorenzo al Mare section of the Genoa-Ventimiglia railway; the central gallery of the Italian pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville (with Piero Sartogo); the design of the Puvis de Chavannes exhibition at Musée de Picardie in Amiens (winning design); the design of the photography exhibition Il Secolo dell’Avvocato-Gianni Agnelli, una Vita Straordinaria held at the Vittoriano in Rome, the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, and Palazzo della Ragione in Milan.
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