Rethinking urban décor
The corner building of a city block in downtown Turin, north-east Italy, stands on the site of a now demolished low-rise building. It is emblematic of how quality residential housing can trigger innovative regeneration of its wider urban fabric. Any meaningful residential program has to take into account the complex weave that exists between architecture, its particular urban site, and consolidated residential patterns. Making a new-build program a transformative lever of change for an entire quarter requires in-depth consideration of what constitutes urban living. Architecturally, an urban residence is informed by a series of interlocking factors on several levels that can be summed up as the requirement to live in a quality environment where internal spaces interface with protected open spaces that not only serve as filter zones to the outside urban landscape, but are also functional to the living spaces within. Even a single building can drive change in its urban setting provided it comes to grips with the complexities of modern day life, using and transforming conventional elements to produce new forms that also meet the “decorative” function demanded of architecture. In other words, individual buildings in the urban context can and should speak of experimentation, standing in a street as focal points signaling innovative thinking at work. They can and should represent a fresh new look at the basic building components, a concentrate of a new approach to how elevations combine solids and voids, the way surfaces, depth and volumes are put together and materials, colors and geometries assembled. The apartment block in Turin (Via Valdieri) is a clear example of this approach. A rational yet expressively original urban “object”, its spatial sequences allow an osmotic interconnection between interiors and exteriors. The building stands out immediately as an innovative quality feature in its urban context, a piece of the “urban décor” for the way its distinctive yet restrained components blend together. The elevations are a mix of harmoniously juxtaposed elements. Plaster segments sit alongside stone slabs. The irregular-shaped red travertine cladding on the building’s plinth softens the line of demarcation with the street and allows views into the internal access corridor. The Arabescato marble inserts on the elevations lend a shimmering luminosity to the two frontages. Contemporary “decorative” features, these inserts are also key to the spatial design of the whole building. Resembling shafts of light, their diagonal pattern highlights the openings on the elevations. Continuing inside to clad the recessed areas, the marble gives a strong sense of depth to the whole building. As well as highly functional spaces, the loggias are both architectural focal points and filter zones between interiors and exteriors, elements that both ease the building into its setting yet mark it out as an independent physical unit. The pedestrian entrance on Via Valdieri is closed off from the street by a finely wrought metal gate. A gently tiered corridor, protected street-side by an enclosing railing, leads to the front door. The outer red stone cladding following the sloping corridor is continued on the paving and up the inside wall. Inside, the staircase - set on a longitudinal axis parallel to the access corridor - is pivotal to the whole building. A glazed wall gives on to a small ground-floor inner garden court while the flooring of both stairwell and steps reference the stone inserts on the elevations.