Elasticospa aims for expressive architecture of striking materiality. Stefano Pujatti, its founder, says as much in his monograph “Architettura al sangue” (Raw Architecture), published in 2008. As the title intimates, Pujatti seeks sensory involvement, the release of almost primordial energy, not perhaps without a touch of self-satisfaction, like ordering a rare steak to strike a politically incorrect anti-vegetarian pose.
“The architecture that interests me”, he writes, “springs from the fantasies of those that produce or commission it, because fantasies come close to ideas but are a little less pretentious”. Food has many analogies with the art of building: cooking requires putting together raw materials, mixing flavours to please the cook but also the particular tastes of the client. It is linked to ritual and tradition yet requires a critical, innovative approach. It involves the satisfaction of never repeating the same dish twice. And finally, because a good cook relies more on intuition and creative whim than on formulae or abstract reasoning.
Stefano Pujatti studied at the Venice faculty under Gino Valle, an architect with a strong feel for the materials of architecture. At the time, Valle was working in Paris and gave Pujatti the chance to follow a project to restore, renovate and re-contextualise an inner city block. This French experience was preceded by a period in Los Angeles where he met Tom Mayne, head of Morphosis and Wolf Prix, Coop Himmelb(l)au leader. They taught Pujatti about working with space even at the cost of breaking up the building. In 1995, Pujatti set up the practice Elastico with Simone Carena and Alberto Del Maschio and together they got themselves noticed for their experimental work. In 2005, Pujatti struck out on his own founding Elasticospa, Stefano Pujatti Architetti.
He claimed critics’ attention right from the first briefs. I’ll mention just three: the Yuppie Ranch House (with Alberto Del Maschio, Elastico3), a house and stables in the countryside of Budoia (Pordenone, northeast Italy), developed along an inner circulation route to culminate in a roof garden; the cemetery at Borgaretto (again with Alberto Del Maschio), near Turin where the burial niches are set below grade leaving the ground free for a tree-shaded square filled with symbolic references; and the Atelier Fleuriste, a house and work sheds for a flower-grower in Chieri (Turin) clad in part with broken perforated bricks.
Pujatti’s housing complex renovation in Settimo Torinese, Antibiotico - all Elasticospa’s projects have disconcerting fantasy names - was built between 2006 and 2008. A characteristic feature is the dialogue with what was already there: an unpretentious housing estate, not without architectural merit, however, so much so that locals claim it was designed by none other than Gio’ Ponti. Pujatti’s renovation consisted in making the elevations the plinth from which to construct an articulated, metal-clad upper storey that clearly distinguishes each dwelling unit from its neighbour. The idea is fully consistent with the functional programme of adding a storey to a drab, dated housing group and turning it into more desirable homes in line with modern standards. Pujatti’s new design has created a series of (larger) row dwellings with outdoor space in the form of either garden and/or terraces. They now also enjoy greater privacy. The larger expanses of glazed lights provide more light and connect with the surrounding landscape. And there is also a larger service area, especially parking space.
New functions have been substantiated by new, more attractive forms. Warm and cold materials offset one another, as do traditional and more innovative volumes. The overall simplicity of design is effectively countered by a few eccentric touches like, for example, the corner terrace of one of the three blocks that adds a deliberate dissymmetry to an otherwise monotonous housing estate row.
Pujatti’s penchant for emotional effect does not, however, fly in the face of common sense or budget constraints. In this, he reflects the lessons learned from his mentor Valle. It also shows he is heir to the organic as well as the expressionist movements.
This is clearly evident in his new-build Brick-olage housing project in Gassino Torinese completed between 2007 and 2009 and its skilfully designed roof - always a bugbear for contemporary architects especially when constrained by local building restrictions. Added to that, designing the roof of a modern building in the Turin area often means going back to the school of Gabetti and Isola, with inevitably neo-traditional, kitsch results. Pujatti, in contrast, uses the pretext to make an (artificial) addition to the landscape: a single yet multi-facetted roof spanning the housing units, whose repetitive alignment is relieved by graded heights and the different angles at which each component is set. The result is a series of varied but not chaotic volumes made up of recurring elements. Curving the complex to follow the terrain and adding balconies create a rapport with the natural setting. The iron mesh balcony parapets present a cold, transparent contrast to the warm brick cladding and wooden soffit beams of the projecting roof. The elevations escape from looking like standard cooperative-built brick-clad housing, thanks to the use of three different colour bricks set in abstract bands that bring to mind the work of Ralf Erskine. The elegant setting of bricks at 90° angles is another redeeming feature.
The ongoing renovation project, in collaboration with Alberto Del Maschio, at San Quirino is emblematic of Pujatti’s approach to what he finds in situ. This old farmhouse is not being returned to “what and where it was” but rather to “what and where it is”. Traces of dilapidated building are being kept, even if only figuratively, to avoid quaintness, or in the words of Pujatti, nativity-crèche twee. The tumbled down building is receiving some fair-face concrete extensions - probably the best material to contrast and dialogue with the old stonework. Inside, the renovation is more marked. Pujatti has not hesitated to create double height volumes and a non-traditional interior. Local rural culture is reflected though in the large fireplace and hearth.
Top Gun in Polcenigo, designed with Alberto Del Maschio and completed between 2004 and 2008, is a house in the countryside, again around Pordenone, created from a former building. Its main feature is an elegant staircase connecting the different levels. The large stairwell provides light to the lower floor. Slightly baroque in style, the elegant staircase railings are reminiscent of the lightweight structure of Franco Albini, another member of Pujatti’s figurative universe.
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi