Enclosed within Turin’s rigid orthogonal grid lies the city’s oldest nucleus, the Quadrilatero Romano, whose more tightly knit road system was laid out by the ancient Romans. The extension of the original Roman settlement is still clearly visible today from the change in section and character of the streets and squares just beyond the Roman Quarter.
Along Via Cernaia, the street forming the southern border of the old quarter, La Marmora gardens stand in front of Palazzo della Luce, a monumental eclectic early 20th-Century building echoing Palazzo Madama by Filippo Juvarra in nearby Piazza Castello. The sumptuously ornamented façade topped with magnificent sculptures, the elegant atrium, grand staircases and exquisite materials put it on a par with the best of Turin’s Baroque palazzi. Designed in 1915 by architect Ceresa as the headquarters of a bank, the building had a chequered history right from the start, changing hands as early as 1925 even before completion to become the offices of SIP, Piedmont’s Hydroelectric Company, which completed the building and used it as offices. Indeed it was from Palazzo della Luce that the very first public radio broadcasts in Italy were made. With the nationalization of the energy industry in the 1960s, the building became the property of the state company, Enel, until its recent purchase by a realty group, which commissioned the restoration and adaptive re-use project.
The Turin firm Peter Jaeger Architetti followed the project from the preliminary feasibility studies through to execution. Of the many possibilities mooted, the choice fell on the plan to turn Palazzo della Luce’s 21,000 sq. m into a mix of state-of-the-art offices, facilities open to the public, and exclusive residential units.
The sumptuous original architecture and its central position made the building the obvious choice for prestigious offices and venues but also for high-end urban residences. In fact, the new offices and public utilities on the ground and first floor, and luxury urban housing on the upper levels have revitalized an important piece of the intricate mosaic that is the old city center of Turin.
Yet while the idea of refurbishing a building originally intended as a bank to accommodate offices and services raised few eyebrows, the proposal to include luxury urban villas and apartments on the upper floor of Palazzo della Luce was initially less obvious. When questioned about the advantages of high-end inner-city residential units, the architects listed five things: centrality, security, parking, available services, and ample open private spaces.
Twelve residential units have been created within the precinct of Palazzo della Luce, each with its own outdoor area. The lofts give on to ample same-level patios; the vertical townhouses have rooftop gardens, while the urban villas have generous outdoor spaces on several levels. The original rigid static design was thoroughly revised to allow an increase of usable cubic meters in full compliance with all current regulations. The new statics also allowed layout variability and personalization of the private areas.
The program makes a clear distinction between old and new. The original forms, heights and stone roofs have all been maintained while the new elements have contemporary finishes and employ materials like steel, timber and glass. The different combination of details, geometric layout and heights allowed customized solutions but also energy efficiency, with an end result that is aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable in the long term. The private units have been completed with 50 parking bays placed on two underground levels, as well as a residents-only fitness area.
The Palazzo della Luce renovation project is extremely innovative for a conservative city like Turin, once the capital of the House of Savoy, which became Italy’s ruling monarchy on the country’s unification. The intervention has picked up on the new trend of a return to the city by the wealthy, who traditionally reside in the hills overlooking the city. The apartments in Palazzo della Luce have been taken up as an opportunity to enjoy city life in a contemporary luxury setting discreetly concealed behind the façade of what seems an imposing historical building.
The project is also an example of a broader, more complex vision of the city where densification does not mean further land occupation and public transport takes precedence over private vehicles. The 1,600 sq. m
of rooftop gardens also add to the green surface area of the city, helping to create beneficial microclimates and taking the city another step towards being a sustainable pleasurable place to live in.