For bergmeisterwolf architekten, a firm based in Italy’s northern Alto Adige region, before a project becomes a tangible reality there has to be a thorough investigation of the place where the new architecture is to be located. This fact-finding phase is then the basis for experimentation to “reconstruct” the original context, in the knowledge, however, that any intervention will change both its characteristics and image.
Here, research centered on the forms, materials, and colors present in the area in order to ensure that the new architecture would blend with its surroundings and guarantee continuity between manmade features and the natural landscape. For bergmeisterwolf, architecture must complement and be part of its context even if its very presence will inevitably remodel the original scene.
Commissioned by two sisters, Elisabeth and Katharina, the building had to house two separate homes, one for each sister. Especially, it had to express their very different characters.
The house is just outside Varna, a little town north of Bressanone, in the valley leading to the Brenner Pass linking Italy with Austria, on the road that follows the west bank of the river Isarco. The area is of one small factories, retail outlets, and residential buildings but also of open fields under till. Beyond this roadside strip, open meadowland gives way to vineyards on the lower slopes, which in turn give way to woodlands higher up.
The very dual nature of the brief became the pivot of the whole program and the key to enabling form and volume to slip into the setting, relating not only to the nearby road but also to the wider mountain landscape. The double-pitched roof, the two contrasting materials of the façade, and the outdoor areas assigned to each residence give form and consistency to the double-sided aspect of the building that both clients and architects wanted to be clearly visible in every feature of the house.
The building traditions of the typical masi, or farmhouses, nearby are echoed in the compactness of volume, small windows and steeply pitched roofs, each feature re-elaborated in a contemporary light but still respecting the different tastes of the two sisters. The two rooftops symbolize the two clients. They in fact comprise a traditional-style pitched roof and “false” sloping elements enclosing a large roof terrace.
The other features denoting the presence of Elisabeth and Katharina under the same roof are the strikingly different façade materials showing clearly the internal division of the house into two dwelling units. Black timber slats cover the short side facing the road and the whole roof. The slats become widely spaced when they turn into the terrace enclosure. Concrete bricks clad the lower part of the volume facing the mountains. The different materials are further highlighted by different openings: small and flush on the black timber wall, and large recessed loggias on the concrete façade.
Similarly, the outdoor spaces leading to the separate entrances of the two houses are also designed to mark out the differences between the two clients. One unit has a ground floor garden directly outside a large loggia facing the meadowland and mountains. The other has a secluded top floor roof garden, hidden behind one of the sloping roofs.
The internal distribution ensures that each residence is entirely independent but also that each has the same surface area and spatial articulation. Duplex units both, they fit one into the other. The night zone is on the first floor in both cases, while the living areas differ totally. The residence occupying the ground and part of the first floor is closely connected to the outside. Deep loggias give direct access to the garden, and are also key to the spatial layout of both kitchen and living room. A staircase leads to the first floor and two bedrooms - each with its own loggia - and services.
The distribution of the other residence - on the first and second floors - is the other way around. Here, everything is shielded from the outside world. A ground floor staircase leads to the first floor night zone with two bedrooms, of which only the master bedroom has a very large loggia. The second and last floor houses the day zone that opens out onto the shielded roof garden.
Inside, colors and materials again reflect the difference personalities of the inhabitants. White walls and light-colored wood characterize the first, alternating darker shades the second.
The mutual trust between clients and architects made for much fruitful collaboration, which has produced an architecture that achieves a consummate balance between its very different parts.