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Italo Rota

Italo Rota

Being co-author of the Gare d’Orsay in Paris, along with Gae Aulenti, has proved a blessing and a liability for Italo Rota. A blessing, since such a high-profile job doesn’t come one’s way every day. A liability because the Gare d’Orsay is an architectural collage: a distinctly post-modern operation hovering between irony that doesn’t quite come off and neo-monumentalism that smacks of marzipan. Various important museum projects would follow, including the Louvre; town planning designs for Nantes; and interiors, such as the Lugano casino. But to my mind Rota’s singular talent has only recently blossomed with the mediatheques he has designed at Anzola dell’Emilia and San Sisto, Perugia: two of the best things built in Italy these last few years. Though they achieve the same result, the two are complementary: each plays on a different formal register. Anzola is all straight lines, prisms in the form of rooms that lock into each other; San Sisto curves until it resembles a flying saucer, inside which the rooms link together by gap spaces specially designed to enhance communication from one zone to the next, as well as optimising lighting, especially from above. In both cases some engaging spaces have been created, what might be called a domestic effect. We are light years removed from the daunting libraries of the past with their anonymous reading rooms and geometrical table layout. At Anzola and San Sisto users are free to search and browse where they like. What prevails is the kind of empathy between body and room design that lent fascination to many a northern European building when we here were lost in the great glacial, box-like, military-academy-style halls of power dreamt up by such as Aldo Rossi, Giorgio Grassi and Vittorio Gregotti, or worse still, their followers. In Rota’s domestic strategy a special place is reserved for sensuality: the use of colour, see-through effects, fluidity of form. Not the primary colours of neo-purism, but a great gamut from...

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