Ragusa || Italy
The closely-knit urban fabric of the upper section of the oldest part of Ragusa has a clear 19th-century feel, with longitudinal streets running parallel at different levels, following the natural slope of the land and tied together by a criss-cross of steps. The real architectural value of this area lies in the overall appearance formed by the aggregation of all the minor types of architecture with clear historical imprints. The current sequence of buildings is the result of combining or subdividing properties and sometimes even modifying the old connections between levels, which once tended to be divided between the ground floor production areas and the upper floor lodgings.
This was the case with the DCS House, where the bottom storey was dedicated to the manufacture of a traditional local cheese. The design by Giuseppe Guerrieri and Valentina Giampiccolo started with a careful analysis of the structure, exploring how it fitted into the surrounds and determining the modern living requirements of its users and the need for transformation. This ensured an overarching goal was defined against which all choices could be weighed to see if they produced living or quality improvements, or recognisable architectural features. Great emphasis was placed, for instance, on the need to achieve consistent quality in the living space that - due to ownership issues - is spread vertically across several floors.
As such, there was a need to find a solution to ensure privacy (the different levels of the adjacent houses and the narrow streets create a genuine issue on this front) and to work out a way to optimise natural light (e.g. the complete absence of sun on the ground made it poorly suited to being a living area). The solution adopted to was to create a courtyard by removing some volume from the section of the building facing onto the main street. Such a decision clearly reduces the living space, but it brings considerable benefits and creates innovative architectural elements, such as, a ‘filter' zone between the outer wall and the house, and a healthy space in which the inside-outside dynamic is fundamental.
Such a choice also managed to resolve the privacy issue as the actual living spaces are set further back from the street. Moreover, this is a space that receives plenty of sunshine, even in winter, through the openings in the south-facing wall. The new main entrance to the house is via the courtyard. The project is all about refined solutions and a concept centred on seeking elegance in creating the new spaces, the courtyard and the interiors. The courtyard crystallizes an attitude that sees rigorous composition as the best way to combine conservation and innovation. After all, a courtyard is an element taken from a well-established building tradition.
The designers also very smartly realised the essential nature of the new cross walls and cleverly revealed the structure of the original wall where the entrance is now located. The composition of the contemporary grids for the connecting balconies and the recovered bannisters, in sparkling art nouveau fashion, creates another notable element. Such methods enable the furniture and architectural elements to express the union of functionality and rigorous elegance, turning the space itself into a decorative expression. The courtyard is a place of light and light itself has a decorative function, projecting the shadows of the grids and banisters onto the walls that are deliberately kept clear to create space for the variations of light on the architecture.
This essential approach extends inside, where the designers privileged rational organisation by keeping existing elements (stairs and vaults) and introducing new essential metal connections. The kitchen, study, bedrooms and private bathrooms are slightly back from the wall facing the narrow street on the northern side because of the addition of a new flight of stairs and the placement of the bathroom on the upper floor. Practically, this means the wall on the coldest side of the building is no longer part of the living spaces. Instead, a sort of buffer area is created - one could almost call it a virtual air chamber - that is designed as a passage and not a stopping area.
The interiors are refined and elegant, marked by a careful balance between the reuse of materials and elements (tiles for the walls and floors, interior doors) and the inclusion of contemporary elements, such as the equipment and space layout (the wall unit in the kitchen, which hides a door; the bathrooms; a new connection between the rooms to create spatial sequences, with horizontal cross-cutting views and vertical glimpses). Natural light comes in through the courtyard and from an opening in the roof, providing overhead light for the study and vertical connections. The restoration is extremely rational in the way it transforms the living spaces, and the layout of spaces and volumes. Indeed, such is the extent of this approach that even the old cheese vats have been turned into tanks for collecting rainwater for sanitation and for watering the plants that decorate the outdoor areas.
Location: Ragusa, Italy
Gross Floor Area: 400 m2
Architects: Giuseppe Gurrieri, Valentina Giampiccoloa
Design Team: Valentina Occhipinti, Dario Gulino, Giulia Filetti
Contractor: Angelo Ferraro
Structural: Salvatore Campo, Giancarlo Dimartino, Alessandro Infantino
Fixed furniture: Linea Arredi
Lighting: La Luce di Marletta
Photography: © Filippo Poli
Born in Ragusa in 1977, Giuseppe Gurrieri graduated in architecture from the Politecnico di Milano. After graduation, he worked for some years with Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo’s practice in Vittoria. In 2008 he opened his own firm in Ragusa, which, with its team of young professionals, today focusses on private residential projects, including new builds, restorations, landscaping, and interior design. He works on projects in Sicily and Puglia, and also conducts research and teaches with Prof. Ori Merom, at the Faculty of Architecture of KTH University in Stockholm. In recent years, he has received several awards and honours, including third prize with Valentina Giampiccolo in the international competition Saie Selection in 2012, organized by BolognaFiere and Archi-Europe.
Valentina Giampiccolo was born in Ragusa in 1977 and graduated from the Syracuse Faculty of Architecture. After a stint with Ternullomelo in Lisbon, she returned to Ragusa, where she worked with a number of architecture offices. In 2009 she setup G U M with Giuseppe Minaldi in Ragusa, which, in addition to architectural projects, organizes and promotes activities in the area of the visual arts.a