Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Francesco Berarducci's Brutalist Masterpiece: Villino Colli della Farnesina

It's tucked in the hills above the Palazzo Farnesina, the massive Fascist-era building that now serves as the nation's foreign policy center, but was once Fascist Party headquarters.

Less monumental but perhaps more striking, the Villino Colli della Farnesina hugs the street by the same name (no. 144).  The community is gated, but open for a tour on this particular Sunday, the 2nd day of the 5th edition of Open House Roma.

A gated community, but even the gate is cool brutalism.
The front.  Impressive verticality,
deteriorating concrete below.
RST had been looking for an outstanding example of Rome Brutalism--a style, look, and feel based on masses of raw concrete.  We had come to the right place.  There, at Palazzina 16, stood Berarducci's brutalist palazzo, somewhat the worse for wear--the building dates to 1969--but muscular, and even
majestic, still.  As our knowledgeable guide Elisa explained, the front of the building, despite its obvious weight, manages to project  an impressive verticality, while, as we shall see, the back emphasizes the horizontal.

Cantilevered front canopy, now supported by posts.  

The enormous, cantilevered canopy over the front entrance has suffered significant decay--its reinforcing steel bars (rebar) revealed here--to the point where it no longer can be depended on to hold itself up, and is now supported by construction posts.  That condition is likely permanent, since it seems doubtful that the building's owners would elect to finance the kind of high-tech reconstruction used to reinforce the sagging balcony at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Framed in red, that's the front, glass, door, hinged in
the center.

One enters the building through a center hallway that houses services--stairs and the elevator--for apartments on both sides.  The door to the hallway, like some others in the complex, is a single sheet of framed glass, perhaps 10 feet wide, that pivots in the center.

The Berarducci studio

Concrete-framed hole lets  in light, lightens load.

The Berarducci studio, now occupied by the architect's son--also an architect--is on the floor below, entirely below ground level but lit from the end by a large window that looks out onto a sloping garden, and by a large, round hole (in concrete, of course) that drops down into a square glass container with white stones below.  It not only brings in natural light, but lightens the load on the roof of the studio.

Berarducci (1924-1992) is described in the literature as "schivo" (secretive), and he spent most of his later years in this studio, avoiding theoretical debates while focusing on design and construction.

A stone path meanders around the east side of the building, revealing a projection that from inside seems to have no other purpose that to give the building shape and complexity.
Exterior projection right, in the trees.

Interior view/result of the exterior projection, above.
Tiered, Wright-like balconies--that is, like the massive balcony at Fallingwater--dominate the rear of the building, together emphasizing the horizontal line. They've been repaired and repainted,
unfortunately in a creamy color that doesn't match the raw concrete above, left unpainted.  While necessary (one of the balconies is held up with supports), the repairs and painting deprive this part of the building of some of its expressive power: it's no longer raw concrete, but something else.

A visit to a top floor apartment, originally Berarducci's, allows us to appreciate those balconies from inside, where the great expanses maintain their elegance.

The front door opens onto a very large, essentially square living room, slightly sunken; it reminded us of Don Draper's apartment in the Mad Men television series.  It's been poorly decorated--the remaining furniture is
Living Room
Showmanship in Concrete
almost comical--and painted in an uninteresting white, apparently to the tastes of its last tenant, an Egyptian.  The room to the right is more dramatically elevated.  Otherwise, the spaces seem rather ordinary.  The living room is the spectacular center of things.
A not-so-spectacular view of the living room, looking inward.
Bad art, bad decoration.

Church of San Valentino in the Olympic Village.

Berarducci's influences include Le Corbusier, Pier Luigi Nervi (his teacher at the university, where he graduated in 1950), Victor Morpungo, with whom he collaborated on the Torre Spaccato quartiere, Mario De Renzi, and postwar Scandinavian architects.  Most of his work was residential, including Rome palazzine in Via Cavalier D'Arpino and Via S. Giovanna Elisabetta.  He is perhaps best known for the church of San Valentino, in the Olympic Village (1962) and, especially, for the RAI center on Via Mazzini, apparently--though this is difficult to believe--the first all-steel structure in Rome.

The most famous concrete building in Rome is Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport, on RST's Top 40.

For more on concrete, see Adrian Forty, who lectured on the topic this year at the American Academy in Rome and has inspired RST to do more posts on this topic.


1 comment:

Richard Peterson said...

Marvellous stuff!
My taste precisely, but never heard of the architect or his building. More please.
Adrian Forty is excellent too.