A Theatre of Shapes

A Theatre of Shapes


Piadena (CR)





A detached town-house at Piadena, a small town out in the Cremona plain. The building stands in an architecturally nondescript built-up area which suggested the guiding theme of privacy: it develops on low horizontal lines. The plans by Giorgio Palù play on proportions and inventiveness of shape: space and materials are subtly interconnected. No features particularly arrest the attention: the image is built up by degrees and juxtaposition, a combination of details and use of space in an act of delicate introspection. What predominates in the layout is the central hall running right through the north-south elevation, and off this hall the various parts of the ensemble fan out. Though these parts are clearly differentiated and recognizable in their function or inner logic, there is no sense of a jumble of separate nuclei but a sophisticated kind of distinction within a unity of composition and image. This organically unified effect is rendered from the outside by the faint colour differences that tend to one homogeneous palate.

The texture of the outside walls varies in consistency and treatment. The main bodies of the house alternate between smooth white architectural concrete with grooved horizontal lines running across it; render differing in look and consistency (fine skim, rough cast, pebbledash) used to create curving swathes of juxtaposed colour and textural differences in explicit tribute to Alberto Burri and his informal poetics; walls clad in ‘crazy’ stone. Knobs of stone project along the wall faces. And besides the combination of materials and wall surface treatment, there are two sheets of metal finished in gloss and matt horizontal strips: one on the western side forming the garage up-and-over door, and on the east a sliding outer panel protecting the guest-room french-windows (it opens the room up to the garden, visually and literally, jutting from the perimeter when open to form a sort of end stop). Visually and functionally, the complex contains some remarkable shapes; symmetries are broken, points of architectural convergence created.

The corridor shaft off which the various rooms lead (bathrooms and kitchen, drawing room, two bedrooms) forms a tunnel of light. Inside it the eye embraces the whole length of the house; light-coloured walls and floors reflect back natural or artificial lighting; the windows onto the outside dematerialise the space as light floods in. Doors to more secluded rooms (bedrooms, bathrPalùooms, the kitchen) merge into walls so that only the play of light is registered. This shaft of light runs from the glazed entrance-hall right through to where it frames the distant garden feature of an aged tree, and all the way accompanied by light off water: the pool flanking the northern entrance path, the swimming bath on the western side, the water feature that appears on the southern edge of the complex. Either side of the corridor lies the main bulk of the residence which is all windows onto the exterior, funnelling still more light into the interior layout and expanding the living space out of doors – an effect enhanced by the unbroken stone flagging running throughout.

Off the tunnel of light to the east we have the sitting-room, connected by sliding windows to the garden and pool and itself forming a scenic backdrop (since the window is framed on the outside by a raggedly fretted cornice) as well as a place of secluded concentration; to the west a window opens onto a patio sheltered by a small curving white cement canopy pierced by round portholes. Visually, the east-west axis is a convergence of transparency: it slices through the building and forms a dynamic concentration of opposite effects: there is a sprawling and apparently centrifugal air to the layout, yet an overall ordering principle preserves the sense of unity. Separate yet related in its details, the composition is a thing of subtle touches mixed with simplifying linearity – different faces of one and the same architectural quest – in the whole and in the part; and the same message is conveyed by the slits and openings in inner and outer walls, the osmotic link between indoors and outdoors, and the unexpected visual ‘takes’ as one surprise gives way to another.

Giorgiò Palù Architetto