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Lina Malfona

BUILDING THE LANDSCAPE Residential Pavilions in the Roman Countryside

05 Collana Alleli / Project Scientific commitee Edoardo Dotto Nicola Flora Antonella Greco Bruno Messina Stefano Munarin Giorgio Peghin – The volumes published in this series are subjected to a peer-review process

ISBN 978-88-6242-317-5 First edition June 2018 © LetteraVentidue Edizioni © Lina Malfona All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, even for internal or educational use. Italian legislation only allows reproduction for personal use and provided it does not damage the author. Therefore, reproduction is illegal when it replaces the actual purchase of a book as it threatens the survival of a way of transmitting knowledge. Photocopying a book, providing the means to photocopy, or facilitating this practice by any means is like committing theft and damaging culture. If it had been made mistakes or omissions concerning the copyrights of the illustrations, we will gladly fix it in the next reprint. Graphic design: Stefano Perrotta Cover: Malfona Petrini Architetti, Villa C, interior (ph. by Matteo Benedetti) LetteraVentidue Edizioni S.r.l. Corso Umberto I, 106 96100 Siracusa Web: Facebook: LetteraVentidue Edizioni Twitter: @letteraventidue Instagram: letteraventidue_edizioni

Lina Malfona

BUILDING THE LANDSCAPE Residential Pavilions in the Roman Countryside

FOREWORD Franco Purini


rchitecture’s current situation — both on the local level, in relation to individual design cultures, and on the global level — is dominated by three hegemonic tendencies: a pervasive neofunctionalism; a cross between high-tech and Germano Celant’s archisculpture, a building method that unites sculptural investigations and neo-futurist themes; and landscapism. All of these have emerged in the new climate generated by the digital era. Neofunctionalism, however, is not explicitly termed as such. Instead, it is called sustainability — that is, respect for the environment, energy-saving initiatives, decisions to draw upon renewable sources of energy, smart cities. These elements result in a service-centric world that, even as it becomes more complex and interactive, reveals itself to be reductive in the face of the true complexity of the architectural phenomenon. High-tech and architecture have established a solid alliance in which electronic instruments provide easy solutions to plastic or sculptural issues, and these instruments’ contributions to architecture have often been mistaken as architectural ends in and of themselves. Finally, landscape has made the notions of territory, city, and edifice its own by putting itself forward as a totalizing category in which environmental values extend to every aspect of construction. In the meantime, the field of architecture is living through a crisis of criticism that seems to have stretched on for an unreasonable amount of time. Indeed, criticism has changed: from a judgment capable of guiding research to a mere presentation of products considered to be of some interest. Thus, criticism has misplaced its most authentic and urgent end. This situation has reached a considerable extreme. It has almost entirely eliminated what has been recognized, over time, as a primary element, nay, the primary element of architecture: the representation of the most elevated and invariable contents of architecture in its capacity as the generative element of human habitation. We can perceive human habitation as an endless, humanistic story that contains the narration of numerous converging and conflicting events, the description of private and public buildings, its own memory of itself, and an idea of the future — all of which confer a full and adventurous sense to community life. In the face of the thematic richness of habitation, the technical dimension of construction has gradually eliminated the BUILDING THE LANDSCAPE



Everything I want to see is inside that window.


his book contains a series of reflections, analyses, and design experiments centered around the freestanding, single-family home. It focuses in particular on a number of projects completed during the first ten years of the Malfona Petrini studio, from 2007 to 2017. The story of this small architecture firm, which has built seven houses in the countryside north of Rome over the past ten years, becomes an opportunity to reflect on the role of authoriality in contemporary design. These houses respond to a series of issues — such as the relationship between architectural and landscape forms, between architecture and engineering, and the ways that digital technologies influence forms of inhabiting the countryside — by showing new perspectives on the construction of the Italian landscape. I must specify that the contents of this book lay out a path for our designs that is, as of yet, incomplete; it merely summarizes the first phase of a much vaster project. Despite the partial view that this book offers of the studio’s work — which should perhaps, be read in relation to other projects that are currently under construction, for a more complex understanding of its evolution — my intent is to present the reader with a series of single-family homes that explore common themes.



Los Angeles, Bel Air Road / Formello, Via delle Sodera Los Angeles, Copa de Oro Road / Formello, Via della Villa Los Angeles, Copa de Oro Road / Formello, Via della Villa

Although the suburban villa emerged from the introverted nature of the productive villa – in the tradition of the estates at the gates of Rome, where entire families lived and worked – the closed nature of these villas on the edge of Rome is merely meant to dissuade burglars: in fact, the risk of break-ins is still high in these areas. Ultimately, however, the push to build defensive scenery appears to be a mere counterfeit attempt at protection: all of Formello is built on hills that slope into fossi, or trenches, that cut through the terrain like the ancient Etruscan forre celebrated by Paolo Portoghesi (whose house museum can be found in nearby Calcata).6 Given the peculiar orography of the region, if one views the community from the other side of the hill one is often able to admire the sweeping view of those gardens, barricaded by hedges where they meet the street. Thus, the residents’ desire to protect themselves from the outside probably derives from the old practice of safeguarding one’s property from government administrators, who may attempt to expropriate the land in order to build some public facility or – even worse – a road! Formello Style Formello – northern Rome – is dotted with a number of undeniably valuable buildings: the house and accompanying observatory that Sergio Musmeci (the engineer famous for designing the bridge over the Basento) built for himself in Monte Madonna, and the elementary school designed by Sapienza professor Sergio Lenci, which the community was, unfortunately, considering tearing down just a few years ago. Along with these artistically significant buildings, we can find, not far from the center, a villa that Sergio Lenci with Roberto Leonori, Primary was often used as a film set for cult, erotSchool in Formello, 1965 ic, and comedy movies: this hodgepodge of architectural styles was designed by the Ischian architect and chef Sandro Petti, the inventor of the legendary “spaghetti alla puttanesca.” Formello actually has quite an excellent culinary reputation in northern Rome, since it boasts a large number of decent high-end establishments: from total white minimalist gourmet restaurants to more rustic locales that serve a limited number of dishes selected according to the demand for them and clients’ tastes, which are often closely tied to local traditions. A few strategically located places, where the public life of Formello takes place, divide the town: the small, quaint historic center, famous for the wine cellars dug directly into the limestone, open to the public



Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, project for Le pavillon des Cercles (Atelier des Tonneliers), Chaux

Towards an open rationalism Although Leon Battista Alberti’s idea of perfection came out of statuary and out of fixed scenes, from Michelangelo onwards the poetry of architecture has been expressed through the unfinished, or open, nature of the architectural project. The philosophy of design that informed these works is founded on Edgar Morin’s concept of rationalité ouverte, a method that recognizes the limits of reason, faces contradictions head-on, and is open even to the irrational or a-rational. Beyond rationalism, Aufklärung and rasion-Lumière – which, according to Morin, lack vitality – rationalité ouverte includes everything that classical reason excludes: disorder, uncertainty, ambiguity, contradiction.10 This inclusion results in a complex rationality, where singularity and individuality coexist with the universal, where abstraction does not exclude concreteness, where the Baudelairean gifts of calm, luxury and sensual pleasure can be as present as design choices based on functionality and affordability. That which can be defined (through a willfully inexact translation) as open rationalism, holds together not only the geometry of form and the geography of landscape but also the doubled, schizophrenic I. Conflict – understood as a state of interior tension – characterizes my early designs, which are never totally conceptual or contextual, but rather enigmatic: a geometry of impossible forms.11 This architecture is hard, unyielding and porous at the same time; deep ideological roots support it, but they are hidden in the earth. It grows with levity, challenging tradition without leaving it behind completely. The lightness to which it aspires is not equivalent to superficiality. Taking root/Moving across The philosophy behind the design of the residential pavilions in Formello is founded on the dichotomy between taking root and moving across, the relationship between the geography of place and the geometry of space. Taking root is, above all, a process that acts on a given space. During this process this space is not merely understood as a physical territory, a context, a collection of facts that precede the design; the space’s history and memory are also taken into account. Taking root can only be effective when the design’s lens frames the space and decodes it as a series of figures of rootedness. Reading the landscape as if it were a series of archetypal figures or elements – an analogical accumulation – allows us to grasp and encapsulate its characteristics, and to view them as active elements of the design procedure – as topoi – rather than mere traces. The abstraction process through which the architect detaches these figures from their current time and place in order to transfer them into an atemporal dimension defines a second stage of context-processing. In this phase, the figures of rootedness can be used in a purified



The architecture in the mirror Malfona Petrini, Houses for Drones (2017)

words, structures gifted with superstructures. Think of the way Palladio used the pronaos in his villa, the Rotonda, where the pronaos becomes the archetypal sign of the house, attached to the house itself in order to highlight its sacred nature. Furthermore, the pronaos is quadruplicated in this residence, and thus can be viewed as the house’s hypothetical second shell: a virtual, conceptual shell, similar to the frame-like structures that defined Peter Eisenman’s cardboard houses.19 The shell also represents the ambiguity between covering and disguise, between envelopment and encapsulation. The house that Frank O. Gehry built for himself in Santa Monica stages this ambivalence. This example, in which dressing becomes wrapping, highlights the possibilities and limits of envelopment. This design’s degree of ambiguity can be measured by the fact that certain critics view it as a fully postmodern work, whereas others point to it as one of the first deconstructivist projects.20 The design makes the difference between theatricality and theatralization clear – a distinction first brought to light by Gevork Hartoonian in his text Crisis of the Object: The Architecture of Theatricality (2006). In the preface to the book, according to Kenneth Frampton, the theme of theatricality can be illustrated through a drawing by Schinkel that depicts the cityscape seen from the Altes Museum’s peristyle: a landscape framed by architecture.21 Gehry’s house resists this concept of theatricality, and uses the shell as not merely a frail peristyle or a pale, glassy, rationalist shrine, but rather as a space that allows the house to expand in order to become a spectacular, baroque object – a jewelry box that is decidedly more extravagant than the object it contains. Charles Moore adopted a procedure of envelopment that was similar to Gehry’s while, at the same time, differing in some key ways. Moore developed an architectural theory that views the house itself as the container of smaller objects placed inside it. Each of these objects is a kind of tabernacle – or, more specifically, a remnant of the compitum, the small chapel where the ancient Romans worshipped their Lari, the divine protectors of the hearth. As Jorge Otero-Pailos has observed, these objects are a materialization of Eucharistic architecture, a theory that Moore had borrowed from his mentor John Labatut.22 In the house that Moore built for himself in Orinda, California, he actually built an architecture based on aediculae in a design that is the opposite of Gehry’s: an introverted architecture that elaborates the archetypal image of the hearth and the aedicula, or small shrine. These shrines became the shrunken, ossified copy of the outside, a kind of microcosmos that derives from the monastic tradition of seclusion and isolation, which was understood to be a necessary step in reaching spiritual fullness. If, on the one hand, Moore’s design views architecture as a protected object that is gradually revealed, the artistic expressivity of Gehry’s house allows for immediate recognition.



Lina Malfona, Frames 01 (2010)



This design stages a sacred conversation between the architecture and the landscape. The architecture wordlessly tells the story of the landscape through lines that trace borders and frame figures. Large openings pierce the twin houses on the hill, so that one can gaze out and frame the shadows and horizons of the countryside all around the ancient city of Vejo, visible from a given vantage point. The houses themselves are made of concrete, three floors high with an L-shaped floor plan that allows them to be expanded over time. The lowest floor, the basement, contains the service spaces. The ground floor is, instead, the core of the house: it includes a living room with a portico, and a study. The bedroom, along with a balcony and a sunroom, are located on the second floor. The east wing of the houses looks out onto the patio, which is cut off by the pool. Its irregular form is striking against the otherwise square, right-angled patio. The patio, which can become a space for concerts for a musician resident, is visibly connected to the rest of the house, and the metaphysical presence of the fireplace hood presides over this area. The idea of constructing spaces that are contained within the folds of parting walls and interstitial spaces emerges from two needs: first, to shield the residence from sunlight, and second, to increase its surface area through the use of covered external spaces. The roof of the houses is covered in sheets of travertine, and is pierced by a large hole where the solarium is located. Solar panels and solar thermal collectors can also be found on the roof.




Exterior views



Drawing and exterior view

The greenhouse



Diagrams of the building process

I and II expansion



Lifting Operation, Brisbane, the Australian house (2015)

Exterior view Idea for a future expansion



Lina Malfona, Frames 03 (2012)


FINESTRE SUL FIUME (3 Houses for drones) FORMELLO, 2012-2017

The iconography of the Sacred Conversation is a depiction of the Virgin and Child, surrounded by a group of saints. Similarly to the Adoration of the Magi, and the Birth of Christ, the characters are enclosed within an architectural frame, which is in turn surrounded by a partial view of a landscape. The Sacred Conversation is thus the representation, the mise-en-scène of a dialogue that occurs between figures, architectures, and landscapes, wrapped up in each other. This project proposes a translation of the themes of the Sacred Conversation, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Birth of Christ from the field of art to that of architecture, in order to investigate a particular type of dwelling: the residential pavilion built around a central nucleus or core, surrounded by a structure that envelops it. This residential complex, made up of three villas in the Roman countryside, rereads the idea of the pavilion as a lightweight structure that supports a butterfly roof (from the Latin papilionem, ‘butterfly’). The inspirations for these three houses are the open-air exhibition pavilion, the little theaters and small buildings that can be found in parks, like the newsstands, kiosks, shrines, and aviaries that frequently pop up in Rome’s Villa Borghese.



Villa B. Exterior views and drawings



Villa C. Drawing

Villa C. Exterior and interior views



Lina Malfona’s book uses her unique insight and knowledge to present lively and profound architectural ideas. With her series of case study homes she magically turns Formello into the shining architectural landscape of an unpredicted Upstate Rome. Her designs, paired with her texts, bring the long-neglected idea of the single-family home back into play within Italian architectural culture. Pippo Ciorra Professor in Architectural Design, Scuola di Architettura, Università di Camerino

With a group of scattered residences, the Malfona Petrini studio has created an archipelago of hope on the hills of Lazio. Framing unspoiled landscapes with their incisive geometry, these houses carry a message of rigor and poetry which shapes an optimistic alternative to the sprawling suburbs. Jean-Louis Cohen Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

€ 18,00


By Lina Malfona


By Lina Malfona