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A Villa Veneta in the Asolo hills

(…)AND YET THE GRAND COUNTRY RESIDENCE, OR VILLA, CAPTURES OUR ATTENTION BECAUSE IT HAS, OVER THE CENTURIES, COME TO REPRESENT THE OPINIONS AND IDEAS OF A RANGE OF CULTURES ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TOWN AND COUNTRY, BETWEEN NATURE AND NURTURE, BETWEEN THE FORMAL AND THE INFORMAL. THE VILLA GIVES SHAPE TO UNIVERSAL HUMAN QUESTIONS”. This is an extract from a pie­ce writ­ten by James S. Acker­man for the cata­lo­gue for the Andrea Pal­la­dio e la vil­la Vene­ta da Petrar­ca a Car­lo Scar­pa exhi­bi­ti­on, held in 2005 in Vicen­za by the Cen­tro Inter­na­zio­na­le di Stu­di di Archi­tettu­ra Andrea Pal­la­dio in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with RIBA the Roy­al Insti­tu­te of Bri­tish Architects.

This was not, then, sim­ply an exhi­bi­ti­on about the Vil­la Vene­ta as an object fro­zen in the histo­ry of archi­tec­tu­re, but rather a stu­dy of it as a living orga­nism sur­vi­ving through the cen­tu­ries to beco­me emble­ma­tic of chan­ges in socie­ty, them­sel­ves repre­sen­ted by tho­se that com­mis­si­on the resi­den­ces and their archi­tects. Histo­ry has pro­vi­ded us with a con­cept of the Vil­la as a grand coun­try resi­dence immer­sed in natu­re and regar­ded as a pie­ce of archi­tec­tu­re that repres­ents its time. Natu­re and Archi­tec­tu­re have always been part of a sin­gle who­le in the defi­ni­ti­on of what we per­cei­ve as The Land­s­cape, and this is par­ti­cu­lar­ly true in the his­to­ri­cal evo­lu­ti­on of the Vil­la Vene­to from which we still see fea­tures that cha­rac­te­ri­se the­se resi­den­ces over time: the for­mal and visu­al rela­ti­ons­hip with the sur­roun­ding coun­try­si­de, whe­ther flat or hil­ly, the man­ner in which the house is laid out and the pro­spects of the coun­try­si­de pro­vi­ded by this lay­out, the monu­men­tal cha­rac­ter of the work, the buil­ding mate­ri­als used, and much more bes­i­des. All of the­se are design solu­ti­ons which are con­cep­tual­ly simi­lar but which are sty­listi­cal­ly repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of their times. A modern Vil­la should, as in the past, tell us some­thing about our­sel­ves, about the archi­tects and the peop­le who com­mis­si­on the­se resi­den­ces, tog­e­ther see­king in the coun­try­si­de an ide­al archi­tec­tu­ral model for living.

In the heart of the Vene­to, bet­ween the Dolo­mi­te moun­tains and the sea, the­re is a uni­que area bor­de­ring with the river Pia­ve to the north and the river Bren­ta to the south. This is the Mar­ca di Tre­vi­so, an area as anci­ent as it is lovely, descri­bed as far back as 1200 as “mar­ca gioio­sa et amo­ro­sa” (a joy­ful and loving place). The his­to­ric Mar­ca has now beco­me, more or less, the Pro­vin­ce of Tre­vi­so. The area has under­go­ne signi­fi­cant eco­no­mic growth over the last few deca­des, growth which has pro­found­ly alte­red the land­s­cape through the con­struc­tion of many, too many perhaps, manu­fac­tu­ring and indus­tri­al zones. And yet, in almost roman­tic defi­an­ce, Beau­ty still holds out in small, anci­ent cities fil­led with art rea­dy to sur­pri­se and delight even the wea­riest tra­vel­ler. Towns and cities nest­led in an extra­or­di­na­ry hills­i­de land­s­cape, plan­ted with oli­ve trees and vines and fed by a uni­que micro­cli­ma­te. This micro­cli­ma­te comes from the shel­te­ring effect of the Grap­pa ran­ge which pro­tects the area from the cold Dolo­mi­te winds. Mon­te Grap­pa its­elf pro­vi­des the sno­wy peaks that bring the spe­cial light which is the defi­ning fea­ture of works by Gior­gio­ne di Cas­tel­fran­co Vene­to and Cima di Cone­glia­no. It is against this remar­kab­le back­drop that a uni­que archi­tec­tu­ral pro­ject has taken shape. A pro­ject whe­re an aban­do­ned hills­i­de has been brought back to life and whe­re the Vil­la and the hills­i­de have beco­me one through the use of shapes and mate­ri­als which ful­ly respect the sur­roun­ding landscape.

The way the buil­ding plan is laid out, fol­lowing the con­tours of the hill, gene­ra­tes a sym­metri­cal fan-shaped form which as it turns pro­vi­des con­stant­ly chan­ging pro­spects of the sur­roun­ding coun­try­si­de. The buil­ding has two floo­rs, both par­ti­al­ly inser­ted into the hills­i­de, the upper floor being set back so as to fol­low the line of the hills­i­de. The faca­de of the buil­ding on both levels is then angled so it too fol­lows the line of the hills­i­de. The result is that from whe­re­ver the Vil­la is obser­ved it blends into its sur­roun­dings, allowing the eye to tra­vel unin­ter­rup­ted along the line of the hill.

The lay­out of the floo­r­plan pro­vi­des for three zones made up of a lar­ge, par­ti­al­ly dou­ble-height, cen­tral area and two zones laid out sym­metri­cal­ly on eit­her side. This is a respect­ful homage to the lay­out of a clas­sic Andrea Pal­la­dio vil­la, yet adap­ted to our time and to its par­ti­cu­lar loca­ti­on. To the eye the ground floor roof is per­me­ab­le to the land­s­cape as it is made up of two lar­ge ter­races sepa­ra­ted by a glass struc­tu­re. The second floor roof flows unin­ter­rup­ted into the hills­i­de as it has been plan­ted with the same grass that grows on the hill. The front of the buil­ding is domi­na­ted by four monu­men­tal woo­den beams which rise ver­ti­cal­ly from the ground and fold back into the line of the roof. The­se ele­ments sec­tion up the front of the buil­ding sym­metri­cal­ly and frame the ent­ran­ce, once again recal­ling the tra­di­tio­nal model of the clas­sic Vil­la, which pre­sen­ted a solid three­di­men­sio­nal block onto which a faca­de was atta­ched (Pal­la­dio used this tech­ni­que to pay homage to the clas­sic temp­le). Seen from the side, the beams reve­al them­sel­ves to be struc­tu­ral sup­ports for the woo­den slab which forms the roof of the open-plan ground floor. The­se woo­den ele­ments are made up of load-bea­ring glu­lam beams around which the­re is an empty space desi­gned to accom­mo­da­te the drain­pipes, which remain invi­si­ble, and also the hard­ware con­nec­ting the exte­rior clad­ding, made from she­ets of heat-trea­ted ash.

Fol­lowing in an almost for­got­ten anci­ent buil­ding tra­di­ti­on, the stone used throughout the pro­ject is taken from the rocks remo­ved from the hills­i­de during con­struc­tion of the foun­da­ti­ons. Ston­e­ma­sons from the local Grap­pa area skil­led in the anci­ent tra­di­ti­ons of marb­le cut­ting and working cut the lar­ge gol­den blocks of stone – for­med from anci­ent gla­cial sedi­ment – using water saws. They pro­du­ced stone slabs in a ran­ge of sizes which were then hand bea­ten to crea­te the raw, iri­de­scent sur­face which adorns the walls of the vil­la, both insi­de and out. The front of the Vil­la pres­ents four full-height glass and steel moto­len­ri­sed win­dows, incli­ned to the same ang­le as the faca­de. This solu­ti­on requi­red a spe­ci­fic design pro­ject from the archi­tect and com­plex manu­fac­tu­ring solu­ti­ons from a com­pa­ny of inter­na­tio­nal­ly renow­ned spe­cia­list artis­ans based in the area. In kee­ping with the phi­lo­so­phy of main­tai­ning a con­nec­tion with clas­sic coun­try resi­den­ces, a strikin­gly con­tem­pora­ry glass-enc­lo­sed area sits sym­metri­cal­ly bet­ween the two lar­ge cen­tral beams. On the insi­de, this dou­ble-height space, along­side floor-moun­ted glass sec­tions, ensu­res that natu­ral light from abo­ve flows down to the ground floor. This glass and steel struc­tu­re is used in win­ter to house the plants which spend the sum­mer on the lar­ge ter­races, shaded by woo­den bri­se soleil. The insi­de pres­ents fur­ther examp­les of local artis­anal excel­lence with all plas­te­ring done using

Stuc­co Vene­zia­no, a tech­ni­que much loved by reve­r­ed archi­tect Car­lo Scar­pa. The bes­po­ke inter­nal fur­nis­hing solu­ti­ons were made by a local car­pen­ter, while the steel and wood stairs and rai­lings were made in a spe­cia­list work­shop. The buil­ding is rated in Class A for ener­gy con­sump­ti­on which is the result of care­ful rese­arch into the ther­mal insu­la­ti­on of the vil­la and of the design – by the pro­ject archi­tect – of a con­tem­pora­ry-sty­led open-sided sto­rage buil­ding which has a sta­te-of-the-art PV sys­tem on its cano­py roof. This buil­ding is used to house the agri­cul­tu­ral machine­ry and equip­ment used to main­tain the old oli­ve gro­ve which had fal­len into a sta­te of aban­don. The reco­very of this oli­ve gro­ve is a key part of the over­all pro­ject and, once com­ple­te, will bring back a pie­ce of the tra­di­tio­nal land­s­cape to the Aso­lo area.

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ist eine italienische Architektin und Mitglied des Architects Registration Board UK (ARB) sowie des Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Cattaneo ist auf zeitgenössische Projekte und deren Anpassung an ihre jeweilige natürliche und kulturelle Umgebung spezialisiert. Seit Kurzem arbeitet sie an Infrastrukturprojekten in der Landschaftsgestaltung nach den Prinzipien der Smart City. Sie ist diplomierte Flötistin mit Abschluss am Conservatorio Venezze in Rovigo und hat ein technisches Diplom für Akustisches Design am Institut für Akustik der Fakultät für Design, Universität Ferrara (Italien), erlangt.

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