• Itineraries

Vico Magistretti "Palladio in Brianza"


There is an unusual phrase in one of the few books in which Magistretti's work as an architect is methodically reviewed. The phrase sheds an interesting light on the construction of big villas chiefly in the Lombardy countryside: Magistretti is called "Palladio in Brianza" (Irace, 1999). He is believed to be the preferred architect of the new aristocracy - big families of courageous entrepreneurs - who began to colonise the Brianzolo territory (and other areas) by building modern ville di delizia (country retreats). The recurring distributive layouts and elements Vico used in their design became immediately recognisable and turned into his signature style. One of the dominant features of these architectural projects was the merger of design and architecture; this took place for the first time in a project which, surprisingly enough, was not a villa, but the famous Club House at the Golf Club Carimate. Its design not only generated a ‘lineage' of villas, but also led to the design of the Carimate Chair, named after the Club. It became one of his most famous designs and marked Magistretti's shift from one-off design to serial production (From one-off pieces to serial production path).

Lombardy-style Raumplam

The housing unit that emerged from that primordial project was a building in which the key role is played by vegetation and green areas (often designed by Elena Balsari Berrone); the house establishes a relationship with the vegetation by either exploiting or creating endless differences in height; this not only reduces its impact on the territory by camouflaging its imposing volumes, but also impacts heavily on its open layout thanks to huge terraces or continuous porticoes. This way the natural or built environment helps to creates a real domestic landscape inspired by Magistretti's profound admiration for Adolf Loos and his famous "Raumplan" which deconstructs the corridors and functions of a house and places them at different heights; this deconstruction is reflected in the huge volumetric arrangement of the buildings, for example Casa Bassetti at Azzate. Magistretti himself narrates its genesis: «I tackled the project (1960) bearing in mind the unique lie of the land, so that the building would not alter the surroundings with its old trees and a much younger pine wood at the flat end of the hill. I designed the house with floors at different heights so that it would be better suited to the steep terrain and allow suitable interpenetration of the rooms; by making each area absolutely independent, I created continuous volumes inside the building, thus revealing the complex, seamless layout of the spaces» (from Casa Bassetti project profile by Vico Magistretti). Magistretti used the same design plan (Plan of Casa Bassetti, 1961) for Casa Schubert at Ello, where «the shape of the flat end of the house (known as Il Roccolo) and the orientation of the landscape inspired the fan-shaped design of the Villa built on several levels; from the living room the view stretches out to the landscape in the distance» (from Casa Schubert project profile by Vico Magistretti). Another example is Casa Muggia at Barzana, isolated in the Bergamasque rather than Brianza countryside; its functional simplicity «inspired a linear plan with a series of varied, staggered volumes under pitched roofs so that the modest size of the spaces would create an expanded perspective thanks to the interlocking volumes and shafts of light entering from different places and different levels» (from Casa Muggia project profile by Vico Magistretti).

Maria Manuela Leoni