New Home for Old Photos
A Villa Redesigned
What is now an open, airy space had originally been fragmented into many small rooms. The renovation design called for removal of internal walls and floor structure, leaving a hollow shell two stories tall and giving the architects a certain freedom in planning.
Now, spatial organization centers on two primary axes. The long axis is reinforced by continuous views from the entrances through office doors to windows at the building's end. The visual sequence of the working spaces makes them appear more spacious than they really are and allows visual contact between the administrative and viewing floors.
At right angles is another axis created by the new, cantilevered staircase of beech wood, framed by two walls of reinforced concrete painted with a natural clay-colored pigment.
In the words of architect Cinzia Abbate: "A fluid space was thus obtained in which the order imparted to the horizontal and vertical distribution of the various functions is immediately clear, and connections with the external environment are defined by air and light."
The construction of a new structural floor gave the architects the opportunity to realign and reshape the external openings. The size and position of each window were carefully determined with reference to the view afforded from each workplace. Although all the windows look onto taller neighboring buildings, every room offers a visual treat, whether it's a grove of bamboo, a frame of flourishing wisteria plants, or a retaining wall of volcanic rock.
The Indoor Environment
Within the building, daylight is plentiful despite coming primarily from the north. It reflects off the light-colored surfaces of furnishings and walls, and fills the viewing and work areas.
Metal micromesh screens, installed directly on the window frames, provide shade on sunny days, especially during the summer when the outdoor temperature peaks. The windows are also fitted with special highly transparent panes of low-emissivity ("low-e") glass, blocking over 90 percent of ultraviolet rays. Electric lighting becomes necessary only just before dusk.
The electricity needed to cool the storage room for negatives is also minimized through architectural planning. This room is located in the southern end of the building which, despite its orientation, is the most shaded.
Immediately to the south of the villa is a high wall that protects that face of the building from all direct sunlight. Natural air movement along ditch between the building and the wall keeps moisture off the building's south facade. The cold storage room also benefits from the thermal insulation created by the double wall supporting the original external staircase.
All these measures were calculated to take best possible advantage of the physical characteristics of the building and site. It is estimated that they will produce a savings of about 25 to 30 percent of electricity consumed by a similar, conventional facility.
In rebuilding the interior, the architects did not neglect the exterior. They played up the contrast between plastered surfaces and the peperino stone in the footings, projecting windowsills, and coping. Based on period photographs and their analysis of the layers of paint on the exterior walls, they restored the facade to its original light gray color typical of rationalist architecture, highlighting its compositional simplicity.
The result is a deceptively simple facade, housing a deceptively simple interior, which in turn houses a complex and invaluable treasure of photography.
B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.