Page B1.2 . 15 July 2009                     
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    QUIZ

    The Revolving Villa

    continued

    On the exterior walls, Invernizzi substituted aluminum sheet for the original cement finish when cracks appeared after the first trial rotations. As the foundation settled and the rotating mechanism was tested, small cracks also developed along the interior plaster walls of the moving part. Invernizzi concealed the damage by finishing the walls with a canvas covering, which provided a textural, handcrafted counterpoint to the sleek exterior skin.

    Moving (through the) House

    To move through the house is to experience a series of transitions, from heavy to light, from dim to bright, from ceremonial and public to intimate and private, and from traditional to modern.

    Through the entry at the base of the monumental stucco podium is a hallway that burrows into the hillside. Approaching the tower base, the hall gradually fills with sunlight bounced from the windows and glass tiles far above. A spiral staircase twists along the tower wall, snaking around an open cage elevator that makes quick work of the distance between the podium's lower floor and the moving part's upper level.

    On the first floor of the V-shaped moving part, the environment changes to one more intimate and informal. This floor is the "day zone," with a dining room on the end of one wing and a music room at the other. In between are Mr. and Mrs. Invernizzi's studies and a smoking room. Service rooms, including the kitchen, pantry, cloakroom, and toilet, are tucked into corners near the tower. The second floor features a series of bedrooms and bathrooms arranged symmetrically along each wing.

    The layout and form of the moving section are well suited to rotation. Originally, the floor plan of each wing had rooms on both sides of a central hallway. Before construction, however, the design was revised to have the main hallways extend from the central tower along the outer edges so that all the main living rooms and bedrooms would face the terrace enclosed by the wings.

    Though the views from either wing differ at any given moment, they share a general orientation to the sun, reducing the chance for conflict over which direction the house should point. All rooms could share an equal amount of daylight or shade.

    Occupants control rotation using a panel (with three buttons: forward, backward, and stop) in the foyer of the moving part. Its single speed was approximately nine inches per minute (23 centimeters per minute), or one complete rotation in nine hours and 20 minutes.

    Sum of Its Parts

    The transition between classical and contemporary experienced inside is especially notable on the exterior. The stationary podium is monumental and heavy. Above, the mobile wings are light, smooth, and evocative of both art deco and the International Style. The effect is similar to that seen in Jean Saidman's revolving solaria, the first of which predated Girasole by only a few years.

    In part, the duality of Girasole's exterior is attributable to the collaborative design process, which included Invernizzi and his architect friend and colleague Ettore Fagiuoli, as well as a mechanical engineer and interior designer.

    In an essay in Surrealism and Architecture, architects and theorists David Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and Paul Lewis of Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis liken the design to the results of a round of "exquisite corpse," the 1920s surrealist parlor game in which successive participants drew part of a figure, folded the paper to conceal all but the edge of their drawing, and passed it on to the next contributor until the subject was complete and the paper unfurled to reveal "an unanticipated whole" in which "the end result is more than the cumulative product of individual contributions."

    A young girl when the house was completed, Lidia Invernizzi recently recalled the thrill of spending summers in this retreat, which also featured a concrete swimming pool and tennis court. Dances were held regularly in the piano room. The garden and countryside provided a bounty of fruits and vegetables that were enjoyed throughout the season and picked and packed for the winter spent in Genoa.

    Of course, the main attraction was the house's ability to turn. During those first summers, Girasole was rotated daily, out of sheer novelty and for the benefit of frequent visitors.

    Angelo Invernizzi appreciated most the view provided by the promontory-like terrace. More than half a century later, his daughter recalled, "I remember my father sitting next to the edge of the terrace looking at the landscape, staying there for hours, very relaxed and peaceful."

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Chad Randl is an architectural history Ph.D. student at Cornell University. He is the author of A-frame and has written for Old House Journal, Adirondack Life,, and other publications.

    This article is excerpted from Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot by Chad Randl, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.

     

    AW

    ArchWeek Image

    In this photo of Villa Girasole, the courtyard is rotated to face south and out across the landscape, providing sweeping views out across the rolling terrain.
    Photo: Archivio del Moderno, Accademia di architettura, Universitā della Svizzera italiana Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image
    SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE

    Villa Girasole is entered through the podium. A long hall leads to the cylindrical tower whose spiral stair and elevator provides access to the upper floors.
    Photo: Archivio del Moderno, Accademia di architettura, Universitā della Svizzera italiana Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Dining room of Villa Girasole.
    Photo: Enrico Cano Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Villa Girasole drawing sheet, including first- and second-floor plans and elevations, from before Invernizzi decided to have the house rotate 360 degrees.
    Image: Angelo Invernizzi/ Courtesy Villa Girasole Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Perspective drawing of Villa Girasole's structural frame.
    Image: Angelo Invernizzi/ Courtesy Villa Girasole Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Looking down the first-floor hallway at Villa Girasole.
    Photo: Chad Randl Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    A corner of the engineer's study in Villa Girasole is angled where it meets the upper-floor hallway.
    Photo: Enrico Cano Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot by Chad Randl.
    Image: Princeton Architectural Press Extra Large Image

     

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