A journey through the architecture of the Costa Smeralda: between the jewels of the past and those of the present

There is a place in Italy that, 60 years ago, saw some of the most important names in international architecture of the time brought together to create villages, hotels, streets and villas from nothing. Creating a unique, innovative architectural landscape that is strictly in harmony with the surrounding nature.

We are talking about the Costa Smeralda, that strip of Sardinia between Monti di Mola, Liscia di Vacca, Porto Cervo, Cala di Volpe, Capriccioli and Romazzino, destined to become known all over the world thanks to the unique beauty of its landscape, the work of architects and designers such as Luigi Vietti, Jacques and Savin Couelle and Michele Busiri Vici, but also to the VIPs and the glamor of an era that has now disappeared. What has changed since then? On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Consortium wanted by Aga Khan. We entered this exclusive, precious and protected corner to learn more about its history and intercept the new trends led by Paolo Costanzi, editor and director of the Coast magazine.

How did the architectural history of the Costa Smeralda begin?

Jacques Couelle designed the first hotel, the Cala di Volpe, in 1963. He characterizes a style, but from the very beginning there was a committee of internationally renowned architects who identified a model style of architecture 'organic', in harmony with the surrounding environment: the same irregular roofs of the Sardinian rural houses, volumes that had to almost disappear in nature, blend - with their soft and sinuous lines - among the rocks and bushes of Mediterranean scrub, and use of local materials.

That is juniper, granite, terracotta, wrought iron. Stylistic and technical instances resulting from a research work in the area made by a photographer from the Aga Khan entourage sent around to document local styles.

What did the individual architects and artists who worked in this part of Sardinia bring?

A brilliant scenographer like Jacques Couelle has left his touches between round windows, Murano “cotizzo” walls and unusual volumes. An imprint followed by his son Savin. Busiri Vici, on the other hand, made houses that seem to have been poured into boulders, white rooms with very brightly colored ceramic inserts while Luigi Vietti, who came from the world of Cortina, brought his more 'Venetian' style to most of the buildings of the former Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo, a town founded by the Venetian counts Luigi and Nicolò Donà dalle Rose where artists such as Ceroli, Cascella would have left works such as the amphitheater and the Church of San Lorenzo.

Who frequented the hotels and the first villas built in the 1960s and 1970s?

Greta Garbo, Margaret of England, Gianni Agnelli, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ringo Starr and King Juan Carlos came here from the French Riviera to escape the paparazzi and find some privacy. Sardinia was easy to reach, there was a small airport, the marina, and a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere: you could find yourself drinking a cappuccino next to a star and, perhaps, being invited to her party.

This is the coast that, from 1997 to today we have told in our magazine, without neglecting to make a bridge with the interior of Sardinia to also discover the cuisine, craftsmanship, traditions and the many different landscapes that the island offers beyond the Costa Smeralda. And, starting this year, with the Coast is Home project we will tell even more about the houses and the new trends in holiday architecture in an area that now also includes Porto Rafael, Puntaldia, Porto Rotondo.

So villas as a place for experimentation and innovation?

If the villages and the first hotels represent the historical memory of the Coast, it is in the villas that you can see the news. Today the watchword is: to modernize according to a more linear, minimalist and luminous style, as demonstrated by the projects of the Parisian studio of the architect Stefania Stera including Villa La Grintosa but also that, of Studio Olivieri, of the new headquarters of the Cellar Surrau.

The large windows then appear that bring the inside to the outside and vice versa, more steel and less wrought iron, the stone is worked to compose large regular surfaces and Sardinian craftsmanship is mixed with design, new fabrics and new colors. The internal volumes also change: no longer huge halls and skimpy rooms.

Today the private spaces are enlarged and open onto the sea and nature with large windows and strategic views. And the house, from a place of socializing, becomes an oasis of tranquility, relaxation and meditation.

Photo Credits: Tiziano Canu

Cover photo: Pevero bird's eye view