An abandoned rural house comes back to life by bringing out the value of its original parts: the central courtyard, the Modica stone, the traditional technologies and the open space of the Sicilian countryside

A farmhouse in the Sicilian countryside, between Noto and Modica, has been renovated and transformed into a place of living and hospitality, for parties, events and tourism. Faced with a rather complicated structure, also due to various degrees of conservation of the buildings Sebastiano Italia and Andrea Di Franco have chosen to intervene in a way that is not showy but substantial, respecting the constructed and material quality of what already existed, while introducing all the elements of contemporary architecture in a perfectly accessible and comfortable solution, never losing touch with the spatial and formal force of the 19th-century complex.

The masseria, as can be seen in the shots made by a drone, is immersed in a pleasant landscape still dominated for the most part by agricultural. It is a landscape in its own right, with very evocative views and horizons. The various buildings and open spaces form a system that originated for purposes of production, where every element has a precise purpose, such as the stables and stalls. The grouping of volumes, made uniform by the use of local stone, is organized around the baglio, the large walled and paved courtyard, separated from the countryside, as a sort of large rural piazza, an architectural theater towards which all the buildings face and where all the activities interact. This intrinsic quality of the court, which is domestic and monumental at the same time, is the key to the project, which transforms the multiple spatial and visual relationships around the central clearing, but without weakening them in any way.

Built towards the end of the 1800s at the center of a property of about 80 hectares, the complex is surrounded by a sturdy stone wall – hence its name, La Chiusa. “The buildings,” says Sebastiano Italia, “were entirely made with a masonry structure in Modica stone, which was still in perfect condition when we arrived. We eliminated all the plaster in the interiors, bringing to stone back into view, and wherever possible we have cleaned the masonry, to restore the original image of the mortar seams.”

The fact of coming across the same walls, inside and outside, conveys an idea of the permeability of the spaces, the lack of indoor-outdoor boundaries. The architectural parts are very well defined, but also have clear continuity with the plane of the baglio. The most obvious case is that of the swimming pool, raised on a podium and created inside a structure with the roof removed, conserving its perimeter walls. The porticos act as cyclopean screens that soften the impact of the sunlight. The high portico is supported by pillars that were too slender to bear the load of the stone wall, and have thus been reinforced with a sheet of steel that clads the intrados. This insertion introduces an element of the contemporary in an elegant, unexpected way, aimed at underscoring the sculptural abstract effect of the wall. In the stables, now utilized for parties and banquets, the powerful sequence of arches has been conserved, creating a very cozy portico, a cool, shady area from which the courtyard is perceived as a continuous, open and sunny space, flanked by a few windows and well-distanced tall portals.

“For the parts we have reconstructed,” Sebastiano says, "such as the roofs, the floor structures and casements, we have relied on traditional techniques. For the outermost layer of the roofs, completely refurbished, we used only old salvaged tiles found at La Chiusa and other farmhouses in the zone.” The slabs have been completely renovated and are entirely in wood, using a traditional system of joists. The floors, with the exception of just one room where the original stone has been conserved, are in cementitious resin, or in wood – in the bedrooms – utilizing boards rescued from the old roofs, to recycle the materials as in all the other parts of the project. “For example," Sebastiano continues, "we demolished a wall that divided the property into two parts, from which we gathered a large number of blocks of tuff that were then reutilized for the paving of the outdoor spaces.

The cobblestones of the baglio, which had to be partially reconstructed, were completed with recycled stones.” The vast space faces towards the countryside through an arch opened in the building, which today is a residence for guests. The zone now employed for the solarium and the swimming pool once contained a small church that was later destroyed, as can still be seen from the entrance portal. The other zones for hospitality are contained in the volume parallel to the pool, which also contains a fitness zone and a sauna. The owners live in the building facing the entrance, at the other end of the courtyard, while the long space of the stables, next to the catering area, is continuous with the outdoor space, making it ideal for parties, banquets and other gatherings or events.

Project Andrea Di Franco and Sebastiano Italia - Photos Benedetto Tarantino