In the Mediterranean region, architecture is landscape and indoor-outdoor fusion, says Ivan Gallo, an outstanding exponent of this art
Photos Simone Florena, Alberto Ferrero, Mattia Aquila – Article Antonella Boisi
If the landscape is both nature (boundless) and artifice (measured), in an issue on the Mediterranean there had to be an in-depth focus on landscape design. So we asked Ivan Gallo, a designer from Naples, born in 1968, trained at Montalto, the school of landscape and garden architecture in Florence founded by Pietro Porcinai, to reveal the secrets of his art.
From his remarkable production of bordered but vital green spaces, we have selected two personal creations, made for himself, where indoor and outdoor zones blend with great nonchalance. The ‘stazzo’ (fold, pen) in Gallura (Sardinia) and the villa in the country at Noto (Sicily) represent almost a manifesto of his habitat poetics.
They have very different gardens, obviously, because their contexts are different. But the harmony they express, made of soft, irregular, essential and rigorous forms that follow the movements of the land, narrates something more.
What is the starting point of a project, for you?
Definitely the analysis of the territory. In Sardinia nature is wild, disorderly, almost impossible to tame, never fitting into Cartesian lines. In Sicily, on the other hand, the landscape can be constructed, shaped. In any case, I try to convey the genius loci, the cultural background, the customs of the people in the places where I work.
And I conserve everything that was already there on the land, in terms of hues, geometry and forms, with the aim of having as little impact as possible. A sustainable approach. specifically, in my garden in Gallura there was already a lawn and a canebrake with native marsh plants, which have been left in a natural state. They have simply been recontextualized, with other footnotes.
In the countryside at Noto, instead, we have simply inserted the house in the existing citrus groves, where water was readily available, also making a lawn possible. We should not forget that in the future there will be more gardens without water, which has become a very precious resource. In Sicily, a land of peasant culture, of vegetable gardens and orchards, a beautiful flowering plant that produces colors but not flavors doesn’t work so well.
A farmer uses water to have something in return, not just aesthetic pleasure for the eyes. In these two projects, as usual, I have decided to insert almost monochromatic variants of green. This reflects the influence of Porcinai, a great master of the art of designing nature with measured use of color.
In the balance of things, what is the weight of landscape design with respect to architectural design in such contexts?
The first one is greater, in the relationship between the parts. During the Middle Ages we closed ourselves up in internal spaces, almost fortifications. Later we realized that it is much better to live outdoors; today even outdoor kitchens are a trend, the indoor-outdoor continuity of spaces and furnishings becomes fundamental.
What does this imply, in concrete terms?
It means that before designing a house you have to understand which images you want to gather and to bring inside the four walls. I cannot build a window first and then improve the view outside. You have to select the strategic points of greatest appeal from the landscape, and act on that basis. Something like what the Greeks did with their amphitheaters.
In this sense, the relationship with the designer of the architectural part becomes indispensable… Absolutely. Unfortunately the value of the figure of the landscape designer has not been fully understood in Italy. The outdoor spaces are often entrusted to a nurseryman or an agronomist. The first wants to sell plants, the second knows about them, but neither one has the sensitivity to interpret and enhance a place with its physical particulars and its relationship with the construction.
What kind of order do you try to create with the design of your gardens?
I always try to arrange plants in a free form, unless I have to intervene in an Italian-style garden. But I also keep the question of maintenance in mind. We have to envision pruning that will go hand in hand with what nature already does with its winds and currents. Of course there are the architectural elements that help us to establish boundaries, to bring a sense of measure. Enclosures, benches, pools, masonry walls…
The materials with which they are built make the difference, and should be chosen in a spirit of respect for the place. Not in an arbitrary way, in pursuit of special effects. If there is a presence that stands out in a context, why not make openings so the gaze can reach it? As in a house, if there are too many objects the gaze gets confused. We isolate and emphasize what is most beautiful. The protagonist might change, case by case, it could be just a meadow.
When do you thin a hortus conclusus is finished?
The garden is never finished. It evolves and is transformed. Like memory, over time, in a place. One day I will see my gardens from above. But I hope I will have transferred all the stimuli from the people who will care for them, so that my imprint can continue to make the seeds sprout. For the moment, I follow and nurture the projects I’m most fond of, with trusted collaborators. It is a way of meeting up again, during vacation, with the friends for whom I designed the gardens.