Photos Ezio Manciucca
Text Antonella Boisi
A high-profile home of great character comes to terms with the complexity of an existing historical context protected by the heritage authorities of Lombardy; featuring austere, deep volumes, vaulted roofing, arched doors, three-mullioned windows and large rectangular openings with cruciform elements, flat stone cladding.
The building, the result of multiple phases, in which the house claims its space – about 500 square meters obtained by combining two adjacent apartments on the terrace level – was built in the late Middle Ages as a monastery, and then became a dormitory, a role it played until the 1970s, when it was sold and split up into apartments. “Actually, during the work on the revision of the internal layout, which also involved masonry intervention, limited in practice to the demolition of walls installed in the 1970s, replaced by accessorized partitions to allow the massive historic walls to remain the absolute protagonists, we found a Paleo-Christian temple amidst the debris, pointing to an even more ancient settlement,” says the architect from Bergamo Edoardo Milesi, creator of the project. Born in 1954, after studying at the IUAV in Venice and taking a degree at the Milan Polytechnic under the guidance of Franca Helg, Milese – also the cofounder of the art and culture magazine ArtApp – has made a name for himself in the field of restoration, thanks to his particular focus on constructive aspects, in keeping with the tenets of bioarchitecture and continuity with the tradition. “In this specific case,” he continues, “I had to come to terms with the remains of the original monastery, to attenuate the sense of a limit between the open and closed areas, and to bring light into the depths of the volumes. I started with one positive factor: the southern exposure of the terrace belonging to the apartment, overlooking the lower part of the city of Bergamo, and part of the walkway of the Roman walls of the city, where villas and buildings have been inserted over the centuries.” The primary necessity was to bring maximum transparency to the architecture and a fluid arrangement to the spaces, all utilized in a convivial way. “We identified four large areas inside an imaginary connective line that like a spine of light would cross them all: a path of 25 meters along which the functional episodes are organized, almost never separated by doors.” The first large area was set aside for the living room, facing south and open to the terrace, which also contains a hobby area, library and office shielded by a curtain in linen, with vertical stripes; and, above all, the kitchen enclosed in a box of steel and glass, conceived as a dynamic threshold, permeable to the gaze and communicating with the inner courtyard, restored as a winter garden and protected by a large transparent wall. The bedroom zone is composed of two complete, distinct islands. One is for the children – two spaces with bathrooms, reached from the living area through the library with a landing lined with bouclé wool – and that of the master bedroom featuring a large closet, a fitness area and two bathrooms connected by an unusual glass floor, a source of zenithal light for the swimming pool below. Because the house has a second lower level: an appendix completely set aside for private relaxation, like an exclusive gem, hidden from prying eyes. The swimming pool and steam bath are reached directly only from the fitness area organized behind the closet, by means of a staircase in hand-carved Nero d’Africa that with a striking effect enters and finishes inside the pool, while access to the relaxation zone on the ‘raft’ deck is provided by a footbridge in wood and steel, with a motorized drawbridge. One apt intuition of the designer has been to make the swimming pool, without structural modifications, inside what was once a rainwater cistern inside the Roman walls, making it easy to maintain – in the portion below the deck – with access from the common staircase. Limited compositional intervention, then, but effective and strategic, to create a ‘tailor-made’ situation that has a minimal look, also in the essence of the materials used, three of which recur in different parts: recycled teak boards for the floors of the living area, the deck-swimming pool, the kitchen and the bedroom zone; hand-crafted Nero d’Africa forming a contrast with Osso Travertine for the facings of bathrooms and the relaxation zones; lime plaster applied to the walls and vaults. “I have removed everything I could of the subsequently added parts, trying to get back to the original spirit of the place,” Milesi says. “I have not constructed any historical fakes. I wanted the purpose of the place to be clear and immediately perceptible, as Alvar Aalto and Mies Van der Rohe have taught us.” The charm of this interior that applies layout to dissolve the traditional borders and to open up spaces to an intense relationship with natural light sources is conveyed, intact, in the balance of the new minimal forms dictated by everyday functional needs, made with a proven team of artisans. In keeping with the finest tradition of interior architecture with a modern matrix, Milesi has custom designed almost all the furnishings (and casements), from the closet cabin to the headboard, the velvet divan to the television and stereo cabinet hanging in the living area. All the way to the automatic bridge of the swimming pool. With rigorous, constant control of details, also gauged in the chromatic range that favors the Morandi scale of grays, bringing a soft mood and a timeless quality to the domestic landscape.