In Catania, a radical renovation transforms a historic apartment into a hyper-contemporary penthouse. Thanks to daring design choices that wager on an industrial aesthetic

The center of Catania is anything but ordinary. It is famous for its Baroque architecture, which after the earthquake of 1693 inspired the work of reconstruction. Just outside the historic zone, however, the streets are paced by 20th-century buildings, which have ushered the city into the modern era with elegant composure and discretion. In one of these buildings, Emilio Randazzo has intervened with an unexpectedly audacious project. The idea of conserving the original layout of the house while respecting the DNA of its forms was immediately called into question by the presence of major structural shortcomings.

The vaulted ceilings typical of interiors below pitched roofs were in bad condition, requiring extensive reinforcement. The idea was radical: to transform a 20th-century flat into a contemporary space with an industrial look. The entrance to the apartment, now the home of a couple with three children, offered an unusual perspective. Entering the dwelling on the upper level implies being surprised by a large space of unusual height, offering exceptional luminosity and a composition that adapts perfectly to contemporary needs.

At the entrance a staircase leads to the terrace of 50 square meters created inside the sloping roof. Randazzo has kept it simple and linear, reflecting the essential character of traditional Sicilian staircases. In this case, however, it is a complex construction, which comes to terms with details that lighten up the overall effect. Every rod of the railing crosses the treads of the steps in BauBuche, an innovative laminated veneer lumber in beech offering great lightness and high performance, also utilized for the attics.

The overall effect is hyper-contemporary, yet also capable of suggesting a work of architecture inspired by the territory, and the simple but very refined roots of Sicily. These roots have echoes in other parts, like the antique door at the entrance, salvaged and repainted in lively colors, ready to hide a small technical space. The large terrace also provides thermal insulation for the apartment below, thanks to a floating floor. This is an optimal choice for the local climate, which requires constant attention and the possibility of easy intervention with small devices to improve quality of life without weighing down the setting.

The large hexagonal tiles of the floors also suggest traditional architecture of the past. Their oversized proportions contribute to the construction of an abstract, delicate pattern. The layout of the house is rational. The double height provides a sense of lightness, with zenithal lighting evenly distributed in all the spaces, giving rise to sharp perspectives where the luminous openings underscore the contemporary styling. The steel trusses, left visible, have restored stability to the structures, boosting the heights and adding visual character to the living area.

The gaze lingers over the slender composition supporting the ceiling. It is no longer a vault, a historical feature of architecture, but an avowedly modern presence that gives the interiors a completely new look. Emilio Randazzo: “A top floor that was a bit dark and fragile has become a penthouse full of light,” an unexpectedly airy and timely house. The industrial atmosphere welcomes a series of particular choices of interior design and furniture. The radiators in different colors, red, green, yellow, in the bedrooms and bathrooms, black for the living area, act as counterpoint for walls in intense hues.

Minimal lamps by Exenia exist in harmony with iconic presences by Flos. The Eames Chairs
by Vitra almost unwittingly reference the structure of the trusses, creating a pleasing aesthetic interaction with the surrounding space. As a whole, this is a very daring project, relying on radical structural and theatrical choices that have replaced the fascinating but obsolete atmospheres of the 1900s with a love of the light and space of contemporary architecture.

Project Emilio Randazzo - Photos Benedetto Tarantino