location: Napoli, Italy
Hat-shaped bioclimatic penthouse
In the spring of 2009 an old friend called me and told me: “do you remember when I asked you to redecorate my room at my mother’s house? I believe it was your first job, you hadn’t finished university yet. It was 1984 and I told you that when I built my own house, you and I would have to design it together. Now, after having travelled to various cities, my work has brought me back to Naples. I have bought an attic in the same building as the Galleria Umberto, in the heart of the city – and I would like you to design it for me, as a home for me and my family”.
And so the first inspection of the premises, on an unusually leaden day in April, revealed an intricate space. A veranda had been added to the pretty block from the late Nineteenth century, surmounted by the famous dome above the shopping gallery in iron and glass, one of the icons of Naples. In addition to this, there is a very clear view, from the terrace and the rooms, of the profiles of the Castel Nuovo, the harbour, the Vesuvius, the hills, the fort of Sant’Elmo, all filtered by the roofs of the Royal Palace and the San Carlo Theatre.
An endless panorama made of many landscapes, a multiplier of glimpses that I – together with Simona Ottieri – have immediately thought of placing on a collision course with the apartment. The building is protected by the restrictions enacted to preserve monuments, and after a useful dialogue with the Superintendence we have decided to rebuild the veranda which was installed seventy years ago, replacing it with a contemporary architecture, a metal hat that resembles – in outline and volume – the form of the old veranda structure.
We have therefore designed a hat, faceted like a diamond to reflect the sunlight, which dialogues from a distance with the formidable architectures found in this part of the city.
By day its form should remind of the boater worn in Edoardo de Filippo’s comedies. By night a collection of punctiform lights would give the attic and its new world of stairs and banisters a picturesque and very Neapolitan tone.
The interior design leaves no room for doubts: a large open space, only interrupted by a central partition, forms a true polygonal piazza at the entrance to the apartment. The veranda is united to a wedge that looks to the dome. The ceiling is white, and coffered with a stone pattern, a large bas relief which gives the ceiling of the interior rhythm, at the same time unifying it, and making it possible to transform an old skylight in an eye that opens to the blue. The theme is that of a – wholly Neapolitan – alternation between smooth surfaces and rough, segmented parts, which renders a sense of continuity with this metropolis, distinguished by its unique sharp shades on changing surfaces.
One half of this polygonal piazza is covered by rosewood boards that serve to conceal wardrobes, storage compartments and stairs; this wainscoting forms a triangle not unlike the cone of the Vesuvius, with the fire as a chimney in the belly of the stylized volcano.
Behind this furniture element, hidden behind a secret door, there is a corridor structured with sliding doors that are invisible when open; an arrangement that reminds of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls. The metal veranda strives to be gentle as only parasite architectures can sometimes be, accompanying the building like a cheerful habit.
Energy and climate
The central functional aspect of the attic is that of controlling energy costs by means of a number of compositive devices where the bioclimatic decisions are profoundly integrated with the architectural ones. In the first place, it has been possible to install the photovoltaic panels so that they follow the shape of the roof, thanks to a new structure formed of four linear sheds in silicon, designed in such a way that they are screened by the metal hood, so as not to alter the silhouette of the building and to make the eye focus only on the veranda facing south-east.
This veranda functions as a true energy captor, with the sheds that may be opened, the shade protecting from heat when the sun is high and with the ample glazed surfaces that make a substantial contribution to the heating of the interiors in winter, and which also serve to irradiate the floors in order to reduce energy costs.
The round skylight in the centre of the polygonal piazza serves to favour the Venturi effect, and thus to make the interior cooler in summer.
Structures and materials
The old masonry structures have been restored without any use of reinforced concrete, with reversible techniques; analogously, the new elements are in galvanized steel and aluminium panels so that the contemporary additions may be easily distinguished from the original outline of the building.
Cherubino Gambardella, Naples, February 2012.