location: Camerino, Macerata, Italy
Long, soft curves between the distant valleys of an archaic and mysterious central Italy. Forests with chestnuts and larches and – suddenly – outside the gorges, anticipated by fragments of walls and lookout towers, the castle of Camerino appears: a bastion of churches and palaces overlooking a carpet of fields, where the diffused city has failed to find a foothold.
The scenery is still just as Cesare Brandi described it in Terre d’Italia. Every time I return there, I get a feeling of a fascinating succession of landmarks and visual emotions. A long sequence of sights, that spans from the Sibilline Mountains all the way to the green region of Umbria. The Palazzo Ducale, which dominates the fortress, offers stunning scenarios. From its court one catches sudden glimpses of distant farmlands that form a variegated carpet, and the projecting rocky walls make one feel dizzy.
In 1997 I had been teaching design at the architecture faculty of the Athenaeum of Camerino for two years, when the rector entrusted me, along with other colleagues of mine who taught other subjects, with conceiving a building that was to house general services for the campus, placed halfway up the hillside below the citadel.
The powerful environmental setting and the memory of the visual surprises I had experienced in many acropolic sites in central Italy, from Urbino to Pienza, from Orvieto to Civita di Bagnoregio, from Spoleto to Camerino – precisely – inspired the first design choice.
I immediately renounced to create a building that merged with the landscape, a quite fashionable choice at that time among many Italian architects who had been influenced by a seductive post-organic trend which had been formed in Northern Europe in the absence of a variegated orography.
What I wanted to do was on the contrary to create an anti-mimetic monument and, given the dominant position, to build a severe covered belvedere. The site I had been assigned was an apparently flat sloping ground, and I opted for a partially buried basement which was to house a gym for the students of the campus. Then I planned a long graded ramp which would connect the meeting hall and the gym which was to be flanked by two multipurpose rooms that opened to the valley, which the students could use as reading rooms, study rooms and communal workshops.
Two low bodies characterized by a covered path and a succession of double openings overlooking the valley and the rock become a true device for admiring the nature to the south and the architecture to the north. These units intersect with the hall. The walls of the latter, faced in Travertine marble, on the sides facing the panorama only reveal the most beautiful sights through a viewer, i.e. a horizontal opening which acts as frame for a scene that reminds of the background in a Renaissance painting. On the sides a large glazed front segmented by metal casings bear witness to my fascination, never subsided, with the research on reflections which Le Corbusier had conducted in the period between La Tourette and Carpenter Centre, in the second season of his life.
This project has – due to the economic problems which have afflicted the country in recent years – only been realized today, fifteen years after it was designed. With the exception of the banisters, modified by the works direction, it is a faithful rendition of my first project.
It makes a certain impression on me that I still consider this machine for admiring the landscape up to date, and I find it has given me many inspirations for works that were conceived later but built before this creation. What I like especially about this architecture is that it is an uncompromising manifesto in favour of a true and proper combative continuity between architecture, monument and landscape.