THE GLASS HOUSE
Simplicity is when, in the act of creating the dwelling, matter becomes transparent, a medium for aesthetic values, the stage and theater of representation. Carlo Santambrogio and Ennio Arosio pursue and achieve their design intention in which glass figures as the unquestioned protagonist, excluding the mediation of supports that would challenge its leading role. “That image is symbolic,” they comment. “We’re portrayed standing on a transparent sheet of glass. We’re on the upper floor of the Milan showroom, in reality absorbed into a dimension which effaces every distinction between spaces and relates the interior to the setting outside, the urban context. So often, at least virtually, the boundary line vanishes, and we receive the impression of an unbroken vision.
It is then that we ask ourselves about the applications most relevant to the project. And we realize everything is possible in Simplicity, everything can be achieved, provided it embodies a sensitive interpretation of the basic function aimed at satisfying aesthetic needs. The Plexiglas joint makes it possible to combine and assemble the sheets of glass, defining architectural works which are one the development of the other and are integrated in and adapted to the most disparate settings.” “The outside world, nature, landscape, penetrate, thanks to glass and its abstractness, into the intimate or private realm inside, and there play, freely as a component of the atmosphere.” Hence the dream, notes Jean Baudrillard, of living “in a garden in close intimacy with nature, experiencing the charm of every season.” In the words of Wim Wenders, “most of the buildings that are built in big cities are not the fruit of a dream… All you see are huge concrete blocks, tasteless blocks.” And Italo Calvino: “The invisible cities are a dream born from the heart of unlivable cities.” Stupid, obsolete fortresses, those blocks of concrete constitute much of the world’s metropolises and megalopolises. Even though “in various efforts to run counter to its own founding act,” in the words of Gianfranco Maraniello, “contemporary architecture has gone so far as to propose the negation of the ‘wall’ itself, both by creating ‘open’ and sometimes unlivable spaces and by modifying or creating living spaces without circumscribing them as certain defined rooms, or by making the boundaries of its constructs uncertain.” This is confirmed by Jean Baudrillard: “Glass is the miracle of a fixed fluid, of a content that is also a container, and hence the basis of the transparency between the two: a kind of transcendence which, as we have seen, is the first imperative in the creation of atmosphere… Indestructible, immune to decay, colorless, odorless… glass… is to matter as vacuum is to air… Glass is the basis of a transparency without transition: we see, but cannot touch. The message is universal and abstract.” Carlo Santambrogio observes: “On brownfield sites, row up row of factories in serried ranks testify to now remote times, when manufacturing was still carried on in urban districts. Today obsolete factories can be divided into apartments, known as ‘lofts.’ Real-estate dealers promote them as open spaces which, after undergoing the usual restructuring, will substantially change their nature and be organized as condominiums. This is because it is impossible to understand a single building regardless of its context. Open space cannot therefore be bounded by walls. Those walls testify to a history that is unchangeable: they are a landscape and form a frame of reference, which has to be respected and enhanced. Finding myself having to deal with one of these factory buildings, I immediately thought I could not turn it into a home of a traditional kind, or appeal to other illusory connotations. I would have to detach myself from those walls, leaving them open to the sky, and seek to create a dialogue with their history, even if I had to reinvent it. The idea could hardly help being related to transparency, the fascination of the material par excellence. Hence the garden with plants and flowers. Glass reflects and integrates the colors of the roses, jasmine and oleanders, of the sky and the clouds chasing each other across the blue; it distinguishes the light of dawn from that of sunset. All this in the city, the privilege of incommensurable moments amid those rows of factory buildings on a brownfield site. Glass endows a form on the load-bearing girders, floors, roof and walls. The staircase shines with the greenery of plants. Sunlight passes through the slabs that form the great pool. Colorless, the supreme material justifies the conception of the whole habitat, of the structure — the container — and of the furnishings — the content. Macro and micro are integrated in harmonious cohesion.
The composition of the kitchen space is exemplary. Seemingly immaterial, a landscape within the landscape, it reflects the glow of flame, the green of the vegetable garden, the pink of crustaceans, the red of meat. The interplay of transparencies heightens the senses, revealing food, when there is an occasion for it, a gratifying embodiment of desire, the achievement of the most exclusive life style.”
“No house,” wrote Frank Lloyd Wright, “should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” It has to belong to the where in everywhere. So, if the house is in the wood, the wood is in the house. This is not playing on words, but a confirmation of the relationship between two representations, one natural the other artificial. “Remember,” said Ludwig Wittgenstein, “the impression made by good architecture, which is to express a thought. You feel the urge to accompany it with a gesture.” The gesture of building is an extremely musical gesture. Good architecture is good music.
Carlo Santambrogio recounts: “Living in the forest day and night, in sun and rain, in wind, ice and snow, realizing the dream of making the forest the house so as to live in the forest. A house that must never be an object that can just be set down anywhere, but rather a place of enchantment, of wonder, of amazement. Three floors of vertical development, for the sake of all-round vision.
Going up the transparent stairs makes you feel you are climbing into the tree tops. In the house, where the forest is at home, in the shower cubicle the water patters on the skin like the drumming of rain in spring, the dormeuse is shaded from the warm summer sun, the scent of autumn is in the mushrooms on the table, winter in the sudden darkness that surprises the day.” Nature is onstage in the theater of transparencies, where snow, ice, rain and sun alternate in the limelight. Whoever lives here, enlivens the scene, lives by it and feels the excitement. His behavior is more like that of an actor than a member of the audience. Another house is that of the sea, where, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, we “comprehend and enjoy the dry chorus of wave-tops turning over with a sound of incessant tearing; the hurry of the winds working across open spaces and herding the purple-blue cloud-shadows; the splendid upheaval of the red sunrise.” And again Carlo Santambrogio: “The house of the sea lies along the promontory without clinging to it: it appears as if suspended. The whole structure reflects the rugged terrain. Under the slabs of the floor there plays a wind that bears
the tang of sea salt and carries the cries of the gulls. The rock has a sense of sturdiness, of safety. And making landfall here is the first frame of reference in the setting, while the sea is a boundless vision. Whoever dwells in the house of the sea rests in port and dreams of setting sail again. Both transparent, a great bed stands out next to a bookcase, where even the books tell of the sea.”
Because, says Kipling again, “The dullest of folk cannot see this kind of thing hour after hour through long days without noticing it.”
Decio G. R. Carugati
J. Baudrillard, Il sistema degli oggetti, Milano 1972 —
R. Kipling, Capitani coraggiosi, Torino 1982 (1897) —
G. Maraniello, in Arti e Architettura,
Milano 2004 —
W. Wenders, L’atto di vedere,
Milano 2002 —
L. Wittgenstein, Pensieri diversi,
Milano 1980 —
W.F. Lloyd, Una
Autobiografia, Milano 1998