Urban villa
Astrea Co-op
Moretti, Luigi | Rome, Italy | 1949
Image of Astrea ...
Street facade, oblique from the east.

ProjectAstrea Co-op
ArchitectMoretti, Luigi
CityRome
CountryItaly
Addressvia Jenner 27
Building TypeUrban villa
Number of Dwellings24
Date Built1949
Dwelling Types2 BR flats
No. Floors6
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Materials
stucco, stone, metal
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesnone

This building is an example of the type of small apartment buildings that were being designed by many young architects in different parts of Rome in the years immediately following World War II. A variation of the traditional palazzo building type, these new palazzine, were designed for multi-family occupancy and were usually expressed as free-standing "urban villa" types of point-access blocks. Like their palazzo predecessors a principle façade fronted the street where there was a zone of service-related spaces, entrances, and an apartment for the portiere with several floors of apartments above in a typical piano nobile arrangement. Treating the building as a freestanding element provided for enough space between buildings to get light into rooms at the side. Unlike the palazzo precedent, a courtyard was usually not needed. At first glance, Astrea fits the conventions of the palazzo typology; Strong centripetal organization, several floors in height in a piano nobile arrangement, with a principle façade facing the street. Essentially, two 6-story blocks, each with a stair and two small 2 bedroom flats per floor, have been siamesed together and expressed as single building.

The typical plan is organized with two apartments facing the sides and two other apartments in the middle that have the kitchen and bath and one room and a balcony fronting the street and two other rooms opening to terraces at the rear of the building. In the lower 4 floors, the zone of kitchen, bath, balcony is cantileverd forward of the street façade creating an inflected planar element that seems to float forward of the street surface. The only openings in the street surface of this zone are the cutouts for the balconies as the kitchen and bath windows are perpendicular to the facade. The street surfaces of the side apartments is left blank except for glazed landings on the stairs, resulting in a façade that is mostly blank stucco walls facing south (the street) resulting in an overall composition that is basically symmetrical, peripherally passive, but a definite central focus.

But here the reference to Renaissance paradigms is transformed. Astrea is not so important for its housing innovations as it is as a medium for Moretti's skillful experiments with the idea of the Renaissance palace façade. Not merely the side of a palazzo, the façade is now expressed as a scenographic tableau that has been placed in front of the building mass. Perhaps to reinforce piano nobile notions, the surface of the tableau is further exaggerated because it extends past the top and sides of the building where its thinness is revealed. It is battered from top to bottom at the ends, and is detached from and cantilevers forward of the rusticated travertine base along the sidewalk. The idea of the central classical axis is now transformed into a highly agitated centripetal concentration of elements that cantilever forward of the tableau surface but are contained by the blank peripheral field of the outer surfaces of the tableau frame. A zone of clerestory windows in a slightly recessed, horizontal concrete strip at the top of the travertine base increases the sensation of the levitated surface. The façade is now expressed as an independent detached plane that has been sliced and diced, pushed and pulled, added to and eroded from to reveal the trace of a Cartesian frame while barely containing an energy seeking to burst from the bonds of a classical boundary. The extreme tension of the façade is the result of a complex dialectic between surface and object, planar vs. plastic, accretive vs. subtractive, orthogonal vs. curvilinear, solid vs. void, figure and field, centripetal vs. peripheral. The tangential diagonal planes of the cantilevered central zone also imply a curving surface that is forward and independent of the tableau plane. The remarkable plastic quality of the façade of Astrea is most obvious at the right corner of the façade where a blank end wall has been cut away to make a balcony for the apartment at that floor. This horizontal incision reveals the deep space of the apartment within, but further exaggerates the extreme planar quality of the façade wall that now seems to float, unsupported, in space.

Moretti continued these façade experiments the following year with the design of Il Girasole, another palazzina in Parioli. These two buildings mark one of the most creative efforts to combine modernist attitudes with traditional values and both of these buildings anticipate an emerging reaction to the sterile formulas of much Modernist building and housing and are thus the predecessors of both post-modern and deconstructivist and tendencies. Moretti's fascination with the juxtaposition of curved and planar surfaces evolve in his later work, a theme that can be seen in the huge mixed-use development the architect designed on Corso Italia in Milan in 1956, in two large social housing projects built in Rome the 1960's, Villagio Olimpico and Decima and it was a dominant theme in the infamous Watergate Apartments built along the Potomac in Washington D.C. in the 1960's. Astrea was likely the genetic crucible for all of this work, the highly cerebral designs of one of Italy's most enigmatic and underpublicized modern architects.

de Guttry, Irene, Guide de Roma Moderna>, De Luca editore, Rome, 1978, p. 88.>

Bonelli, Renato, Moretti, Edizioni d'Italia, Roma.

Arquitectura (Madrid), 1990, no. 282, Jan-Feb, p. 47

Finelli, Luciana, Luigi Moretti la promese e il debito, officiana edizioni, Rome, 1989, p. 64.

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