Urban villa
San Maurizio
Luigi Moretti | Rome, Italy | 1962
Image of San Mauriz...
View from the southeast

ProjectSan Maurizio
ArchitectLuigi Moretti
AddressVia R. Romei 35/ Via Trionfale
Building TypeUrban villa
Number of Dwellings12
Date Built1962
Dwelling Types2-3 BR flats, penthouse
No. Floors7
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
concrete, plaster
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Services

Following WWII, many areas in the rolling hills outside Rome were developed as speculative middle class housing. Several housing types were developed for this use including the palazzina, a freestanding type usually 5 stories tall with 2 dwellings per floor, large balconies, and a terraced penthouse apartment. (See Palazaina Rea for further info about the palazzina building type). Built on the slopes of Monte Mario on a steep site overlooking Rome, San Maurizio is the last in a series of three palazzine designed by Luigi Moretti between 1949 and 1961: the Astra Co-op(1947-49, Il Girasole(1950), and San Maurizio (1962). In contrast to the earlier buildings of Moretti's Rationalist period, San Maurizio reveals a different aspect of the architect's work. The striking image of curving white balconies cantilevered above a high wall ensconced in the lush landscape of Mont Mario with a view of the dome of St. Peters is an example of the exuberant style that characterized Moretti's buildings in the postwar era.

In 1931, after graduating from the Royal School of Architecture in Rome the young architect received a three-year scholarship to work on monument restoration for the city. This left him with a deep interest in historic preservation and a special interest in Baroque architecture and especially the buildings of Michelangelo. A fascination with the geometry of classical cornices, moldings, profiles, and compound curving shapes shows in his sketches and designs and he began to supplant the severe planer architecture of the rationalists with the complex curving shapes of the Baroque. Model studies for the Stadio Olympico (1937), for instance, reveal an analytical methodology exploring different enclosures and seating arrangements, and more specifically, curvilinear shapes and details. While Moretti's early work includes some of the finest examples of late Italian Rationalism in Rome, buildings such as the Casa della Gioventů (1933-37) and the Accademi della scherma, (the Fencing Academy) for the Foro Italico, (1933-37), these iconic buildings also have characteristics, of what Moretti referred to as parametric architecture.

Dynamic new forms, the use of what some have referred to as Post Modern shapes and details can be seen in, the Astrea Co-op and Il Girasole, his tour de force of 1950. The deconstructivist, virtuoso episode in the center of the street facade in Astrea, for example, was completely unprecedented. With Il Girasole, Moretti took the "organic" idea to a whole new level. The deep, layered facade idea of Astrea is rendered in Girasole as a glass curtain wall that extends beyond the sides of the building, that is divided into two unequal parts that levitate above the ground, and define a classical pediment.

During this time, Moretti was developing a theory of architecture and between 1950 and 1953 he produced 7 issues of the magazine Spazio that he designed, wrote, and published. He also opened the gallery "Spazio", on jenloughnan@yahoo.com Via Veneto in Rome and to exhibit material from the magazines and to develop his theory of parametric architecture. Between 1953 and 1956, Moretti worked on an important commission for the design of Corso Italia, a large residential/commercial complex in Milan. Corso Italia gave Moretti the opportunity to test his radical concepts about space, structure, and architectural detail: angular walls, huge cantilevered surfaces, and exaggerated dimensions.

While curvilinear forms had not really appeared yet in Moretti's buildings, the pages of Spazio were filled with images of circular elements, geometric compositions, volumetric plaster models of historic buildings, photos of classical moldings, sketches of curved building fragments, analytical models of various hypothetical designs and precise sketches, and projections with numerical notation. Moretti seems to have been looking for a more rational design methodology, a way to quantify a design process characterized by too many unknowns. Curvilinear elements and shapes start to become Moretti's preferred instruments of design. At the same time Moretti designed the villa Saracena, built in 1954 in Santa Marinella, a costal town near Rome. San Maurizio featured a system of curved balconies that were applied to the perimeter of more-or-less conventional palazzina. In Saracena, for the first time, curves are an integral part of the concept.

The huge Watergate mixed-use complex along the Potomac in Washington, DC, was also in the office about this time. Notorious as the site of the illegal taping that took place during the Nixon presidency, Watergate can be seen as a very large version of San Maurizio, now with a group of curved buildings with extensive balconies and railings, and roof terraces. Because of the similar curved shapes and buildings details, these two projects have been labeled as examples of Moretti's "parametric" work even though both were designed before computers were used to make production drawings. Also in the office at the time were two other projects utilizing curved buildings: the Olympic Village housing for the 1960 Olympics and the INCIS Decima housing built at EUR just after the Olympics in 1962. While both projects are typical government-sponsored housing, brick with a mixture of building types, and designed by teams of architects, Moretti's hand can be seen in the use of curved building shapes and details and extensive balconies, the virtual trademarks of the parametric architect at work.

San Maurizio

San Maurizio is a version of the palazzina type resting on a terrace that has been cut from a very steep hillside. The building stands freely in the terraced gardens between upper and lower streets. Entry is made from the lower street, Via Trionfale, along the lower side of the site through a high wall, and narrow garden, and up a narrow stair to the lower lobby and terraced garden areas. The approach scenario is dominated by the 7-story height of the building but also by the 4 floors of white curved cantilevered, balconies that cantilever forward from the south facade and appear to hover over the entrance. Because of the depth and height of the balconies they seem to float in space, without walls or vertical support; a cluster of undulating, horizontal, moldings from the pages of Spazio.

The balconies are the raison d'etre of this design. They dominate distant views of the building and appear to levitate above the lush natural foliage of the hillside. The perimeter wall along via Trionfale is strategically eroded to reveal elements of the garden and the exterior entry spaces, as well as the entry to the garage. The garden wall and the lower 3 floors of the building are plaster that is rendered as terra cotta. The concrete frame of the structure is exposed in the lower 3 floors where the infill panels are again colored terra cotta differentiating between elements of the earth and those of the architecture defining a man-made realm; terra cotta vs. white plaster. The balconies are detailed as a repetitive but discontinuous system of undulating rough plaster walls that wrap the four sides of the building but vary in curvature to emphasize entry, prime views, corners, and privacy, and the differentiation of living spaces within. At first glance, the curved shapes seem to be quite chaotic. A closer look, however, reveals a complex geometry of circles, ellipses, and compound curves that are aligned but graduated according to an inscrutable Boolean function of some kind, seemingly the product of Moretti's theoretical investigations This thickened, curvaceous, perimeter 3-D veneer is applied to a regular, concrete frame to which several turret-like elements have been added to the corners. The curving balconies dominate the regular framed box to which they attach. The effect from below is that the whole ensemble is hovering in mid air seemingly suspended above the garden wall.

The typical floor plan is organized with a central elevator/stair core and a small light well in the center with one apartment at each end. Living spaces are located along the south wall facing the view of the city beyond and the bedrooms and baths face the upper street where there is less view and privacy. The dwellings are generous 2 & 3 bedroom flats typical of Societŕ Generale Immobiliare (SGI) housing built in the suburbs of Rome in the years following WWII. A single penthouse apartment occupies the top floor.

Parametric Architecture

No one seems to be able to explain just what Moretti meant by the term parametric architecture or how this relates to the recent rebirth of the use of "parametrics" in the design of computer-generated buildings designed by architects like Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, and others and the pervasive use of computer software like Rhino and Grasshopper in the office and classroom. The architectural theory described by Moretti in the 7 issues of Spazio, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Operative Research for Urbanism (IRMOU) exhibition of 1958, and other exhibits are filled with diagrams, precise drafted illustrations of various circular and elliptical geometric figures as well as photographs of buildings and building fragments, and many plaster models of the interior volumes of various historic buildings. Neither the relationship with IRMOU, nor the publication of Spazio seems to have resulted in a clearly delineated theory or set of rules. Moretti wrote and spoke extensively about parametric architecture, which he defined as the study of architectural systems with the goal of "defining the relationship between the dimensions dependent upon the various parameters".

Moretti's work underwent an astonishing stylistic transformation between his late Italian Rationalist buildings of the 1930's and the roman palazzine built just after the war. In a period of about 6 years, Moretti's work changed from an architecture of austere planes, minimalist windows and a total absence of decoration to an architecture of circles, ellipses, curving shapes, interpenetrating layers, and surface effects. The seating studies made for the Olympic Stadium (1938) are Moretti's first exploration of curvilinear shapes perhaps derived from a fascination with baroque details and profiles that suggest a interest in compound curves and the mathematical analysis of buildings. The change from planer to curvilinear and from two to three dimensional forms first shows up in the remarkable street façades of Astrea and Girasole. The Corso Italia mixed use development done in Milan 3 years later also belongs to this generation of pre-parametric designs. These examples are not curved but the use of layered, canted, and levitated elements result in a much more dynamic ensemble, spatial layering, implying curving shapes.

In 1959, Moretti founded the IRMOU with the mission to eliminate subjectivity in planning and to continue studies of parametric architecture and the application of mathematical theories in design planning. The ideas of IRMOU were exhibited in 1960 at the XII Triennale di Milano and apparently, Moretti had some kind of parametric simulator that he used in his parametric research.

In 2001 Zaza Hadid won the competition for the Museo nazionale delle arti de XXI secolo (MAXXI), a new national museum of contemporary art and architecture located in the Flaminio quarter of Rome. This building was widely acclaimed as one of the preeminent examples of parametric architecture to be built recently, the recipient of the RIBA 2010 Stirling Prize for best new European building to be built or designed in Britain. The project was first announced in 2000 and it took over 10 years to build it. The opening exhibition ("Luigi Moretti: From Rationalism to Informalism"), opened July 27 2010 and was a tribute to Moretti and the persistence of parametric architecture, displayed once again, this time in a quintessential parametric structure not far from San Maurizio.

Capanna, Alessandra, "Luigi Walter Moretti", Dizionario Biographico degli Italiani, Vol. 76 (2012).

Carrano, Eleonora. Moretti: le opere romane. Roma: Prospettive, 2005.

Finelli, Luciana. Luigi Moretti, la promessa e il debito: architetture 1926-1973. Roma: Officina, 2005.

Frederico Bucci, Marco Mulazzani,Luigi Moretti, Works and Writings, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

Greco, Antonella, Gaia Remiddi Luigi Moretti, Guida alle opere romane, Roma: Palombi, 2006.

Rostagni, Cecilia Luigi Moretti: 1907-1973. Milano: Electa, 2008.

Rossi, Piero Ostilio. Roma, Guida all’architettura moderna, 1909-2011. 4a ed. Roma.

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