Italian architects Enrico Taglietti and Gianmatteo Romegialli have known each other for over twenty years. Both are from the proximity of Milan and both were former students of the Politecnico di Milano. They are divided in age by some forty years with Taglietti completing his degree in the early Fifties while Romegialli graduated in the late Eighties. The two architects refer to themselves as same seeds different trees as Taglietti has lived in Canberra for the last sixty years while Romegialli continues to live and work in his hometown with his architecture practice, Act_Romegialli that he founded with his sister Angela Maria Romegialli and wife, Erika Gaggia having offices in Milan and Morbegno, a small mountain town east of Lake Como.
While visiting Romegialli earlier this year, Design daily suggested that perhaps the two friends may like to present a low key talk at Canberra’s Hotel Hotel (subsequently purchased by the Ovolo Hotel Group and renamed Ovolo Nishi) discussing their disparate approaches to architecture. While Romegialli was enthusiastic from the start, it took a little convincing before Taglietti agreed. This was held on Sunday the 15th January in the mad cap decorative atmosphere of the hotel’s Monster Dining Room and it revealed the affection that twenty years of arguing can produce and even delivered the occasional moment when the two agreed. Each presented three projects that they believed captured a few of their similarities while revealing their essential differences. The talk was structured around three principles: 1) Making a project through architectural archetypes 2) Social Togetherness and 3) Infrastructures Usefulness - with an example given by each architect for each principle. This post follows that same format.
1) Making a project through architectural archetypes (Habitat Shelters)
Taglietti originally came to Australia when he undertook to curate and design an exhibition of Italian architecture, art and design in 1955 at David Jones (Sydney’s largest department store) and has never lost his love and fascination with Australia. To him the smell, the light, sense of space and the lack of noise were a relief from his history laden origins in Milan. This is despite having a bright future in MIlan having just completed projects at Milan's Triennale and the Sant' Erasmo theatre designed with Carlo de Carli. In 1956 he set up his architecture practice in Canberra, Australia’s artificially created new capital that sat in the middle of the Australian bush between the country’s two largest rival cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Still living in Canberra to this day, Taglietti now 90, is a fierce defender of the the unique qualities that are inherent in Canberra. As the architect behind some 50 projects in Canberra including the Italian Embassy, Giralang Primary School and Dickson Library to name just a few, Taglietti has put his own stamp on the city with his interest in strong shapes and large cantilevers with an emphasis on horizontal lines. His Nitrate Film Vaults project in Mitchell from the late 70’s is an exception in that it is largely buried under ground with just a series of sawn-off cylindrical chimneys bursting into the air (shown later in the post).
The Dingle house shown above is a beautiful example of Taglietti's earlier work in Canberra. Made of bagged brick with multiple tiers of timber facias, the house's interior follows a version of Adolf Loos' Raumplan where complex interlocking spaces create a grouping of non-linear spaces that deliver interconnected open and intimate areas. One of the other main features of the house is its boundary wall. Taglietti used boundary walls "to shelter and discretely reveal" and in his hands these walls often become a signature part of a building's design with altering heights, voids and peepholes crafted with a significant sculptural flourish.
“For me after forty years, the light, the challenge of the emptiness and the relationship with the fragility of this ancient land, are still reasons for my profound attraction to this country. To be a modern architect, one has to sever oneself from the past and ask questions as though nothing existed before”
The DMB house by Act_Romegialli reveals another aspect of the use of architectural archetypes - the window. In this case the ground level window was designed as a reference to the style of windows with a large white-painted frame commonly found in the area. As a regulator of the inside outside experience, the window can be used and abused by architects. but In the case of DMB House the architects have maintained the external bunker-like feel with just a single symbolic window at ground level. Internally the house is complex and inviting and opens up to the landscape.
Romegialli has been visiting Canberra since he first came to Australia as a young graduate in 1995, specifically to discuss architecture with Taglietti who is his mentor and opponent in the discussion of architecture. The pair have travelled all over the world together visiting important buildings – particularly those of Le Corbusier, whose work Romegialli greatly admires, the friends discuss architecture like many might debate the merits of music, art or food. "There is no single answer to the problem" says Romegialli, "but the exchange of opinions and passionate ideas can help you get a better view of the paths to take..." It has been precisely this willingness to consider other possibilities that makes Act_Romegialli buildings so beautiful. Rather than being a one style fits all approach the buildings are deeply considered reactions to their site and the surrounding natural and built environment and as a result feel timeless. Romegialli now considers Taglietti as one of his primary mentors along with Sergio Crotti, Vittorio Gregotti and Aldo Rossi.
2) Social Togetherness
One of Taglietti's mantras is that architecture is about the nothingness within a structure - the voids, the spaces within which the functions of a house or a public space are carried out. He believes that internal space should not necessarily dictate the external envelope and in many of his projects the inner and out elements are vastly different. This is indeed the case with his Church of St Anthony's in Marsfield Sydney from 1968. The low-lying structure with massive overhanging eaves does not hint at its internal height - it feels streamlined, hunkering into the earth. Inside however the space is light-filled with a soaring central atrium. The feeling is minimal and monastic but overwhelmingly uplifting.
This is achieved by partially sinking the building into the site, making it seem lower and more approachable than it actually is. This not only creates a less formidable, overbearing building but allows for a generous ceiling height within. Important in many Taglietti designs are boundary walls. Taglietti is a master at defining space through sculptural boundaries. In the case of St Anthony's it is a simple brick wall that separates the front lawn from the threshold of the holy space which is further emphasised by a series of steps to the entrance.
“I am driven by the sense and feeling of a place, it’s history and the cultural value of architecture. The essential and historical characteristics of a site are carefully considered and reinterpreted This is to celebrate, uphold and revive the history, identity and culture of each site”
Act_Romegialli's Alpine shelter in Sondrio (1996) was built in a L-shape that is a reverse version of an existing rock formation. By siting the building so as to create two L-shapes the architects have created a tranquil inner courtyard space that over looks the beautiful rock wall. Because the lodge is for alpine climbers it was felt a fortress like building that reflected the surrounding stone was appropriate, even perhaps comforting to the climbers. The result is strong but like many Act Romegialli projects it has a very gentle and delicate core. The building offers sanctuary from the elements much like a traditional monastery.
3) Infrastructures Usefulness
The brief to Taglietti for the Nitrate Film Vaults in Mitchell Canberra was a strange and difficult one - a storage vault for highly volatile films. Nitrate film is prone to spontaneous combustion and if it does catch fire cannot be extinguished by any fire fighting equipment - even immersion under water doesn't work - it must simply burn itself out.
The simplicity of Taglietti's solution is remarkable and the effect on the skyline playful - an undergound building with ventilation stacks of varying heights, sliced off at an angle for a more complex and visually appealing arrangement. Taglietti's work is often described as sculptural. This project delivers these same sculptural qualities in a completely different way to most of his buildings that appear to be carved from a solid block. Interestingly Taglietti makes models of buildings very differently than most architects using solid timber or blocks of perspex. These models explore possibilities and are used to formulate the external envelope.
The vaults were required to house a number of important nitrate films and so this led to a design with a series of sealed concrete chambers so that if one film caught fire the others would not be lost. The ferocity of nitrate fires is such that chimneys were required to direct the flames upwards - according to Taglietti this could easily be up to 50 metres into the air. During the Same Same Different talk Taglietti suggested that the only public threat if a film did catch fire was to low flying aircraft. Every project has a punchline when it's Enrico Taglietti.
For the Rowers Pavilion on Lake Como Act_Romegialli decided to reduce the bulk of the buliidng by breaking it into two almost identical halves to keep the visual impact on the shoreline to a minimum while blocking an ugly factory building immediately behind the site. The archetypal house shape was built in a combination of formed concrete and rendered brickwork. In the image above the back pavilion is concrete while the one closest to the lake is rendered to save costs and covered in a climbing fig - a vine traditionally used to decorate houses all around the lake. The long window facing the view is unbroken by window frames or other uprights with ventilation coming from ventilation panels built below the window sill. The chimney feature is actually a poetic form of ventilation stack.
The long window facing the view is unbroken by window frames or other uprights with ventilation coming from panels built below the window sill. The chimney feature at the end of each building is actually a poetic form of ventilation stack.
For more information on the work of Enrico Taglietti a mongraph of his work entitled The Contribution of Enrico Taglietti to Canberra's Architecture was produced in 2007 by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA).
A large number of his projects are listed on the RAIA's Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture and available as downloadable PDF's from the RAIA website here - just enter Taglietti into their search section.
You can find more information and see additional projects on the work of Act_Romegialli here.