The understanding of the programmatic and functional aspects in a project is a very important concern in our design process; however we believe that in the practice of making architecture the resolution of these aspects should be taken for granted. Our ambition instead, lays in creating uniqueness and quality in architecture, regardless of the scale or scope of any project: to design spaces that can convey a message of beauty and emotions. In the Domus Ru – Romae Umbrarum, we attempted to do this through an interpretation of phenomenological and spatial aspects of the city of Rome.
The project consists of the renovation and interior alterations to an apartment located the top of an early 1900 building near the Gianicolo, in the historical centre of Rome. This prime location offers a panoramic view of Rome almost at 360 degrees. Despite this scenic location and the presence of outdoor spaces, the apartment presented a character of introversion (the house did not have large openings and given its location new windows were not allowed). This existing constraint defined our strategy of creating a layout that “reads and interprets” the structure, orientation and limitations of the existing building. This layout, revolving around the common stairwell of the building, also allows for the more public spaces to engage with the existing openings framing the historical views. Not being able to create new windows, the proposal engages with the outdoor presence and its atmospheric quality through the use of natural light and the modulation of its intensity within the different spaces: “dosed and filtered” in some areas in order to create a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere; “direct and intense” to define a hierarchy and to give an accent to those spaces that lead to the outside; “suggested” to give depth of space. Rome and its surrounding landscape is a source of inspiration we draw from. Its urban complexity has always guided us in designing interior layouts that could offer a spatial variation and rhythms of spaces: spatial complexities that can be experienced by walking in the city’s alleys, streets, and squares. In the Domus Ru we also wanted to work with the light of Rome: a unique gold and silver light. This light is an active design matter: we shaped the interior space of this apartment and selected a palette of materials (natural, irregular and porous) that could give presence to the light; creating an atmosphere serene but vibrant, disconnected from the Rome bustle, but intimately connected with its materiality and tones. A monochrome background to the everyday life with a strong tactile aspect: walking on rough surfaces, touching walls with different texture triggering a sense of awareness of matter and space. The irregularities of the grey terracotta floor in the living area, and the iridescence of the clay rendered walls mixed with marble particles enhance the presence of light and they are in turn enhanced. While this is an interior project, its environmental challenges are akin to those of a freestanding residence. Being located at the top of the building both thermal gain and loss presented a substantial problem. On the one hand the project deals with such problems by carefully removing ‘layers’ of the historical envelope, and inserting insulating panels compatible with the nature of the old walls and roof structure, on the other hand, the selection of interior finishes enhance such insulating qualities as well as offering a visual and tactile experience. All walls and ceilings are rendered with a 20mm cork-base render and finished with a further 10mm layer of “Terra Cruda” (raw earth). This is a traditional finish consisting of a mix of clay and very small aggregates that dries with air, without any chemical bonding agent, or any artificial pigment or paint. This finishing material is wholly natural, un-allergic, has no emissions, and is strongly hygroscopic: it has a natural ability of absorbing high levels of humidity in the air. The floor material is a traditional paver for external use, called “Cotto”, which literally means ‘cooked’, and is an old form of clay brick. This particular “cotto” is however cooked twice, once in the furnace and once in a wood-fire oven, to give it the matte grey / beige colour. As with the walls and ceilings, this material not only offers a special visual and tactile experience, but is also enhances the environmental performance of the in-slab heating and cooling system. As a result, upon entering the house in a still, humid, hot day of the Roman summer, a visitor feels the surprising freshness and wellbeing experienced when one enters into a Roman church: an overall sense of peace, coolness and natural disconnect from the heat of the street.