Moretti meets Borromini

[Ian Macready]

We’re a bit all over Luigi Moretti this month at Viewport. We’ve been working in Italy for our client Delta Air Lines, so it has allowed us a few hours every now and again to root out another of his buildings. Moretti was a bit of a polymath – apart from his architecture he founded a magazine Space, he opened an art gallery, he produced a movie on Michelangelo Buonarotti, and wrote many influential essays about the Baroque era. And it was this interest in the Baroque that informed his work on this 1960s apartment building Palazzino San Maurizio, in a strange suburb of Rome, overlooking a rather grim police penitentiary on one side and woodland on the other.

The hill side location gave Moretti both the problem and the advantage that the building is visible from top to bottom. The building is set out in a traditional shape with a rectangular plan, central staircase and cloister square inside; each floor has two large rooms with two entrances to the apartments. To make an impact Moretti plays a game of cantilevered circular balconies with different floor plans over each level to avoid overlaps. Thanks to this game and the perimeter wall, you lose all sense of a traditional façade: just a series of irregular overlapping clouds as you look upwards above an ochre wall. Moretti himself refers to this as “a charge of energy that wants to explode from the inside outward”. The concrete finish of the building is rough and grainy to vibrate the bright light of Rome and the shadow from the trees – again playing on a typical Baroque idea of chiaroscuro.

And it is this theme of light and dark, mixed with the complex geometry of apparently opposing forces that links it to the work of the Baroque, and especially the church of Sant’ Ivo all Sapienza by Borromini. Less than a hundred metres from the big tourist draw of Piazza Navona, and set in a courtyard behind a typical Roman 16th century street façade (it was a university building), is one of Italy’s finest Baroque churches with its mix of concave and convex exterior surfaces, and crazy twisting spire. Its integration into the majestic colonnaded courtyard of La Sapienza is both ingenious and breathtaking: the curved facade appears to continue the courtyard, with the lines of the colonnades continuing through the two stories of the church facade.

If you want to get inside to view the startling interior, it is only open on a Wednesday between 2 – 3.30pm when there is a mass conducted by a priest from the Vatican. Also check out the slightly strange symbol of the Chigi family, one of the sponsors of the church, the “six mountain beneath a star”, rising along the base of three of the church dome’s pillars.

The view of the balconies
The grainy concrete surface of the balconies
The apartment building in its street context
The slightly unkempt gate
A drawing of the site plan
The overlapping balcony floor plans
The side view with some of the vegetation
Sant'Ivo all Sapienza (knowledge - this was part of the university originally)
The twisting church spire (look closely and spot the random balloons)
That slightly strange Chigi family symbol
The interior of the dome