Monumental architecture

An exercise in subtle interpretation brought the architecture office 2A+P/A to give functionality to an idea by Ettore Sottsass: a drawing he made in 2003 became the subject of their intellectual speculation, coherent with the drawing’s underlying philosophy, and ended up becoming a house.


This article was originally published in Domus 968 / April 2013


“At a certain point in our history, we thought that we might be more or less capable of designing indoor places, places closed inside walls, walls that contain small rooms or vast rooms, empty rooms or crowded rooms, places for people who live in those rooms or work there, and places for many people passing through, or places for solitude or places only for showing off, even very different places, for tea ceremonies and for washing your face and hands, and for sleeping with your lover.”


Ettore Sottsass, Le case hanno un interno, in 12 Interiors – Sottsass Associati – 12 Interni, Terrazzo, Milan 1996, p. 5; now in Milco Carboni and Barbara Radice (editors), Ettore Sottsass. Scritti 1946-2001, Neri Pozza Editore, Vicenza 2002, p. 487.

Top: an abstract, all-yellow structure inhabits the interior, emphasising a constant distinction between the two elements. The renderings are by Silvia Groaz. Above: The photographs of the model, made by Marco Garofalo/Modelab were shot by Antonio Ottomanelli on the beach at Ostia. Gabriele Acciai and Roberta Serra collaborated on the project

Ettore Sottsass produced an enormous quantity of drawings, making it seem as if life itself (not only work) stimulated him to create pictures of his every consideration and thought. Some are sketches, coloured studies for objects or buildings to be made; others are simply drawings with no other purpose than to be images.


Architettura monumentale, part of the 2003 exhibition “Architettura attenuata” (“Subdued Architecture”) held at the Antonia Jannone Gallery in Milan, is a drawing that belongs to this latter category, as it originated without a commission or a client and was conceived outside any specific context, or perhaps a context that was present only in the imagination of its maker. The drawing in question is an axonometric projection showing two sides of a volume standing on a tiled pavement with a grey sky in the background. The building is dark, rough and introverted, lacking an explicit function except that of being a piece of monumental architecture.

Architettura monumentale, a drawing by Ettore Sottsass for the exhibition "Architettura attenuata. 24 disegni di Ettore Sottsass" ("Subdued Architecture. 24 Drawings by Ettore Sottsass") held at the Antonia Jannone Gallery, Milan 2003

This inhabitable volume is the simple extrusion of a train-tunnel shape. The front elevation has a small door centred at the base. A series of variously sized windows, some of which are blue, is distributed over the two sides without apparent order. A loggia, placed up where the curve starts, reveals a glimpse of a bright-yellow floor.


In an attempt to create an exchange with Ettore Sottsass’s work, we saw in this drawing the possibility of a collaboration outside of time. To us, this very mysterious yet highly expressive design was so full of promise and open for development. As already mentioned, the function is left unspecified, along with the context. However, we do know that Sottsass made the drawing at his vacation home on the island of Filicudi. Consequently we thought it might be considered as a house, perhaps located on an island overlooking the sea.

2A+P/A imagined that the original drawing, made at Sottsass's vacation home on the island of Filicudi, represented an island house with a view of the sea. The rendering is by Silvia Groaz

In order to reconstruct it in scale, we used the few and contradictory indications present in the drawing: the size of the windows, their position in relation to a hypothetical number of indoor levels, and the grid of the outdoor pavement, the only element that could give us the ratio between the width and depth of the building in plan. Our analysis led us to deduce, or better suppose, that it has a square plan with 10-metre sides and a total height of 12 metres. Based on the volume and the partial definition of the outside, our project is an attempt to complete all of the facades and imagine its interior. In other words, we tried to see what might be hidden inside this shape and how it would be possible to live in it.


Our idea was to insert an autonomous element that would inhabit the inside, but leave the vaulted space intact, thus preserving its character. This element is an abstract structure, entirely yellow, which dominates the light-coloured interior, thereby always allowing one to distinguish between the two. A grid of columns and beams is placed in the black shell, relating to it both freely and dependently. It is detached from the walls, but corresponds with the system of different apertures. Its geometry is rigid, but it reacts to the curve of the great vaulted ceiling.

The photographs of the model, made by Marco Galofaro/Modelab, were shot by Antonio Ottomanelli on the beach at Ostia. Gabriele Acciai and Roberta Serra collaborated on the project
Our proposed structure allows for living on three levels inside, incorporating a sequence of inhabitable areas: a common living space on the first level; a workspace on the second level; and intimacy and rest on the third level. The house is without furniture, but a few horizontal planes installed between the columns can be functional for some essential needs in daily life: seating, tables, worktops and counters. The structure turns Sottsass’s Architettura monumentale into a house, proposing a purpose for a project confined to paper. 2A+P/A
Plan and sections of the house

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