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The Mediterranean islands: a journey through Domus Archive

Elba, Sicily, Ibiza: Domus has illustrated, throughout its history, the interest in building on islands and spontaneous architecture. But the “idea of island” can also enter the walls of a house in the city.

“Atmosfere solari, bianco accecante”: un viaggio in archivio tra le isole del Mediterraneo

“Fruit, flowers, wine and fish”: these are the four words describing the island of Elba, which first appeared in Domus, in August 1940, in a famous issue entirely dedicated to the sea and its dwellings, which was a theme very dear to the editor, Gio Ponti (Domus 152, August 1940). In fact, in the summer editorial, Ponti reproached all those architects who did not pay enough attention to the construction of seaside houses, thus contributing to ruining the coastal landscape. BBPR’s tourism plan for Elba, on the other hand, was presented as an example of a good working method: the architects proposed to build residential settlements on the basis of the morphological characteristics of the most interesting parts of the island, such as the construction of small houses with coloured walls in the pine forest of the Gulf of Biodola, with communal buildings overlooking the sea hosted different services and activities.
Along the coast are sailing huts, and the perimeter road is completed for a cycling tour around the island. Within the pages, amidst black and white photographs and sea-blue graphic insertions, there is praise for nature and for the weather, but also for the good food and wine, and for the inhabitants, too – “straightforward seafaring people”, fishermen and farmers who welcome us “with their Tuscan dialect, which sounds almost like a song”.

In the same year, Lina Bo Bardi and Carlo Pagani also presented to Domus readers a house by the sea in Sicily, built on a wild promontory beaten by the sea and the south winds – a construction with white walls that does not overpower but rather dialogues with the Sicilian ground, where “Magna Graecia is alive everywhere, in the atmosphere, in the landscape, in the memory”, because “architecture must be the key to the landscape, transform itself into the landscape, become landscape itself” (Domus 152, August 1940). The tall masonry walls protect against the wind, and the large patio is the beating heart of the house, where ‘life takes place and life converges’; from here you can see the sky, the flowers, the volcano and the blue sea. Everything leads to an atmosphere of “absolute summer rest”.

Architecture must be the key to the landscape, transform itself into the landscape, become landscape itself
“Atmosfere solari, bianco accecante”: un viaggio in archivio tra le isole del Mediterraneo
BBPR tourism plane for Elba, published on Domus 152, August 1940.

Ten years later, architect Luigi Figini landed on another Mediterranean island, and in October 1951 he gave readers his illustrated diary of Ibiza, “Isla blanca” (Domus 263, October 1951). Ten pages where photographs of vernacular architecture alternate with descriptions of places: a dense story published on orange paper. Ibiza is seen as a “blissful” island, an “earthly paradise of white architecture”: Figini describes the dwellings, with the landscape cut up by the sheets hung out to dry, the little churches, the Archaeological Museum and the light, blinding during the day, blue in the evening, when the moon reflects on the white walls. The vernacular architecture is described with enthusiasm and documented with numerous shots: Ibiza is like a “historical museum of ante litteram architecture”. In the fishermen's barrio, in the walled citadel, at the foot of the old bastion, Figini photographs the pure elementary volumes, the flat roofs, the windows: “Ibiza seems to anticipate in form and spirit what has been called the New Architecture”.

“Atmosfere solari, bianco accecante”: un viaggio in archivio tra le isole del Mediterraneo
House by the sea, proposed by Lina Bo Bardi and Carlo Pagani, published on Domus 152, August 1940

When Alberto Ponis designed a holiday home in Palau, on the eastern coast of Sardinia, in the mid-1960s, he also worked to harmoniously integrate the architecture into the landscape and naturally amplify the domestic space, thanks to the external stairs and the walkable roof, from which the spectacular view of La Maddalena and the Island of Caprera can be enjoyed. (Domus 419, October 1964).

The house is intended as a ‘place of return’, made of light and memories of ‘sunny atmospheres and blinding white’

Amalfi, Capri, Ischia: these are the islands that art critic Achille Bonito Oliva dearly loved and thus decided to bring into his home in Rome. Built in the 1980s, under the direction of Alessandro Mendini, the house is intended as a “place of return”, made of light and memories of “sunny atmospheres and blinding white”, in which “the idea of island” is evoked in the details, in the essential furnishings, in the untreated materials, in the family furniture and by some pale pink ceramics, in a continuous reference to its own history. The house is conceived as an island, an island of (mental) rest and refuge, “for those who are now citizens of the world” (Domus 646, January 1984).

Luigi Figini’s illustrated diary of Ibiza, “Isla blanca” , published on orange pages on Domus 263, October 1951

Opening image: Casa in Palau projected by Alberto Ponis, published on Domus 419, October 1964. Photo Ponis (inside page).

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