The history of Casa Volpini: from Superstudio’s project, to the sale announcement

Volpini’s villa in Urbino, Italy, was designed by Superstudio in the ‘70s and is now for sale for 600.000 euros – but it’s not the same as before.

1975, Urbino. Famous artist and professor Renato Volpini decides to turn an old farm house in the countryside of the Italian region of Marche into his new house. He asked his friend Piero Frassinelli, who worked for Superstudio, to renovate it. “I’m giving you a blank check, when you finish, I’ll come back and you’ll give me the keys”. Frassinelli isn’t used to having such a bizarre relationship with a client. Like many architects, he prefers to have a close and constant dialogue, but Volpini has no doubt. “I fully trust you,” he says, and he lets him start working.

Frassinelli plans a sophisticated architectural intervention to be performed on the preexisting spaces which will highlight the new elements by using different materials, such as the white ceramic tiles that create a beautiful chequered pattern – Superstudio’s leitmotiv.
The composition method employed by Frassinelli is extraordinary: a fracture splits the original structure right in the middle, dividing the house in two blocks. A bizarre, transversal volume is placed right in the middle of the blocks, and it serves as a “shell” for the stairs that connect the two floors. The architect chose to encapsulate the stairs in a glass structure with a steel frame, in order to allow more light to come in and to create a stark contrast with the preexisting architecture made of cotto tiles.

At the sides of the villa we find two symmetrical blocks, characterized by the famous chequered pattern, hiding a little patio (a place for chilling and relating) on one side, and a bedroom plus outdoor oven on the other. The interior is as interesting as the exterior of the villa. What once was the farmhouse’s barn has now become a single space dedicated to the kitchen and the living room. The only structural elements are the four central brick columns which create a kind of alcove, a place in which to sit down and chat around the fireplace.

The architect also created an additional apartment, nestled between the two chequered blocks, with an independent lateral entrance. Upstairs there is the sleeping area, with four bedrooms and a passageway that also serves as a living room. In the attic there is an additional bedroom (for the guests) with a beautiful skylight and served by an iron staircase painted green - together with blue, green is the predominant colour of the house.

However, behind this seemingly happy story lies a very complex process and a quite unhappy ending. As Piero Frassinelli tells me, the first problems came as soon as the construction works began. Laying the foundations on the clay soil on which the farmhouse was built was extremely difficult, and this made the project’s cost increase considerably. To solve the problem, the architect had to call a specialized engineer all the way from Florence, but he didn’t manage to find a solution. That’s why they decided to divide the house with the glass structure with metal frame to give it an “expansion joint”. The cost increased dramatically also because of an error made by the construction company, which had completely messed up the brick vestment of the “old section” of the house and was thus forced to tear it down and built it all over again. Lastly, the white ceramic tiles which formed the beautiful chequered pattern were too close to each other, preventing the walls from breathing. This caused some annoying internal condensation.

To make a long story short, many problems lie behind the beautiful façade of this building – but this project didn’t deserve to end the way it did.

Today, the house is totally different from the one we’ve described so far. There’s almost nothing left of the project created by Superstudio, apart from a few elements inside the house, which were however modified.
The volume of the staircase, which before was made of glass, is now made of bricks, and it’s covered by cotto tiles, in line with the preexisting roof. The white ceramic tiles are no longer there, and the lateral blocks are now naked, only covered in reinforced concrete.
And you can all see it for yourself: the house is now for sale, and the sale announcement comes with many pictures of Casa Volpini’s current state. The price is also relatively low (600.000 euros) if you think that you’re buying a house that was built by Superstudio. Even though, today, there’s almost nothing left of it. 

Opening image: Casa Volpini. Courtesy of Piero Frassinelli.

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