Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Giò Ponti's Rome Apartment Building




Building entryway.  Fluorescent lights at left, opened for replacement.  Note striated ceiling in contrasting whites.  You can
drive cars in here, unload, turn left down the ramp into the garage.  

Ponti's School of Mathematics, U. Rome, side view
To our knowledge, the talented and prolific Italian architect and designer Giò Ponti created only three Rome buildings.  One of them, the building that houses the School of Mathematics (1933-1935) at the University of Rome/La Sapienza, is well known, a luscious example of 1930s modernism and, fortunately, open to the public, in the sense that most university buildings are.  Another is in Prati, near RAI's headquarters.

The other, an apartment building on via Duse (corner of Piazzale delle Muse) in the upscale Parioli neighborhood in the north of the city, is both little known--we can confess now that we didn't know it existed--and, unfortunately, usually inaccessible.  People live and work there, and the building has a portiere.  We were pleased, then, when we saw Ponti's Palazzina Salvatelli (1940) listed for Open House Roma, an annual 2-day event run by the city that encourages the supervised opening of facilities normally closed to the public.

Our genial tour guide was architect Claudio Greco, who twenty years ago had taken on the task--enviable or not--of converting one of the apartments from a residence to a professional office.   Our group of about 15 saw the office he remodeled--tastefully, and with due consideration of the features of Ponti's original design.  More on that, in a moment.

Note 1940-era supports for balcony railing.  



As Greco explained, the exterior of the building was originally covered with off-white mosaic tiles. When they began to fall off in the late 1980s, endangering passers-by, they were removed, leaving the rather ordinary, traditional white facade one sees today.





Portiere's office, at left of entrance
We began our interior journey with the building's entrance--the same today as it was 75 years ago--which consists of two doors: one large sliding door (Ponti was into sliding doors) and, within that large door, a smaller door for individuals.


Ramp to garage
Although the entrance has a human dimension, it was intended for automobile access; the building's tenants could drive their vehicles inside, discharge passengers under cover, and--beyond another sliding door to the left of the fluorescent lights--with a sharp left turn onto an elegant striped ramp, proceed to a parking space below.

Flourescents, lit







The portiere's substantial office--the current portiere proudly made it known he had been in the position 27 years--is on the left as one enters (see above).  A bank of vertical fluorescent lights, which turn out for easy replacement, illuminate the area and reveal the white-on-white pattern of the ceiling, a Ponti feature. A stone bench offers a place for waiting and, to its left, a round--or is it oval?--stairway, serving two apartments per floor, beckons.






Stairway
Front door, from inside.  All original.
Note kickboard. 
Greco's alterations to the apartment were significant.  The kitchen, for example, became an office working area with a pass-through feature, and the front hallway became a waiting room for clients--nicely accomplished in Ponti style.  A new wall, one end of which intersects rather awkwardly with a Ponti arch, was constructed so that employees could pass from one office to another without intersecting with those in the waiting room.

Remodeled hallway




A hallway, while significantly redone in the changeover, retains the look and feel of Ponti's work.









Nice door handle









The interventions were tastefully accomplished, and many of Ponti's signature details remain: the wooden doors frames--set about half an inch from the adjacent walls--the elegant brass handles, the partial kick-plates at floor level, simple, dignified, glass paneled doors, the parquet floors (30 x 30 cm), a sliding door with horizontal stripes in wood and white paint.  The ceiling in what was once the living room is notable too, with a center inset of white stripes of different depths.



Office painting combines de Chirico with Picasso's "Guernica."
Note sliding, striped door at right.  Our guide--the guy who
remodeled the apartment in 1995--is at center.  
The current occupants have taken to decorating their offices with paintings that resemble and take off from those of Roman artist Giorgio de Chirico, certainly the most famous exponent of metaphysical painting (a style that most art history sources describe as existing for about a decade after 1910).  We wish they hadn't. The reference lacks the sublety of Ponti's vision, and it competes--and not well--with Ponti's design.






But it may have been irresistible.  An early photograph of Palazzina Salvatelli, below, presents the building as mysterious, even haunting, possessing a significance somehow beyond its parts, even beyond its whole. The building as essence. In a word, metaphysical.

Bill

  

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