Inarch- Finsider Competition, 1967

The winning entry for the Inarch Finsider Competition in 1967 can be seen as the prototype idea for the Casa Sperimentale.

Working with the ideas of a steel structure with suspended living and service elements in form of frames, Perugini envsioned the building elements to be mobile and reconfigurable. Each element is a basic frame fulfilling a basic function – an open space, a bathroom, a kitchen, a well segment etc. Each element had a thickness of 600mm with an element size of 2m, 4m, 3m and 4.8m. By combining different sized elements in a variety of positions and combinations it was possible to create an infinite numbder of possible inhabitatons.

Vaying the heights elements could have multiple functions—a floor, a bench, a table, etc.

Perugini was awarded the first prize for the “construction in the workshop of steel building types through the design of a living cell intended as a matrix of growing organisms”.

All elements were to be built in a workshop and delivered to site with all fixtures and fittings ready to be installed and inhabited.

The main space frame to support and hang the elements off were made of steel sections set into concrete foundations.

Drawing exploring the different elements and hteir possible combinations.

Model view of the 600mm elements bolted side by side to create hte elevation of the buidling.

Casa Sperimentale – Drawings

Plan of the Casa Sperimentale

Site plan

THis original site plan by Giusepe Perugini shows the Casa Sperimentale and the possible extension of the structure over the site and beyond exploring the ideas of the endless house.

Elevation drawn after completion

Set of plans and sections through the house drawn after completion.

Plan, section and elevation drawing of the concrete bathroom elements

Elevation of one secment of the semi circular concrete fence surrounding the site

Cross section though the concrete fence. The family had the idea to raise the ground inside of the fence.

Elevations and sections through the concrete pre-cast wall elements. Each element is cast aroudn a styrofoam core to insulte the strcutre fro mthe Summer heat.

Plan drawing of the Casa with sketches added by Perugini to test ideas of how and where to place a kitchen within the finished building.

Detail of kitchen positioning in the plan

Casa Sperimentale – Sketches

The design and building process of the Casa Sperimentale had spanned over nearly a decade. The family started building the concrete mainframe with the idea of creating a treehouse. In 1967 the Perugini’s entered the INARCH FINSIDER competition. The idea was for a prefabricated steel structure suspended of a steel mainframe.

For the Casa Sperimentale, this idea was translated into a concrete superstructure. From the moment this mainframe was realised the process of decision making became much more democratic involving the whole family. Ideas were developed in sketches during the week and then communicated in site to the builder.

All contributions of Uga and Raynaldo were sketched and discussed equally.

Conventional architectural principles were challenged, the floor and the ceiling treated as an independent element not structurally dependent on each other. The idea was to have a horizontal symmetry, mirroring the floor and the structure to create an open space inbetween.

To enhance the hoizontal symmetry a pool underneath the structure mirrored again the underside of the floor creating a further visual echo.

Perugini followed the Seven Principles for Arhcitecture promoted by the APAO and Bruno Zevi. To connect the occupant with the surrounding landscape and the sky above the floor elements were broken up and shiften up/down to allow a visual connection through the gaps to site below and the sky above. The pool underneath the buidling mirrored the sky again enhancing the effect by creating an upside down sky reflected in the water.

Each of the spaces occupied its own concrete floor panel, each of them independent from the adjacent element.

This sketch shows each of the floors being broken up into four independent elements supported by the concrete beam below and suspended off the concrete frame above.

Giusepe envisioned the house as a pure concrete box with only slits leatting in light. After much discussion between himself, Uga and Raynaldo this idea was not followed.

This sketch explored the idea of seperating all the walls, floors and ceilnigs with glass strips echoing Zevis Seven Principles for Architecture.

A further ideas was pursued to introduce circular openings filled with spherical windows.

In the end, the family decided on a modular wall structure made of pre-case hollow elements. This could be lifted into position and then they could decide where to place solid elements and where to leave to window openings.

Sketch exploring ideas of coloured glass elements instead of the cuboid concrete blocks.

Sketch testing ideas of circular and globe-shaped elements used to create the spaces in the main structure of the Casa.

(All sketches are copyright by the Perugini family archive.)

Casa Sperimentale – A Baroque Geometry

Giuseppe Perugini’s analysed Francesco Borromimi’s Church Sette Dolori using a geometry based on circles and their numerical dependencies. Using a similar technique it is evident that the geometry of the Casa Sperimentale followed similar patterns. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

Giuseppe Perugini was Professor for Architectural Composition at Roma Sapienza University. His main field of research focussed on the Baroque architectures of the architect Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). Perugini developed an analytical drawing method used to study the compositional arrangement of two projects through geometrical drawings.

In the first one, the church San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, he predominantly applied the technique to the plan arrangement of the main space. In the second, the convent Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori, this tool was used in plan, section and as well in the details studies of individual architectonically relevant fragments like for example the entrance portico and the oval side niches.

In his book La Forma in Architetture published 1953 Perugini explored the idea of introducing geometric tools to analyse architectural form of the buildings. He concluded that this process, although removed from the actual experience of the space, is clearly ‘a result of a wise will, of a practical convention of the mathematizing mind.’ (p21)

In a further publication Architettura di Borromini nella Chiesa di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori (1963) he sets out a baseline grid formed of numerically related circular geometries to analytically interpret the space. He concludes that “the geometric repertoire of Borromini does not originate from emptiness; it has its roots precisely in that primordial geometry of the plan.” (p23)

Perugini was not explicit in documenting his translation of the Baroque projects taken as studies to his contemporary design outputs. This is partially due also of the organic nature of the design process especially in the Casa Sperimentale, in which very few drawings were used or survived. Whereas in his early designs, notably the reconstruction of the San Germano village in 1955, he mainly relies on a composition based on the application of the Golden Section.In mathematics, two numbers are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two number. This ration can be expressed as 1.618… It is evident that in the Casa Sperimentale Perugini experimented with both an arithmetic number sequence, and an order based on the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers. There is evidence that these were derived from his detailed geometric studies of the Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori Church in the plan and section studies.

Noting that Baroque spaces have many layered and possible interpretations, even beyond architecture, we can see Perugini’s arc of interest focussing on the plan and the elevation, then identifying trigonometric patterns of proportions—operating at different levels—used to order recognisable undulations of wall and structure in plan, and architectural elements such as windows and arches in elevation. It is understood that these studies were not conducted specifically with the Casa Sperimentale at a singular objective and so, tracing possible reinterpretations and applications of these qualities, from his studies to his designs, provides an interesting exercise.

In conducting a comparative study of the Casa Sperimentale we can observe specific tendencies, which highlight or at the very least suggest tangible influences of his Baroque learning on his design principles. These include a rhythmic use of proportion at differing scales to define rooms, the use of undulating walls, and light, to dissolve the idea of a flat building perimeter, and the use of line, square, and circle in specific combinations, subtly echoing Baroque compositions.

The outer walls of the Casa Sperimentale are composed and constructed out of individually precast concrete frames. Each wall has a different tectonic and elevation. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

The numerical relationships in the relation of the individual building elements and their compositional arrangements are based on an arithmetic number sequence. The relationships seem to echo the ones researched in Sette Dolori. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

The numerical sequences and relationships of the parts to the whole arrangement allow for a near-infinite number of unique arrangements of the parts within the set parameters of the exterior walls. This drawing shows these relationships within the perimeter walls drawn as arithmetic number sequences. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

This drawing investigates the walls of the Casa Sperimentale through the Fibonacci number sequence 1-1-2-3-5-8-13. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

This drawing investigates the walls of the Casa Sperimentale through an arithmetic number sequence 1-2-4-8-16. (Drawing by Patrick Weber)

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Perugini and the idea of a Cybernetic Architecture

Influenced by ideas of a cybernetic systems organising architectural space, Perugini experimented with a theoretical system in his competition entry for the Ospedale Cibernetico—the Cybernetic Hospital in 1967. Using a computer, the hospital reorganises the spaces around the patients’ needs creating a dynamic flexible architecture. (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

 The University of Sapienza in Rome was in the early 1960/1970 a centre of early cybernetic research. Working alongside the statistician and mathematician Bruno de Finetti Bruno de Finetti (1906–1985) was an Italian probabilist statistician and actuary, noted for the “operational subjective” conception of probability. His research has been seen to lay the foundations of modern computing. Link, Vittorio Somenzi Vittorio Somenzi (1918-2003) was an Italian philosopher. His work directed his theoretical studies on cybernetics and was among the first in Italy to be interested in artificial intelligence and to study the mind-brain and mind-machine relationships. and Roberto Cordeschi Roberto Cordeshi (1946-2014) was an Italian philosopher teaching at Sapienza in Rome. Working with Somenzi he immediately became passionate about the history of cybernetics. explored cybernetics at the faculty of philosophy. Together they published The Philosophy of Automata La Filisofia degli Automi, V. Somenzi, R. Cordeshi, Bollati Boringhieri, 1965 . Their research linked Alan Turing (UK) Alan Turing (1912-1954) was a British mathematician and logician, who made major contributions to mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, philosophy and also to the new areas later named computer science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. and his work with early computing, Norbert Wiener (US) Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT.and his ideas of Cybernetics—which he defined in 1948 as ‘the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine’, and Claude Shannon (US)—a mathematician and cryptographer credited as ‘the father of Information Technology (IT)’.

Cordeschi was appointed at Sapienza in 1965 and from 1966 an influx of research into Cybernetics reached the library of Sapienza. The work of Norbert Wiener, Victor Glushkov and other pioneers in the field became known at Sapienza.

For the Cybernetic hospital the plans are no longer static and based on a compositional arrangement of the spaces. Each patient’s clinical treatment needs result in a reconfiguration of the entire system. There are similarities in which Amazon is nowadays using a kinetic warehouse where the shelves reconfigure themselves around the packing station to optimise the storage space for accessibility whilst minimising the space used for packing individual parcels.  (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

With these developments as context Perugini took an interest in the Kiev circle of development in cybernetic research, referring to computers like the Mir-2, a newly developed system that suggested the idea of a centralised system that can solve different problems for distant companies and institutions. Research in these approaches in technology was led concurrently by Russian research institutions, and in the field of Information Technology Victor Glushkov, a mathematician and figure highlighted by Perugini, became widely known as one of the founding fathers of Soviet cybernetics. Glushkov’s research became known in the West through the English translation of the Introduction to Cybernetics Introduction into Cybernetics, V. Gluskkov, Academic Press, 1966first published in 1966 and since then included in the Sapienza library.

Perugini continued his cybernetic research through a competition entry for a convention centre in Vienna. Here all spatial organisations are solely organised as dependent spatial arrangements—responding with an architecture that is adapting to different needs. (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

Although he did not go into detail, even at this point in the emergence of Information Technology, Perugini was already imagining a future where computing would be employed to solve ever more complex problems in economics at a national level, by networking smaller systems (electronic calculators). However, at the same time, Perugini was aware of intentions from others to apply this ‘new science’ within architecture ‘as a substitute for the “mental process” or as an aid to the quantitative verification of the mechanics of forms.’ Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.134

He was critical of an education system he perceived as focussed on training architects to do no more than deliver for the industry. Whilst aware of these issues affecting confidences in architectural education of the time and discourse on aims to develop new structures—within an increasingly free society, these possibilities, mis-intentions, and questions formed the core of Perugini’s attraction to the field of cybernetics.

In this regard, he saw the idea of the ‘model’—a form of a virtual construct with the potential to serve as an analogy for any other system—itself being a form of transcendent creative product, ‘The creative act, specifically human, in all fields, whether it be the work of art, scientific discovery or the revolutionary initiative, is the construction of models. Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.136

Noting that Perugini’s work on this subject is one of the earliest applications of computing in architecture as a design assistive model, it is worth considering that even then he was conscious of seeing the role of computing (systems based on logic and rational processes) as ‘overcoming the rationalism of function through a design that uses the computer to manage the relationship between things, in their movement, in their change, in their life, in their mutual action.’ Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.136

From this, we can see in the ‘atomisation’ of the Casa Sperimentale into constituent interchangeable elements, after grouping these elements into families the expanded potential of spatial situations through the expanded possibilities of elemental relationships. Here, in managing this new field of potentially infinite formations, as ‘ordinateur’, lies one of Perugini’s notional applications of cybernetics in Architecture through permutations and variations of the Casa Sperimentale.