Uga de Plaisant

(Rome 1917-Rome 2004)

Born in Rome on April 1, 1917 from an ancient family of French origin, in 1937 she enrolled in the Faculty of Architecture of Rome, where she began her teaching career in the circle of assistants of Enrico Del Debbio, one of the main components of her activity, which will lead her to become Full Professor of Representation Techniques in the Faculty of Engineering of Rome “La Sapienza”, Florence and Rome “Tor Vergata”. Her innovative and experimental method of teaching is also applied in the field of operational research, so much so that she obtains the first Inarch / Finsider Prize 1967 for the design of steel structures and a special recognition for the extreme modernity of the solutions proposed in the competition for new school typologies promoted in 1972 by the Province of Milan.

Her professional activity, which began as a student with the participation in the first project for the Memorial of the Fosse Ardeatine – whose motto was significantly U (nion) G (young) A (rchitetti) – continues above all in the field of school construction and sports with a series of projects both in collaboration with Giuseppe Perugini, with whom he shares fifty years of life and professional activity, and independently.

Uga published several book, mainly on graphics and design.

Uga de PLaisant, Le Iconi d’Oggi, 1975 Link

Books by Uga on Abe Books

List of Projects by Uga de Plaisant:

Ristrutturazione della Tabaccheria Reali all’interno della Galleria Colonna a Roma
Cinema Primavera a Roma
Concorso per la sistemazione urbanistica di un nucleo abitativo ad Avellino (secondo premio)
– Concorso nazionale per la costruzione di palestre tipo promosso dal C.O.N.I (primo premio)
– Fabbricati INA-Casa ad Anguillara Sabazia e a Mazzano Romano (Roma)
Concorso per un quartiere U.N.R.A.-C.A.S.A.S. a Roma
Concorso per la sistemazione urbanistica del quartiere Flaminio a Roma
Edificio ecclesiastico ed annessi locali di culto a Nazzano Romano (Roma)
– Edificio per competizioni sportive ad Arezzo

– Palestra C.O.N.I. a Frosinone
– Palestra C.O.N.I. a Prato
– Edificio per competizioni sportive a Sassari
Fabbricati nel piano di zona INA-Casa Roma Acilia (capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con E.Del Debbio ed altri)
Concorso nazionale per il nuovo palazzo di giustizia di Bari (capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini)
Città Giudiziaria di Roma (concorso nazionale e realizzazione, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini con V.De Feo, M.Nicoletti, E.Giangreco e N.Monteduro)
Concorso per il nuovo palazzo di giustizia di Lecce (capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con N.Monteduro, progetto segnalato)
– Premio Inarch/Finsider per la progettazione di strutture in acciaio (concorso nazionale, primo premio Giuseppe Perugini e Uga de Plaisant)
– Nuovo ospedale di Pietralata a Roma (concorso nazionale, premio speciale per la ricerca scientifica, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con A.Tonelli e G.Tonelli)
– Allestimento espositivo nella Fortezza da Basso di Firenze (concorso nazionale, premio speciale della giuria, Giuseppe Perugini e Uga de Plaisant)
Chiesa a Primavalle a Roma (concorso nazionale per nuove tipologie ecclesiastiche, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con A.Tonelli e G.Tonelli)
– Sede dell’U.N.I.D.O. a Vienna (concorso internazionale, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con Raynaldo Perugini ed altri)
– Sistemazione urbanistica della Valle della Caffarella a Roma (concorso nazionale, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con A.Tonelli e G.Tonelli)
Edificio scolastico a Pompei
Casa sperimentale a Fregene (Roma) (progetto e realizzazione Giuseppe Perugini, Uga de Plaisant e Raynaldo Perugini)
Ponte sullo Stretto di Messina (concorso internazionale, capogruppo Giuseppe Perugini, con V.De Benedetti e G.Menocci)
Nuova Galleria d’Arte Moderna a Milano (concorso nazionale, Giuseppe Perugini e Uga de Plaisant, primo premio)
Concorso per nuove tipologie scolastiche promosso dalla Provincia di Milano (premio per la ricerca scientifica)
Restauro del complesso monumentale di Villa Mondragone a Monteporzio Catone (Roma), opera dell’architetto del Cinquecento Martino Longhi il Vecchio (progetto Uga de Plaisant, direzione artistica Giuseppe Perugini)
Progetto in forma di “Project Financing” per il nuovo Porto Turistico di Campomarino (CB) – Studio Perugini (Uga de Plaisant e Raynaldo Perugini)

Source SIUSA

The (Hi)Stories of the Casa Sperimentale

This is one of the first images we took of the Casa Sperimentale during our first visit in 2015. At the time the building was largely open. Very little of the building had been vandalised or covered in graffiti.

Over the last couple of years, we have managed to uncover and collect fragments of the diverse history of the Casa Sperimentale. We are still at the beginning of our journey to discover the many (hi)stories behind this amazing building.

Located in a pine grove on the fringes of Fregene, a seaside town near Rome now directly under the flightpath of Rome Fiumicino Airport, lies the Casa Sperimentale, also known as the Casa Albero or ‘the Treehouse’. Construction started in 1968 led by a family of Italian architects, Giuseppe Perugini (1914–1995), his wife Uga de Plaisant (1917–2004) and their son Raynaldo Perugini (1950–). Giuseppe Perugini was a significant figure in the architecture of post-World War II Italy. Very early on in his career, he collaborated with fellow architect Mario Fiorentino and artist Mirko Basaldella on the Monument of Fosse Ardeatine in Rome. From that time onwards, he spent the majority of his career teaching architectural composition at Rome Sapienza University.

Together with the architectural historian Bruno Zevi, Giuseppe Perugini was one of the founders of the Association of Organic Architecture (APAO). In trying to develop a new kind of open and democratic architecture, Zevi defined a series of seven architectural principles. In contrast to Le Corbusier’s ‘five points of architecture’, in which he defined which architectural elements should be integral to his approach, Zevi’s rules didn’t provide the same clear design advice, they didn’t define a specific way to design or build a new modern architecture. The rules described an organic approach towards an architecture that could be interpreted in many formalistically different ways.

Right from the start the Casa Sperimentale had been conceived as an experiment, a way to test out ideas of collective design, a non-compositional arrangement, and concepts of breaking up traditional spatial arrangements. Perugini’s process was inherently multidisciplinary, rooted in academia and architectural theory (composition). Amongst other fields he touched upon architectural history through his studies of Borromini’s work, early computing through his interests in cybernetic research, urban design through his competition proposals, and tectonic processes through the building of the Casa Sperimentale.

These varied disciplines helped to define a context of his practice, but the practice itself was further shaped by the sociopolitical activity of Italy post World War II, developments in Architecture, and the movements of key individuals contributing to Perugini’s approaches in this period.

All of these fields frame a diverse body of interests, connected through Perugini himself as common denominator. Each of these interests introduces its own line of study, inspiring new and more appropriate research methodologies in turn. Perugini’s interpretation of Borromini took place through a lens of geometric proportion—addressed through drawing research. His interpretations of cybernetic research were theoretical but addressed through written research and expressed in the principles of variation in his Architecture. Construction was explored through his experimentation with new tectonics, new ways of making, and new forms of connection, embodied in the materiality of the Casa Sperimentale. Each subject connects to its own research matter, and each is situated in a primary medium—drawings, documents, tectonics, and historical record. As such each medium reflects a different facet of context.

The building is an important piece of architecture in post war Italy. Still mostly overlooked by the architectural community, its obscure history is only known through a series of surviving fragments. The building it now is in a very fragile state, having been abandoned in 2004 and subject to intermittent vandalism since, it might soon pass beyond a point of recovery.

The Casa Sperimentale can be considered as a first step in a series of projects by the Perugini family exploring ideas of prefabrication and open-ended design processes, leading to a series of projects that introduced computational calculations and early cybernetic approaches into the field of architecture in the mid 1960’s. It draws reference from studies of the Baroque architectures of Francesco Borromini, especially in Perugini’s own research work on San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori in Rome. The project may be read as a response to Bruno Zevi and Perugini’s definition of an ‘organic architectural approach’, promoted in the APAO (Association of Organic Architecture).

The house which was once at the centre of an intellectual and bohemian community living in Fregene during the summers in the early 1960’s to the late 1970’s has, since its abandonment, been rediscovered by the public via social media as the perfect Instagram geo-taggable location. More critically it is used by urban subcultures as a perfect canvas for graffiti and an exercise ground for free-running – urban parkour.

The Casa Sperimentale is often categorised as a Brutalist building. However, despite its concrete form it isn’t born out of a brutalist mindset. It is rather the result of an alternative approach – a refined, considered, organic, democratic and most of all human response to architectural design.

The project consists of three independent buildings:

the Casa Sperimentale—the main house,

the Sphere—an experiment to design a self-contained living space set in a five-meter concrete sphere and,

 the Guest Houses—a set of separate buildings placed towards the rear of the site.

The project, the collection of buildings, is surrounded by a curved concrete perimeter Fence.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the Perugini family experimented with novel construction techniques and an unorthodox design method to create an extraordinary elevated house, a concrete treehouse. The story that led to the creation of the building is unique, it links into the history of early architectural computing, and connects it with an obsession for the 17th century Baroque architecture of Francesco Borromini. As a result, the architecture plays with numbers, structure and light, and sat at the heart of a movement which explored ‘organic’ human-scale architecture.

The design of the Casa Sperimentale follows the idea of a suspended object inhabiting an elevated position amongst the pine grove, echoing the forest structure—an irregular grid of tree trunk-like columns and overarching concrete branches supports an architectural canopy overhead. Several ‘trees’ merge together to create a seemingly solid body, whilst leaving narrow clearings through which the sky can be glimpsed from the pool beneath the building. In forests this aligns with a phenomenon known as ‘canopy shyness’, where trees permit a consistent narrow gap between themselves, the exact reason for which is still hypothesised.

Breaking with the traditional arrangement of floors, ceilings, and supporting walls, the house sits above a body of water—the pool—reflecting the underside of the building and creating a defined void in-between. This is repeated within the house by carefully placing openings and slits in the floors and ceilings—breaking the traditional structure of the house into elements. This new space between the elements becomes an open void without defined boundaries.

The design and construction were organic processes—starting as sketches, driven by intuition, most final design decisions were made ad-hoc on site. Whereas the design of the superstructure was developed rapidly, the placing and the nature of the enclosing walls in the grid were much debated during the building process. Perugini explored ideas of modular living in the 1967 INARCH-FINSIDER competition. These ideas were developed further in the Casa Sperimentale where they significantly informed and transformed the design.

The superstructure consists of three main concrete frames from which further building elements are suspended. Each of these modular elements are further divided into individual segments separated by a slither of glass and supported at the centre through a bespoke steel coupling. The horizontal and vertical elements are independently supported leaving the surrounding walls as non-load bearing interchangeable infill elements.

Giuseppe envisioned the house as a series of pure concrete boxes. But Uga preferred a much more perforated skin throughout, allowing visual connections between the house, the surrounding landscape, and the tree canopies. After much negotiation, individual elements were cast and placed on the concrete floor slabs following a set of strict geometric rules. Through a composition of hollow concrete framed panels and open concrete window frames, on a 500mm grid, Perugini defined a lively undulating wall elevation.

Some elements have precast markings of letters and numbers, this alludes to the exchangeable interchangeable character of the individual building blocks, and an inherent set of assembly instructions, whilst referring to the manufacturing processes behind their formation. Finally, the openings were finished with bespoke metal window frames following a similar geometric system of squares.

In striking contrast to this grid geometry are two cantilevered elliptical spheres as bathrooms. These were cast in two sections as hemispheres in the sand on-site and are separated from one another by a narrow glass strip. The bathrooms are entered through circular centrally pivoting doors with translucent infills.

The Sphere, an independent structure for a self-contained micro-house, was originally intended to be fitted out with a suspended bathroom and a circular kitchen block, however, it was used by the family in an ad-hoc state as a kitchen. It is sited on the forest floor next to the main house and its elements were also cast from a hemispherical mould in the sand. Taking reference from the Pantheon the upper hemisphere has a small oculus opening at the azimuth.

The form of the Guest House consists of three rooms and has been built in a more traditional way with concrete blockwork. The entrance doors were designed as rotating drum segments opening outwards. Each room has large portholes as windows connecting them with the site and back to the main house.

Their son, Raynaldo, refers to the house as the ‘unfinishable endless house’. Being conceived as an almost Lego like structure, all wall elements are simply bolted together. In this way, they can be removed and reconfigured to create different arrangements of spaces, enabling different connections between the space and the surrounding site. A speculative drawing by the architects shows how the structure could extend over the entire site to create an endless meandering concrete treehouse complex.

After the deaths of Giuseppe Perugini, and Uga de Plaissant, in 1998 and 2004 respectively, the house was abandoned. After some years of relative safety, an increased exposure on social media platforms—first Flickr then Instagram—led to more break-ins and illegal visits by the interested public to the site. Whereas in the beginning Angelo Bellotto attempted to halt this by opening up the house to these influx of people, recently, over the previous few years he has been unable to look after the house due to illness. As such, it has become an Instagram location, a spot for urban freerunning and the set for illegally shot music videos. All this has taken a toll on the building—windows smashed, doors broken, and concrete eroded.

Giuseppe Perugini

(Buenos Aires 17 March 1914 – Rome 19 September 1995)

Giuseppe Perugini arrived in Rome from Argentina in the early Thirties with the intention of studying art. He first enrolled to study sculpture but after an accident was no longer able to continue his studies in this subject.

He came in contact with the still vital Avant-gardes and with the almost clandestine rationalist ideas of the time. No longer being able to follow his passion for sculpture he enrolled in that faculty of Architecture. In these years of study, he has the opportunity to attend the Masters of the Roman School, such as Adalberto Libera. After graduating in 1941, he immediately began his own teaching and research activity, a direct expression of an architectural creed. In his career he was awarded the title of Officier (le l’Ordre de Léopold of Belgium (for the Italian pavilion at Expo 1958), in 1969 the Henry Bacon Medal for Memorial Architecture of the American Institute of Architects (for the Monument of the Fosse Ardeatine) and the Inarch-Finsider Award in 1967 for the innovations introduced in the design of steel housing structures.

A further demonstration of his desire to experiment, he was among the first scholars to propose, in the ’60s, the use of computers as instrument authorizing modular building elements.I

During his career he presented a series of projects to international competitions, such as the circular bridge over the Strait of Messina, the Plateau Beaubourg tower-helix, born from the integration of particularly expressive signs and avant-garde technological choices. And others, such as the well-known “cybernetic hospital” and the UNIDO headquarters in Vienna, where the function is privileged through the decomposition and recomposition of cells mentions aggregated electronically according to the actual needs, thus eliminating the conventional dispersions of the traditional architectural object.

In all the projects, however, the will to express the message that every work must contain, making its symbolic and psychological values ​​as clear as possible, can be read. Also the desire to deepen the dialogue between architecture and the technical-scientific process exhibited with a language that can also be understood by the non-initiated. Moreover, the dialectical confrontation and the collaboration of choruses of the prominent personalities of the culture of our age such as Neutra, Bakema, Moore, Arp, Mirko, and Cagli contributed to strengthening its original rationalism leading to more and more advanced abstractions until the transformation into «Symbol» of each of its design ideas.

Thus his first work, the Monument to the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome, at the same time architectural structure, symbol and memorial, appears as a “unique tomb”. While the buildings of the Judicial City were configured as a true “citadel”, inspired by the “urban” and itinerant aspect of the justice of the Classical Age. Also belonging to the same ideology are the church-sacrarium of Piedimonte Sari Germano, the aforementioned bridge of Messina – a tangible emblem of the connection between the two shores, the “kinetic explosion” of the project of an exhibition pole in the Fortezza da Basso in Florence, the binomial matter-music of the Memorial Fermi prism in Chicago. So the very recent cubic monolith dedicated to Natalino Sapegno, the “dynamism” of the project for the Turin airport, the “tree-house” in Fregene, are all works that grant nothing to the form itself, to the compositional occasionality, and from which a “stylistic” continuity and a rigorous method of interpretations of the space expressed, under the aegis of geometry, with “pure” materials among which steel and reinforced concrete prevail. But this particular design “method” does not end with strictly architectural or monumental production, so much so that in urban planning interventions, in motorway sections – just think of the “knot” of Restoration along the Palermo-Catania or even in the restoration of buildings of particular value – the Muti-Bussi palace or the Villa Mondragone – the desire to reveal through the architectural medium a meaning derived from the matrices themselves of the work is always easily recognizable. As for his socio-publicistic activity, he was called immediately after the war to participate in the initiatives promoted by the Ministry of Public Administration. for the formulation of legislation aimed at standardizing the reconstruction processes of the country. In subsequent years, the board of directors of I.S.E.S., Contributes to the recovery of the earthquake zones of Belice. It is therefore part of the Consulta dei Ministero P.I. for school building regulations and, between 1962 and 1966, as President of the Order, the Architects of Rome and Lazio participated in the debate on the equivalence of professional qualifications within the EEC.

He is also president of the Opera Universitaria, a member of the commission in numerous national and international competitions, a member of the building commission and the commission for the study of the new urban structure of the metropolitan area of ​​Rome, as well as the founder of the A.P.A. – Association for Organic Architecture – and the Circolo di Roma.

Among his writings we find essays and works dedicated to the analysis of contemporary architectural culture (La forma in architettura, Rome 1953), to the comparison between theory and built Architecture of Borromini in the church of S. Maria dei Sette Dolori, Rome 1959 and Borrominian models in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Rome (1962), at Michelangelo’s intervention in the Campidoglio in AA.VV., Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, San Luca Academy, Rome (1965) and the potential applications of electronic means in architecture.

Image from Qui Fregene no42, 1996

Interview with Raynaldo Perugini, the owner

Professor Raynaldo Perugini, the son of Giuseppe Perugini and Uga de Plaissant is one of the three architects who designed and build the Casa Sperimentale.

In the video Raynaldo is explaining some of the ideas behind the design and some of the history of the building.

Interview on Youtube

Our Introduction to the Casa Sperimentale

The Casa Sperimentale – A Chronicle of Experimentation

Architects experiment – it is in their nature. Some push what is possible, what is accepted and what is rational to their limit. Some experiments result in success, others fail. The Casa Sperimentale is one of these amazing built experiments. Surprisingly largely unknown to the architectural community it has been never published. It is seen as an example of experimental brutalist architecture that deserves to be listed alongside projects including the Barbican, the National Theatre in London and the Banco di Londra in Buenos Aires. But it isn’t born out of a Brutalist mindset – actually it is exactly the opposite: It is a refined structure, created as the result of a democratic process, designed along with ideas of an organic architecture. Yes, it is made of concrete but please do not call it Brutalist, you are not doing it any justice.

Today it slowly deteriorates, being broken into, vandalised, covered in graffiti, used as a track for urban parkour, it’s a well known Instagram spot, an illegal party location, there are myths about it, and sadly might soon be beyond repair and lost forever.

Our research is uncovering and documenting the story of designing, building and living in this extraordinary structure. For the last five years, we are working on documenting and taking part in an effort to rescue this amazing piece of architecture.

The Italian architect Giuseppe Perugini, together with his wife Uga de Plaissant and their son Raynaldo embarked on a journey to build a summer house in Fregene, a coastal suburb of Rome. In 1968 they started the construction of their Casa Sperimentale – the Experimental House – now also known as Casa Albero – the Treehouse. The house was conceived as an experimental living environment in which the boundaries between the composition of space and the construction methods were pushed to the very limits.

Working with a local builder they worked over the years to translate ideas developed by working with early computing in architecture and their interest in the baroque architect Borromini, their interest in an organic architecture, research into pre-fabrication, pottery (for the making of the concrete shells) into one building. Working only from sketches with no actual construction drawings the building was developed as a step by step organic process.

At the Casa Sperimentale, the Peruginis experimented with a series of concrete cube elements and precast spheres hung off a concrete superstructure. The living spaces were separated, de-composed and re-composed into a three-dimensional grid. All the concrete elements are defined and separated through narrow panels of glass in the walls, floors and ceilings offering glimpses of the supporting structure and the surrounding site. Floors and walls are seemingly floating. Taking reference from Borromini’s San Carlo – one of the research interests of the architect, the walls are formed as a series of niches and cupboards set into the concrete. No plans were made of this arrangement. A series of concrete elements were cast on-site and then assembled like a kit of parts making decisions as they went along. All the walls are individual concrete elements that are exchangeable.

The main living areas are accessed via a steel staircase and are organised over two main levels meandering upwards to the roof terrace. All the surrounding walls are penetrated by a series of openings, cast concrete storage cupboards and suspended concrete spheres containing the bathrooms.

The site is surrounded by a curved concrete fence. In front of the building is a spherical orb the Palla – an observatory looking back to the house. This has been cast in the sand deposits of the site and extracted from the earth.

After the death of the parents the house became abandoned in the late-1990s, with the guest buildings on site been inaccessible since 1985.

Today there is a growing curiosity in the house and its history but so far very little research has been undertaken to document the building and to uncover it’s (hi)story. We are very fortunate to be working with the family of Giuseppe Perugini to document the building and uncover parts of its history.

Raynaldo Perugini showing us some of the sketches from the archive, April 2020.

We discovered the Casa Sperimentale in the same way we find stuff nowadays – on the web. Coming across an image of the structure we haven’t seen before made us curious. After more than five years of visiting, cutting away the trees, researching in archives, listening to stories and making connections we feel ready to share our findings on this new website.

Our jounrey with the Casa has only begun.

Sabine Storp + Patrick Weber, London July 2020