La forma in architettura. Appunti per una metodologia del rilievo, Perugini, G., A. Conti, Rome, 1953
Modelli Borrominiani, in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Perugini, G., Università di Roma, Rome, 1962
Il Campidoglio di Michelangelo, rilievi a cura di Enrico Del Debbio e Perugini G., fotografie di Leonard Von Matt – Guglielmo De Angelis d’Ossat, Silvana, Rome 1965
Architettura sovietica della rivoluzione: manifesti documenti contributi : informazione sugli anni 1910-20 in U.r.s.s, Perugini, G., Edizione Nuova Dimensione, Rome, 1969
Perchè Loos, Perugini G., Rome, 1970
Progetti e ricerca, Perugini G., Edizione Nuova Dimensione, Rome, 1975
La Casa Albero. Un esperimento di architettura, Perugini, R.; Perugini, G., Ginevra Bentivoglio EditoriA, 2018
De Plaisant, U.
Le Iconi d’Oggi, De Plaisant, U., Bulzoni, 1975
La memoria creativa, Perugini, R., Officina 1985
Periplo architettonico. Saggi su teoria, pensiero e progetto nella storia dell’architettura moderna e contemporanea, Perugini, R., Ginevra Bentivoglio EditoriA, 2008
La lezione della storia. Architetti e contesti tra antichità classica e tardo Rinascimento, Peruggini, R., Ginevra Bentivoglio EditoriA, 2015
La casa albero. Un esperimento di architettura, Perugini, R.; Perugini, G., Ginevra Bentivoglio EditoriA, 2018
Catalogue for the architekturgalerie am weissenhof exhibition in January – March 2019.
Link to architektrugalerie am weissenhof, Stuttgart
Link to AMAZON
The set-up of of the walls for the Royal Academy London exhibition
To explore the idea od the Endless House we fabricated a scale model of the Casa Sperimentale. THis model made of grey Valchromat and wood was set up for the Weissenhog exhibition to reflect the current set up of the walls in the house.
The model, consisting of 199 individual pieces is, like the real building, made of modules bolted together. They can be disassembled and reassembled to test out different configurations of the building.
Casa Model set up in the Weissenhof exhibition.
This setting reflects the current set up of the walls in the Casa Sperimentale. The transport box, made of plywood in the same dimensions as the Casa Sperimentale wall elements can be used to transport the model.
The bathroom elements, CNC’ed out of wood are suspended off the mainframe of the model like the bathrooms in the real building.
These drawings shows the CNC toolpaths for the fabrication of the model.
This model was made with support from the Bartlett BMade workshop. The CNC work was done by Dimitris Ktorides.
Plan of the Casa Sperimentale
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
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.)
The Casa Sperimentale was conceived right from the start as an elevated structure, removed off the ground and set within the context of the pine trees on the existing site.
Like the tree canopy, each of the rooms/spaces is its separate space with the plates not touching each other in a similar way tree canopies do not grow together. This natural phenomenon is called Canopy Shyness.
View of the trees on the site looking up.
View through the structure from the pool looking up towards the sky.
Canopy shyness is observed in nature.
Each of the internal ‘rooms’ is sitting on individually supported floor plates. These are separated by strips of glass allowing the occupant to look up towards the sky and down towards the ground through these slits.
This image shows the glass slits separating the ceiling plates with glass.
View from inside through theglass strips toward the sky/ground.
Canopy Shyness – Biology Blog
The Associazione per l’architettura organica
In 1945 Association for Organic Architecture, APAO, was founded in Rome by the architect and historian Bruno Zevi, Luigi Piccinato, Mario Ridolfi, Pier Luigi Nervi and among others Giuseppe Perugini.
The organisation was seen to offer an alternative approach towards architecture and education that was in stark contrast wit the more reactionary models and ideas of academism of the Faculty of Architecture of Rome.
The founding statement of the APAO declaration of principles appeared in Zevi’s magazine “Metron”, n ° 2, in 1945:
“… The genesis of contemporary architecture is essentially found in functionalism. Whatever the evolution of functional architecture in organic architecture, we are convinced that in functionalism it is the root of modern architecture, and not in the currents of neoclassical stylization, not in the provincialism of the minor styles… Organic architecture is a social, technical and artistic activity at the same time, aimed at creating the environment for a new democratic civilization. Organic architecture means architecture for man, modelled according to the human scale, according to the spiritual, psychological and material needs of the associated man … “.
Bruno Zevi on Organic Architecture
Bruno Zevi and the APAO
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)
In order to collect all material and references we collected a reading list with all books and references to Perugini and our own research.
Bottazzi, R., Digital Architecture beyond Computers, 2018, Bloomsbury, London, UK
Burke, E., A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1823, Thomas Lean, London, UK
Ciorra P., Cohen JL, Zevi’s Architects, 2018, Maxxi Quodlibet, Rome, Italy
Eco, U., Opera Aperta (Open Work), 1962, Bompiani, Milano, Italy
Forleo F., La cibernetica italiana della mente nella civiltà delle macchine. Origini e attualità della logonica attenzionale a partire da Silvio Ceccato, Mantova, Universita Studiorum, 2017 ,Mantua, Italy
Gideon, S., Raum, Zeit, Architektur, 1941, Harvard College, Massachusetts, USA
Glushkov, V., Introduction into Cybernetics, 1966, Academic Press Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Hersey, G.L., Architecture and Geometry in the Ago of the Baroque, 2000, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
Leach, A., Macarthur, J., Delbeke, M., The Baroque in Architectural Culture, 2015, Routledge, London, UK
Molinerno G., Encyclopedia of Contemporary Italian Culture, 2000, Routledge, London, UK.
Perugini G., Architettura di Borromini, 1959, University di Roma, Rome, Italy
Perugini, G., Architettura di Borromini nella Chiesa di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori, 1963, Tip. Italiana, Rome, Italy
Perugini, G., Architecttura Sovietica della Rivoluzione, Universita di Roma, 1969, Rome, Italy
Perugini, G., La Forma in Architettura, 1953, A. Conti Roma, Rome, Italy
Perugini, G., Progetti Ricerca, 1975, Nuova Dimensione Prima edizione, Roma, Italy
Perugini, G., Strutture, 1969, Nuova Dimensione Prima edizione, Roma, Italy
Somenzi, V., Cordeschi, R., La Filosofia Degli Automi, 1965, Universale Scientifica Boringheri, Turin, Italy
Zevi, B. Architecture as Space, 1948, translated by Milton Gendel 1957, Horizon Press, New York, USA
Zevi, B., The Modern Language of Architecture, 1978, University Washington Press, Seattle, USA
Zevi B., Towards and Organic Architecture, 1945, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino, Italy
Zevi B., Spazi dell’architettura moderna, 1973, Giulio Einaudi, Torino, Italy
Malinovsky, B., Pioneers of Soviet Computing, 2012, www.sigcis.org LINK
Boyacioglu D., Paradoxes of Neorealist Architecture, 2014, Istanbul Ticaret Universitesi, Istanbul, Turkey
Cordeschi, R., Numerico, T., La Cibernetica in Italia, 2013, in Il contributo italiano alla storia del pensiero. Scienze, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome, Italy
Imperiale, A., Alternate Organics – The aesthetics of experimentation in art, technology & architecture in postwar Italy, 2014, Princeton University, Princeton, USA
Lyotard, J.F., Presenting the Unpresentable: The Sublime ArtForum, 22.8, (Apr 1984), p.64
Nesbitt, K., The Sublime and Modern Architecture: Unmasking (an Aestetic of) Abstraction, 1995, University of Virgina, USA
Saunders, A., Baroque Parameters, 2009, Wiley&Sons, London
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.