Villa Pratolino in Radda in Chianti By Studio di Architettura Pontello

The landscape of Tuscany is changing with a rapidity that perhaps we don’t realize and its changes are the consequence of the agricultural crisis that led to the abandonment of farms and traditional cultures. Decisive factors were initially the industrialization and the attraction of the cities, today tourism.

Architects: Studio di Architettura Pontello
Status: Built

The Tuscan countryside, for centuries the cradle of traditions and a spontaneous way of building, is today subject to a revolution that nevertheless poses the problem of safeguarding a huge building heritage.

It is certainly not possible to expect that such a vast building patrimony be mummified or subjected to limits. However, we must try not to distort the relationship that this has with its history and the surrounding environment.

In reading the farmhouses of Tuscany we can find one of the greatest aspirations of every architect: to evaluate in renewed terms the relationships to be established between man, society and the environment.

The phenomenon of spontaneous architecture brings to mind the historical reasons that determined it, which in turn refer not to the study of schools and artistic currents, but to the more alive traditions, popular culture, the widespread awareness of forms made and experienced endless times.

The Tuscan farmhouse, as we see it today, is the ultimate product of an incessant variation of forms over time, which took place as a result of changing the functions of living in quality and quantity: this is even more true if one makes exception architecturally more defined and evolved types of the last two or three centuries. As a consequence of this fact, in order to organize the matter in an orderly manner, several times in the past classifications were made based on the typological characteristics that individually or in groups are prevalent in these forms of abitation.

The bases were then laid for a classification according to the forms, following the double criterion of observing the presence in the architectures of important or prevalent elements (the loggia, the dovecote tower, the internal or external stairs, etc.) and to evaluate the greater or lesser diffusion of a certain type, so as to be able to establish a category.

Among the simplest forms we find two great categories. The first concerns the houses that are superimposed on the rustic (ie the stable, the fieni¬le), the second concerns the houses that are on the same floor of the rustic, which are subdivided into the types of the plain, sub-hill and mountain.

The position of the staircase, the shape and the roof covering, the dovecote, the location of the kitchen and other minor elements such as the oven, the stall, the barn and the farmyard itself, are therefore architectural elements repeated in combinations so similar that they were able to extract precise categories, and such as to be able to recall – at least in part – the geographical position of each individual home.

If the type of business condu¬tion, the relationship between the family and the farm, the role of the house in the agrarian context and the specific functions of some parts of it are elements that we can assume constant in the territory, the same thing can not be repeated for the various and particular historical-geographical conditions that have seen the birth of individual expressions of these ar¬chitetture.

The proximity of a city, the presence of the road network, the pre-existence of historic buildings on the spot, the availability of building materials, have determined – combined together – very different environmental conditions and therefore a taste that is always quite original, albeit homogeneous broadly with the way of seeing one’s own common tradition.

That the characteristics of the environment are reflected, sometimes with a notable accentuation, on architecture, can be found in many examples of which is rich in the Chianti area that goes from Panzano to Radda, to Castellina, to San Donato in Poggio. This mutual influence between architecture and landscape is brought to light through a play of very tight volumes, often accompanied by a continuous variation of roofs; we are almost always in the presence of an agrarian context rich in ciglionamenti, of irregularities, of alternating of the zones to forest with the cultivated areas.

Another reason of architectural expression much widespread is the use of volumes, which is sometimes also is originated to the expressive force of the materials, but which  all stems from the repetition in growing relationships of the same detail of the composition. This ¬stical character is perhaps one of the most significant for the sense of strength and non-provisionality of these architectures.

Linked to the use of volumes is that of materials and in particular of stone and terracotta, very frequently combined together. Some farmhouses show how the freedom of relationships and proportions blend well with the face-view stone of the walls; the squared openings are commonly surrounded by pietra serena, while the arches are often in terracotta or in stone ashlars. Often in these very basic execution there is an interesting search for decorative elements, obtained with horizontal brick friezes. These are string courses, pre-existing gutter residues or only decorative friezes? All hypotheses are perhaps right.

The use of the material is all the more correct as it manages to marry with that sense of measure typical of all Tuscan architecture, according to which the overabundant is always the enemy of beauty: unless, in fact, it is not there to rappresent something important.

The territory of Tuscany is dotted with towers, ruins of castles, stately villas, convents, dilapidated walls: almost everywhere they have been assimilated as support for rural houses, almost like the vine does with poplar. On the contrary, if these very interesting remains of Medieval and Renaissance culture have not been lost, we owe it to their reuse for the peasant residence, and it is strange that their radical transformation has provoked, in one way or another, their preservation: a lesson that is not negligible for us moderns that vice versa, to preserve a monument or a historical center from any alteration we would like to empty its from any functions, condemning it for most of the time to certain death.

The compositional result in this case does not depend on the sense of fascination deriving from the ruin, but only from the new architectural forms that the farmhouse can make its own, recovering and replacing a pre-existence other empty and by now useless elements, articulated in volumes, rich in movement, materials, combination of free forms: now the building is born from a project designed, rigorous and exact in shapes and sizes.

The Florentine architect Fortunato Simone Pontello, in love since he was a child in the Tuscan countryside, (he lives with his family between Fiesole and Volpaia), has to many years established a sort of elective affinity between the vernacular aspect of the living plant and the modern touch of radical interventions, in full respect of tradition, animated by the passion for structural and material recovery with a careful, almost maniacal study of historical finds that manages to combine the comfort of a contemporary and fully eco-sustainable perception.

Among his latest projects, the recovery of the property called Pratolino, stands out for its natural characteristics of the Leopoldina house.

It was in fact the Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Habsburg Lorraine who in 1770 started, in an ideal history of civil progress, the new concept of a farmhouse, promoting projects and constructions, Pratolino is one of them.

The building consists of the juxtaposition of simple geometric shapes whose composition sees an emerging central body around which the other parts of the building are arranged, in the form of smaller volumes with predominantly horizontal development. In particular, the presence of the massive pigeon house tower denotes the influence exerted on this house by the distinguished buildings of the Middle Ages.

Builded in the 1500s as a Watchtower of the nearby fortified village of Volpaia, it finds at the end of the 18th century a new form of life with the restoration and expansion developed on the concept of the Casa Leopoldina.

World War II passes by, leaving it intact and in use to a peasant family. In 1969, the house is in a state of neglect and an Irish noblewoman buys and preserves it for more than forty years, leaving it the ancient flavor of a bygone era.

In 2009, the architect Pontello was commissioned to restore the old building and trying not to alter the original structure, the architect recovers the ancient aspect of the building. Each stone, wood or brick is cleaned by hand and consolidated. The house maintains its old plant but at the same time is equipped with every comfort, without altering or worse destroying the original handmade lime plasters. The new tecnology and also the structural reinforcement chains are inserted in artificial beams placed along the internal perimeter of the building.

The original structure of the roof, in chestnut wood and terracotta tiles, is restored preserving its every characteristic. Externally, under the ancient mantle of tiles, a layer of environmentally friendly insulating material preserves it from climatic changes.

The interiors, thanks to the decades of experience of the architect and its precious craftsmen, are reborn and a pool of expert decorators, graduated the school of art in Florence, returned the ancient materials of the house to new splendor, enriching them with paintings and decorations according to ancient custom of our region.

A great visual impact modeled by the works of furniture that reflect the ancient, renewed by a charm of colors that recalls an almost Provencal style. The kitchen is brought back to its splendor, recreating that home-like atmosphere of the country houses.

The focal point of the property, to temper the summer heat, the swimming pool: the leitmotif of the creatures of the architect Pontello. The simple and linear shapes follow the concept of the stone wash basin, where the peasants washed their clothes but at the same time hide modern technologies such as the shutter cover that comes out from the bottom of the pool, maintaining a pleasant constant temperature. The integration of the project is total with the ancient fabric of terraced Chianti, built with dry stone walls: where the vineyard alternates with the olive tree.

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