Building and Process of Construction
Originally, Malaparte approached Adalberto Libera to design his house in Capri. Malaparte specifically sought out Libera to design his much anticipated home because of his reputation as one of the most successful modern architects of Italy at that time. Prior to designing Malaparte’s home, Libera had also helped in editing the first of Malaparte’s Prospettive journal articles and had already been consulting with him on the design of his home. He was later dismissed when Malaparte was unsatisfied with his ideas and decided to complete the building himself. Libera wanted a long, two-story rectangular building where rooms would be aligned along a corridor. Malaparte disliked how linear and rational Libera's design was and thought it was too similar to a "Mediterranean stucco box" (Russell 2005). Libera's design for Casa Malaparte overly resembled an instutionalized space, reminding Malaparte too much of a prison or military bunker. Libera’s design was far too conventional and strayed from Malaparte’s desire for a radical home that mirrored his personality.
Comparison of Libera's conventional floor plan and Malaparte's symmetrical floor plans
Malaparte’s final plans strayed so far from Libera’s design that hardly any trace of his original plans remain in the building today. The massing and distribution of the rooms became much more simplified. The appearance of the overall form and elevations was unified into one encompassing shape. No evidence of the arrangement of Libera’s windows and doors remains. The uniformly aligned windows of Libera’s plan gave way to the seemingly randomized placement of large barred and unbarred windows.
Comparison of Libera's uniform size and placement of
windows and Malaparte's seemingly randomized elevations
The building’s most distinguishable feature, the stair case leading to the roof terrace, is a literal alliteration of the steps in front of the church of Annunziata on Lipari, the island in which Malaparte was imprisoned in 1934.
One original feature designed by Malaparte that did not carry through to the final design was a main entrance access that carved itself through the existing staircase leading up to the roof and into the main floor. However, due to the impracticality and dangers of waters flooding the area, the stair case remained a solid undisturbed form and the main entry was altered. The sealing off of this entry way disrupted the symmetry of the plan and pushed the main entryway off to one side and the staircase into a tighter corner.
Blocking off this threshold through the stairs also severed the connection and fluidity from the main living area to the roof top terrace. This now meant that travelling from the main living area to the roof top terrace one would have to descend sixteen steps and another 48 to reach the roof level. Another change that was made to Malaparte’s original structure was the symbolic, white, sail-like railing that sat atop the roof. Originally, the railing did not taper down and into the roof, it was a continuous height that wrapped around as a more practical partition and screening method. However, the static shape of the uniform height railing soon progressed into the more elegant sweeping gesture that we see today.
Though Casa Malaparte began as being painted red, there was a brief period of time in which it was painted white. The colour of the white stucco building gave off an otherworldly and pure look in contrast to the deep blue sky and sea. It held semblance to Ancient Greek sculptures and further emphasized the fact that the building was forged out of materials of the limestone cliffs on which it was built. The temple-like appearance of the white paint only lasted a few years and was soon changed back to the sharp red that we see today. In comparison to the unity that the white paint implied, the contrast of the red paint to the lack of reds in the surrounding scenery is drastic.
Throughout the course of one day, the red nature of Casa Malaparte alters with the movement of the sun. At the peak of its orbit, the sun cast on the structure brightens it and Casa Malaparte’s appearance can be likened to that of a lizard absorbing in the sun. Closer to night fall, the trapezoidal structure resembles a crystal, giving off an illuminated glow.
The red colour of Malaparte has also been said to symbolize the force of rebellion; the anger and defiance (House Like Me, . Pop culture and historical references of the colour red that have been linked to the symbolism of Casa Malaparte include the red of street gangs, the red of Christianity (wine and the blood of Jesus), and the red of Communism and Facism.
|Possible symbolic references of the colour red (Source: Mussolini, Jesus and Moscow)|
Building and Place
Casa Malaparte was built atop the rocky terrain of Punta Massulo approximately thirty-one meters above the sea level. Access to the home can be gained in two ways. The first option is by ground, walking a pathway of salt-covered, rocky steps across private property. The second option is to travel by sea on calm days and after debarking the boat there is a 99 step climb up a staircase built along the cliff side.
Casa Malaparte is often described as having grown straight out of the rocky cliff side that it was built. (House Like Me, pg.10) Its ridged geometric shape mirrors that of the landscape surrounding it. The structure hugs the rugged terrain of Punta Massulo; evening out where the land is flat and tapering in where the rock formations grow narrow. However, many would also argue that Casa Malaparte was built with little or no regard to nature and its surroundings. The contradictions in Curzio Malaparte’s personality can also be noticed in the home.
The environmentally friendly aspects of Casa Malaparte include its low-cost construction, lack of toxic building products and thick masonry walls that provide insulation. However, the ecological downfalls include its lack of a proper water retaining system, poor indoor plumbing and lack of solar energy collected from the roof. As a result of its estranged location, electricity and water must be supplied by an alternate source. More importantly, the home was built with little regard to the harsh winds and waves that continually damage it.
However, Malaparte’s grasp of an environmentally conscious building differs from the modern understanding of passive solar heating and photovoltaic cells. Instead, Casa Malaparte constructed a home that fused with its site socially, politically and culturally.
Had Malaparte gone through with Libera’s original design, his home would have been the staple image of a modernist object. Casa Malaparte may not have been famous and would simply have been another home built on a rock. However, by designing a structure that fused with the site, Casa Malaparte became “the building as the rock”. (House Like Me, pg.94)
Building and Purpose
During the five-year period of Malaparte’s exile, he had grown a fondness for the solitude and extent of contemplation that prison allowed him. It was during his years of lax imprisonment that Malaparte dreamed up the ideal environment in which he would live the remainder of his life after his release. The purpose of building a home in perfect isolation was to create the ideal writing environment re-create the solitude of prison. At the time of construction Casa Malaparte was the only structure built on Punto Massulo. It stood alone on the clifftop, surrounded on three sides by the Sea and a considerable distance from civilization. Casa Malaparte provided him with the solitude needed to nurture his writing.(House Like Me, pg.21)
Dominating the majority of the ground floor plan and upon entry to the home is the large living area that houses the grand fireplace and its chestnut mantle. Surrounding the room are large windows that command views of the expansive cliffs and sea. In addition to the grandeur and elegance of the fireplace and view, Malaparte also designed specific furniture made of fragments of Classical architectural columns and large tree trunks. Specifically designed to be placed in the study, Malaparte had large oversized versions of classical couches and armchairs. (House Like Me, pg.11)
|Benches made from fragments of Classical columns, wood and glass (Source: Quadratura)|
Much care went into the selection and arrangement of rooms and furniture in Casa Malaparte. The symmetry in the building would have been near perfect had it not been for the changes made to the main entryway. At the end of the building opposite to the main entrance there is an obvious symmetry of the T-shaped corridor dissecting the identical bathrooms leading to the master bedroom. (Davies 2006)