An Excellent Italian Adventure

bba ARCHITECTS on Nov 19, 2018

At the end of April, Partners Ed Twohey and Gary Beyerl spent a week in Europe, largely as the guests of the S. Anselmo Company, manufacturer of brick, tile and roofing, as well as some glass and ceramic products.  Along the way, they were able to spend some time soaking up the culture of the Veneto region of Italy, including Venice, and the city of Vicenza.  Gary and Ed made a point to visit a number of buildings designed by renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, as well as mid century master Carlo Scarpa.

The brick factory was an amazing experience.  This family owned enterprise takes great care in taking the clay from the mineral rich soil of Veneto area and creating not only the everyday building blocks of Italy, but unique products such as the hand made, long format brick called Corso, which comes in a variety of textures and colors.  The material is becoming more popular in the United States and has been used on major projects in Australia, the UK, and South Korea.  Gary and Ed each took a turn at making one of these bricks with the same centuries old methods that are still used within the state of the art manufacturing facility.  Gary and Ed stayed in the medieval town of Castelfranco near the factory and enjoyed the massive brick walls of the old city, as well as the tasty offerings of the café’s within.

The Brombal Window factory was another great experience.  Again, it is a family run business based on traditional hand crafted products.  These gorgeous metal windows come in a variety of operational configurations as well as a variety of finishes including corten steel, bronze, and stainless steel.  Brombal windows are also known for innovative engineering solutions allowing very large openings to operate in surprising ways with large crank wheels and pivot hinges, known as the Gizmo.

The type of local metal craft demonstrated in the Bronbal factory can also be seen in the fine details of the Brion Tomb at San Vito D'Altivole, the masterpiece of Italian Architect Carlo Scarpa.  Scarpa used site formed concrete with finely detailed tile, wood and metal features to create the tombs, chapel, and reflecting pools, which surround the traditional cemetery.  Gary and Ed spent some quality time touring the grounds, photographing and sketching the marvelous, imaginative spaces.

Later that same day, they toured the Gypsotheca Museo Canoviano in the nearby Treviso Province.  Here Scarpa created a contemporary addition to this museum of plaster casts of the renaissance.  The Gypsotheca Museo occupies a high vantage point and was nearly destroyed by bombing in WWI and heavily protected in WWII.  The 1950’s addition is a masterwork of geometry, controlled views, and daylight that perfectly bathes the plaster casts.

The majority of the free time was spent in the city of Vicenza or chasing down the countryside villas of Andrea Palladio.  Viewing his famous Villa Rotunda, located just outside the city, captured the better part of a perfect Italian afternoon.  Each room of the perfectly symmetrical plan is covered with historic frescos.  The BBA team was most impressed with the tight spiral staircases in each quadrant of the rotunda with their carefully cut stone and simple iron railings.