It isn’t often that a building evades easy apprehension. Factories tend to look like factories, churches like churches. Houses can sometimes fool the eye, but usually, the form telegraphs the function. This villa architect Stefania Stera designed on Sardinia is a singular exception. A challenging, category-defying structure, it makes no concessions to expectations. It offers all that a home should, but it does so on its own terms.
While clearly responsive to its rocky site, the house also takes a cue from architect Jacques Couëlle and his son, Savin, whose work on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast is defined by the fluid forms of a distinctly organic design. Almost more void than solid, Stera’s house, which replaces a faux rustic home that was built on the site in the 1970s, was envisioned as an open space punctuated by elements that are closed off to create internal zones. Not quite Brutalist but shot through with a hard-edged linearity, it reads at first sight much like a fortress that demands to be breached, while the play of arches, vaults and bridge-like byways create the impression of a hillside village.
Executed in gray masonry, the house sits solidly on the landscape, but thanks to its essential openness – patios and terraces, some clad in colorful ceramic tile, are everywhere – the property also seems to disengage from the earth’s stony embrace.
“The mountain had to be controlled,” the Paris-based Stera describes. “It was necessary to work with it, yet avoid its domination. Rather than force against force, emphasis had to be placed on force working with force, the need to make the mountain a friend and, by working with it, creating an entity with a rich character.”
The villa is flush with vistas of the sea and gardens, and the urge to move, to travel through the structure, is strong. A sense of compression and release pervades the building, generated by the varying ceiling heights. Space envelops the body like a fluid medium. Silver Waves granite from India anchors a living room, then spreads outside to define the adjacent terrace. Grotto-like openings mark the façade; staircases abut solid rock. And with so many openings to the outdoors, the house ebbs and flows, advances and recedes.
With all its angles and curves, its half-hidden stairwells and unexpected openings, the villa is a study in indirection and the joy of discovery. Severe but not sinister, whimsical but not foolish, challenging yet not confrontational, it is a truly multifaceted expression of shelter.
Photography by Nicolas Borel and Tiziano Canu.
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