Friday, March 18, 2011

Architectural Anomaly Part 5: Il Girasole

At first glance ‘Il Girasole’ appears to be a regular structure. Well, as regular as a modernist villa built in the Po Vally near Verona, Northern Italy can be. Appearances can be deceptive however, for ‘Il Girasole’ is a revolving L-shaped villa that rotates imperceptibly on a fixed circular base.

The structure, which was built in the early 1930's, became known as ‘Il Girasole’ which means 'The Sunflower' as it allowed the building to follow the sun. Originally the brainchild of engineer Angelo Invernizzi and architect Ettore Fagiuoli, it was developed with the aid of creative friends; a mixture of architects, artists and furniture designers.

Invernizzi was an engineer from Genoa who worked for the railway in Padua. The machinery and gear-work that move the villa are based on railroad turntables as he was intent on designing a house which would allow the main windows to always face the sun. The two storied villa became the Invernizzi summer residence.

Taking just under five years to complete, the two storied villa consists of two L shaped areas surround a tiled terrace on top of the central cylinder. In the middle there is a turret on which the rotating movement hinges on. The first floor features space for living, dining and entertaining, with a dining room on the end of one wing and a music room at the other. In between these were a number of studies and a smoking room. Service rooms such as the kitchen, pantry and toilet were placed near the turret.

The upper floor features a series of bedrooms and bathrooms. The villa offers magnificent views of the surrounding valley and the grounds also featured a concrete swimming pool, tennis court and garden.

So how does a structure like this move? The villa sits upon an mechanized axis which weights 1500 tons. Activated by a three-button panel in the foyer which controls the villa’s rotation, this mechanism uses two motors which are diesel powered. These two motors have an output of three horsepower which moves the structure at a rate of 4 millimeters per second.

A full rotation takes nine hours and twenty minutes and the villa can be stopped at any position to capture the sunlight. In order to make any necessary repairs easier, the wheels and cogs are accessible from the outside.

Swiss architect Marcel Meili and director Christoph Schaub explore the history of ‘Il Girasole’ in the short film below. Narrated by Angelo Invernizzi's daughter Lidia, it shows the villa as it is today, essentially unchanged from when it was their family summer home. Nowadays the main structure is only occupied a few times a year and when the house is empty it stays in the same position, facing the valley. Throughout the year a live in caretaker ensures that the house, gardens and machinery is maintained


tiggyt said...

The whimsical woodwind music and two silent people in period neutral/1930s garb made me wonder whether I was watching a film or a nostalgic documentary. It really blurred the lines. That scene with the car driving up to the house: I held my breath in case they'd show it and spoil the ambiguity, but they just swept the headlights past the facade. Loved it.

Peter said...

This is brilliant. Who new? I'd never heard of Il Girasole. Will have to visit when next in Italy.

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@Tiggy: I noticed the neutral clothing as well and wondered was it done purposefully. Really nicely shot piece.

@Peter: I'd love to spend a month there, sprawled on the patio with a stack of books and a decent bottle of wine :)

pimalai said...

What a good idea for a house. That way, you'll always have the best views possible. I have to remember to drop by the next time I'm in Italy.

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