Sustainable living in Bolzano

The Municipality of Bolzano moved to create Casa Nova in 2002, in response to growing demand for affordable housing. The new mixed-use district was to provide exemplary quality of life despite the high building density (3.5 m³/m² for a total of 350,000 m³). An important goal was to respect the highest standards of sustainability established by the independent European rating agency KlimaHaus, which is headquartered in Bolzano.

Possibly the most successful of the eight building blocks is Christoph Mayr Fingerle’s Castelfirmiano complex of 2008 (EA7, the second closest to the River Adige). Within the bounds of a subsidised housing project with restrictions, Mayr Fingerle has tried to create good, sound architecture that will encourage social interaction among residents. The design fully embraces the project’s core objective of ‘park living’, but to enhance the interplay between the agrarian landscape and the inner garden courts Mayr Fingerle modified the shape and floor plan of the three individual buildings in the polygonal housing block, reducing the depth of the buildings foreseen in the master plan and altering the corners so the inner court would appear larger than it is, its angled sides creating an effect of breadth.

To resolve basic issues such as the design of the façade and the interior finishings the team met several times with the complex’s future inhabitants. A full-scale model of the façade was built to help everyone understand the architect’s intentions and hence close the gap between the clients’ expectations and the building’s final form.

For the flats the architect developed four basic modules, on the basis of which 92 different floor plans were created to meet the needs and desires of 92 families. All the flats receive light and air from the east and the west; there are no northern exposures. The top-floor split-level lofts have rooftop terraces with views of the surrounding mountains. Oak-panelled porches inserted in the concrete façade create a feeling of warmth and comfort; the irregular arrangement of windows reflects the different configuration of the interior spaces while creating an impression of lightness. The building blocks are connected by two levels of parking; three large openings in the ground provide the car park with natural air and light from the garden, making it easier to find one’s way and eliminating ‘scary’ dark areas. Each flat has a cellar, and the car park’s large central atrium can be used for group events.

Circulation from public to semi-public to private space was a key issue for the architect: large entry foyers promote contact and community life, and the garden pathways, some wider than others, mimic the spatial experience of a village with its a main street and narrower cross-streets. In order to meet ground-floor inhabitants’ desire that private gardens be as large as possible, the latter are interspersed with the semi-public green areas.

Visual artist Manfred Alois Mayr helped define surface colours and textures. Externally, the team chose a raw concrete façade, based on a special grain size and using mineral aggregates typical of the region (notably pale yellow and white dolomite). The street-side façades have been treated with a high-pressure water jet to bring out the grain structure of the concrete; the rough surface suggests the monolithic appearance of a ‘hard outer shell’ and accentuates the unity of the building block; the perception varies depending on the light and distance. The garden walls are treated with a thin veil of white paint that emphasises the area’s private character while seeming to enlarge the garden itself. The architectural and chromatic sobriety of the windows and railings increases the buildings’ sculptural effect. The simple, discreet tone of the materials is graduated from the entry areas to the doors of the individual flats. Through small details such as smooth, sensual wooden handrails, the materials create a feeling of warmth and comfort.

Blue Guides’ Trentino and the South Tyrol, by Paul Blanchard, is now available as an ebook.

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