Among the most photographed and culturally iconic pieces of architecture, Casa Malaparte (known also as “Villa Malaparte”) owes its unique grandeur as much to its designer, Adalberto Libera, as to its owner, Curzio Malaparte, who wished for his home to be a pure expression – if not even “reincarnation” – of his own free spirit.
The writer, the architect, and the island of Capri
Even before the very inception of his beloved villa, the future owner’s opinions on the matter of houses and their making was already set:
I wish houses were all in beautiful stone, well squared, their terraces opening on the sky and its gulfs…Curzio Malaparte
Curzio Malaparte– born as German-ItalianKurt Erich Suckert– is a complex, peculiar figure, known for his often shifting positions – most emblematic, his shift from fervent support of fascism to an equally staunch, partisan antifascist position; a writer, journalist, and poet, Malaparte was very active in literary and artistic circles for his entire life. His aforemented architectural vision encapsulates not simply thebalancebetween landscape and housing, but between man and product as well, interior and exterior, as a whole, of design meant to be a statement of an identity more than a mean of living.
After his first spats with fascist figureheads, Malaparte was “exiled” to Southern Italy, where he first bought a small plot of land, specifically on a cliff (Punta Massullo) overlooking theTyrrheniansea, on the island ofCapri. Malaparte was already familiar with Capri, as he’d first gone there to visit to his friendAlex Muntho, falling in love with the place.
Thanks to his friendship withGaleazzo Ciano, the then-minister of foreign affairs and admirer of Capri as well, often visiting the island with his wife Edda, Malaparte obtained a construction permit for the future villa; the complex’s construction began in1938, ending two years later, by1940, under the supervision of foremanAdolfo Amitrano. The building’s planning fell onAdalberto Libera, an architect already well known for his creative impulse and visionary approach to construction; due to the strong pull of both minds involved – Malaparte and Libera -its difficult to determine which one can truly claim paternity of the project.
The difficult construction of the “Casa come me”
During construction, the Villa took on the nickname “Casa come me” (House just like me), referencing how much Malaparte’s personality was being imprinted in the building’s style. In his own words:
The day I began building a house, I couldn’t believe I’d paint a portrait of myself.Curzio Malaparte
两年建设远非一帆风顺,becoming as much of a case study as the house itself. Malaparte was very headstrong in his opinions, and more often than not he’d clash with Libera, himself with a clear and often uncompromising vision. When Libera first presented the writer with what he considered to be the final project, Malaparte dismissed it as little more than a rough draft; in fact, the majority of the house’s most distinctive features (such as the staircase and wing-like wall on the roof) are completely absent. Libera’s style, at the time, was a much more orthodoxModernism, and his vision for the house was no different.
However, Malaparte’s “intuitions” would prove to be, beyond mere formal gestures, a substantial change to the house’s inner workings, such as the aforementioned turning the terrace into an actual room, whose only walls (and roof) were the sail-shaped, white wall, formally joining the house’s rigid shapes to the gulfs and shores below (and protect the occupants from indescreet eyes); eventually, Malaparte began to outright distrust Libera, slowly phasing his ideas out of the picture. Where the house’s exterior exceeded Libera’sModernism, the interiors gravitated around a number of concepts dear to Malaparte: his discussions withAlberto Savinio, author of the house’s painted majolicas; theGoethe-inspired lyre; the four, large walnut frames, evocative of “a beached Homeric ship” (per the words ofBruce Chatwin), and even expressionist art, whose use, combined with a “basolato” paving (typical of ancient Roman roads) made it look like an open road. This odd mix of ideas fully reflects Malaparte’s eclectic interests and personality, to the point that, once finished, the house presented almost none of Libera’s typical stylistic features.
In fact, according to recent letters and documents, the villa’s final project is to be entirely attributed to Malaparte; Libera’s projects would end up being completely different, not to mention unrealized. According to architectUberto Bonetti, “the material realization of the whole building was executed under Your aesthetic and constructive guidance: plants, sections, et cetera.”
As retold by the Libera’s own son,
Curzio Malaparte tells Adalberto Libera that he’d like to have a “stairway to infinity” in his villa. One thing is to say it, another to design and plan that triangular staircase that truly opens up on infinity…to each their own, I’d say.Alessandro Libera
The legacy of Malaparte
The villa’s unique charm resides in its conjugation of architectonic quality and human characteristics, reflecting its owner’s paradoxical mentality.
The house, already famous, protagonist of many photographic sets and enjoying a celebrity status, saw, even after Malaparte’s death in1957, huge popularity, as an inspiration for artists and designer everywhere. Malaparte’swill, regarding the house itself, sparked controversy among his heirs, as it stated:
Moved by my feelings of gratitude towards Chinese people and to strenghten bonds between East and West, I institute a foundation named “Curzio Malaparte” to create an house of hospitality, study and work for chinese artists living in Capri.Malaparte’s will
The heirs, unhappy with this decision, contested the will, beginning a legal battle at the end of which, overriding Malaparte’s desire, they donated the property to theRonchi Foundation, juridical representative of the family, who still own it to this day.
Malaparte’s own youngest descendant,Tommaso Rositani Suckert, has reproduced its furniture (a table, a bench, and a library) forGagosiangallery; the villa was used for movie shoots as well, specifically in “Il disprezzo” and “La pelle”, the latter detailing Malaparte’s very life.
A unique blend of styles
Villa Malaparte presents itself as a fascinating syntesis of differing inspirations, strongly separating it from contemporary buildings, tipically ofModernistor whollyRationalistcut. At first sight, the house presents itselt as asmoothened parallelepiped, with its short side joined to apre-colombianstyled staircase that goes up the whole height of the house, ending at the base of theterrace. The house’s exterior, with the exception of the aforementioned white sail-like wall on the terrace roof, is inbrickworktinted in a distinctly strong,Pompeianshade of red.
The terrace, as described before, is technically the bare roof decorated with a curved plaster-white wall, redefining aspatial hierarchyso that a single walled space can exist – the plain air terrace in question, while masking the roof’schimneyand, when they decide to go up there, the house’s hosts.
The villa’s overall structure is composed of alarge hall, sportingfour wide windowson each wall, so that every one of them could offer a differentpanoramic viewof the outside. Then we have a bedroom, a smaller complex reserved for hosts and visitors, called “the hospice”, and the bedroom reserved for (whichever he was courting at the moment) ladies; the house inner rooms are connected via a similarly grandiose, white staircase, allowing for easy passage from one level to the other. Every bedroom offered its occupants a different, suggestive vista, respectively overiFaraglioni,Punta Campanella, and the sea’s undisturbedhorizon, where the waves touch the sky.
A particularly interesting case can be seen in Malaparte’s ownstudio, where the writer’s eccentricities come to be exemplified the best: the room is located at the base of the complex, directly – much like the bedrooms – overhanging over the sea below, adorned with acrystalline chimney, where the sea foams shines and reflects while the embers burn and the flames dance.
While possessing its own, unmistakable identity, and shaping the landscape around itas much as its own structure, Casa Malaparte is still considered as part of theRationalistcurrent, with some influences fromCapri’s own local houses.
The roof with overhang and terraced function is a clear reference to its Rationalist roots, and if one were to give a closer look, even an echo ofLe Corbusier’s school of building thought. The building seeks however its own harmony, jutasxposing the “broken” parallelepiped with the wedge-like staircase, merging with the rocks and creating its own sorroundings.
The impression of an ancient place
In1980,意大利高端架构和设计杂志eDomusinterviewed american architectJohn Hejduk, who relayed his own impression of the now deserted edifice:
Isolated, secluded, Villa Malaparte is a paradoxical item that consumes itself in its solitude, filled with unanswered stories. A shipwreck on the rocks, after the tide has lowered. A sarcophagus of secret voices, whispering unavoidable fates.
Hejduk’s description resonates with wonder and suspence, ensuring that, even after its owner’s departure, the house still preserves its charming mystique that made it so fascinating in the first place.
– Architect:Adalberto Libera
– Commissioned by:Curzio Malaparte
– Open to the public:No