18 Dec 2018 • Lauren Grace Morris
When in Rome, do design office spaces with more than two millennia of urban history
When Rome-based Westway Architects began designing a new headquarters for an Italian construction company in a small, early twentieth-century villa, they had a specific goal in mind: bring it back to its original state, in order to enhance and re-read the past. Little did they know, their work would far retract beyond revisiting 1902.
At the beginning of the project, the practice studied the historical evolution of the building and the urban fabric in which it’s situated – the villa’s home is Nomentano, a residential suburb of Rome that housed the new bourgeois class at the turn of the 19th century. To merge respectfully into the area, the Westway team began work subtracting volumes of the residence, in order to restore the original dimensions and recover the hidden basement for increased access.
What’s a team of architects to do? They decided to include the ruins in the headquarters, of course
But there’s a reason why the surprise-in-the-basement trope is so popular in horror movies: you never know what you might find down there in old houses. In this case, it’s a ghost story of sorts – that is, with third-century Roman ruins uncovered by archaeologists.
What’s a team of architects to do? They decided to include the ruins in the headquarters, of course. Ironically, the remains were that of a domus, a type of house that would have been occupied by the upper classes in the major cities of the Roman Empire. The project, thus, became a representation of more than two millennia.
The finished space seamlessly incorporates each of the lives of the villa, proving that retaining historical structures can very well lay the foundation for modern utility. The façade, for example, was preserved, unaltered from its 19th-century state.
The key elements in the design brief were light and transparency: two additional structures were built, allowing one to see the house on all sides without altering the original volumetric perception. A new staircase connects the organisation paths of the office, and a central core houses the systems that allowed for the elevation of a floor, creating intriguing views. Each of the work environments let natural light come through, with glazed floors revealing the ancient foundations beneath and skylights beaming on the heart of the domus. Light granite and carpet were used, so as to ensure visual and acoustic comfort. The reception area incorporates iron framing to define the perimeters of the domus, while also highlighting the contemporary surroundings.
The adage that orders us to respect one’s elders is one that was not lost on the Westway team: the finished product is representative of the functional symbiosis that could only possibly be managed by those who can truly understand the city and its people, its past and its present – Romans.