‘An unfinishable, endless house’: the untold story of Casa Sperimentale
Located in a pine grove on the fringes of Fregene, a seaside town near Rome, lies Casa Sperimentale, also known as the Casa Albero, or ‘Treehouse’.
Built over a period of seven years in the 1960s and 1970s by a family of Italian architects, Giuseppe Perugini, his wife Uga de Plaisant and their son Raynaldo Perugini, Casa Sperimentale is an extraordinary built experiment, one that challenged the understanding of what architecture is and how it’s created. With novel construction techniques and an unorthodox design method, the family created an extraordinary elevated house – a concrete treehouse.
The Casa Sperimentale is often categorized as Brutalist. However, despite its concrete form it wasn’t born out of a Brutalist agenda and is the result of an alternative approach – a refined, considered, organic and human response to architectural design.
To understand this approach in more detail, one must look to 1944 when, together with Bruno Zevi, Perugini founded the APAO — the Association for Organic Architecture. Rejecting fascism, with its notions of referencing classical monumental architecture, they promoted a collective, organic approach to architecture. Perugini focused on a comparative research of the theories of 17th-century Baroque architecture of Francesco Borromini, specifcially the church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori in Rome.
The house consists of three independent buildings — the Casa Sperimentale (the main house), the Sphere, a separate Guest House set towards the rear of the site, and a surrounding curved concrete perimeter fence.
The design of the Casa Sperimentale follows the idea of a suspended object inhabiting an elevated position amongst the pine grove, echoing the forest —an irregular structural grid of tree trunk-like columns and overarching concrete branches holding up an architectural canopy. A speculative drawing by the architects shows the structure extended over the entire site creating an endless meandering concrete treehouse complex.
Several ‘trees’ merge together, creating a seemingly solid body while leaving clearings through which the sky can be glimpsed. Although known as Casa Sperimentale, the family refers to the house only as Casa Albero – Treehouse.
The building can be read as a result of an architectural composition, played out as an arrangement of elements and spaces. Long before Minecraft, this building produced a visual complex form from the play of simple geometries.
Perhaps the architects’ design and construction process can be alternatively read as playing an architectural game. Their son, Raynaldo, calls the house the ‘unfinishable endless house’. Being conceived as an almost Lego-like structure, all wall elements are merely bolted together, they can be removed and reconfigured to create a different arrangement of spaces, allowing different connections between the space and the surrounding site.
The house, which was once at the centre of an intellectual and bohemian community living in Fregene during the summers in the early 1960s to the late 1970s, has, since its abandonment, been rediscovered by the public via social media as the perfect Instagram geo-taggable location. More critically it is used by urban subcultures as a perfect canvas for graffiti.
The future of the house is uncertain. There have been several efforts made to secure and save it for future generations, however, some of the metal couplings of the concrete superstructure are starting to show signs of structural failure. Perhaps, and unhappily, not so far in the future, the house may be lost.
This is an edited excerpt from ‘Casa Sperimentale’ by Sabine Storp and Patrick Weber, published by Barlett Living Laboratory. Photos: French+Tye.
An exhibition on Casa Sperimentale at atarchitekturgalerie am weissenhof in Stuttgart runs until 3rd March.