A Balcony Under a Vault

Growing Up in a Gigi Caccia Work

Cino Zucchi

A small door, 50 cm wide, 190 cm high, and 40 cm deep separated my room from that of my parents. Its section looked like that of a safe room in a bank; when it was closed, it remained flush with the thick, existing wall and disappeared into it.
The room I shared with my brother had a marvellous section: two low, vaulted bays cascading down from a high central one, interlocking with the upper alcove with my parents’ bed. Gigi Caccia Dominioni, the architect my parents commissioned to refurbish their house on Via Cappuccio, managed to break down the sequence of large, existing rooms into a series of spaces with alternating low and high ceilings connected by corridors and balconies. This new spatial setup created a very domestic feeling in the bedroom area of the old mansion, even though Caccia conserved the unusual scale of the original sequence of four very large halls with beautiful, vaulted ceilings: an anti-chamber, a large living room, a library/study, and a dining room with existing stucco garlands decorating the ceiling.

Gigi Caccia Dominioni designed beautiful new floors in terrazzo alla veneziana. Each room had a peculiar design in shades of white, black, red, and yellow stone chips – an abstract version of a classical motif: a large oval, a rectangle, and a rectangle with quarter-circle cut-out corners. For two of these large, vaulted rooms, Caccia designed four stone balconies, which were accessible from the upper level of the bedroom alcoves. Their profile, obtained by intersecting ovals was clearly of Baroque origin, as were the shallow profiles that framed the “windows” opened in the existing wall. But an educated eye could clearly see how these – the same as many other profiles of the new segmental arches and vaults designed by Caccia – could not be mistaken for historical ones. Their mouldings were way too sharp and simplified to be a direct imitation of old ones; all these additions never showed the “jump-cut” poetics of many contemporary modern interventions in historical environments, but rather a more subtle one of “detachment”. The final result of Gigi Caccia’s intervention was extremely sophisticated. On the one hand, it gave back the original splendour to these once stately apartments, reconverting them from the state of neglect they had fallen into. On the other one, the “prestige” of the existing remains was never directly imitated: all new parts had their own character, like my mother’s and father’s beautiful stucco bathrooms (one in pale blue, the other one in faded pink) built into the core of the existing, monumental stairwell.

Sir Winston Churchill – who was born in Blenheim Palace, after all – once said: "We shape our dwellings, and thereafter our dwellings shape us." As a child, as yet hardly aware of Gigi Caccia’s work, I always found the spaces of the house I lived to have an “edifying” role. They somehow seemed capable to silently constitute a beloved backdrop of our daily lives. Their clear and strong forms sustained it and gave form to it, creating a sort of resonance, unconsciously inducing its dwellers to adopt a gentle and educated behaviour.
In English, the word “urbanity” is synonymous with “good manners”: the city is the place, where one constantly exchanges ones experience with others and, therefore, continuously acknowledges their existence and values. I consider Gigi Caccia’s architecture very “urban”, even in its interiors, which show a highly civic character without any hint of affectation. Civilization could be defined as a set of values that are implicit rather than explicit, and that are implied in its forms rather that stated outright. The house, which Gigi Caccia designed for my family, left us free to grow up in very different manners, and at the same time gave our lives a subtle direction, which I still feel deep in my heart.