In With the Old

Designed by Piero Sartogo Architects in 1992, the embassy of Italy in Washington DC is a successful attempt at incorporating an evocative historical tradition within a thoroughly modern architectural style.  The building is at once “international” and at the same time one can see the intentional references to the cradle of the renaissance.  The building’s angular footprint aligns with architect Pierre Charles l’Enfant’s classical 18th century plan for the city, with its broad diagonal streets slicing through the orthogonal grid as is also found in several European cities (particularly Rome and Paris).  The building also evokes Italy’s architectural tradition with its reinterpretation on the courtyard of the Tuscan Villa, as well as the great sloping wall on the south side of the building which reminds one of the defensive ramparts of a medieval Italian castle.  The material choice on the exterior of the building can also be seen to be reminiscent of Italy’s extensive use of marble, travertine and other stone.

At the same time that these historical references are immediately perceivable, the building is clearly a piece of modern architecture.  The forms and materials are meant to gesture to the influences of the past, not copy them as if the building would falsely attempt to pass for a building of another era.  At the same time that Italy has a rich classicist background, they are also currently the world leaders in modern minimalist furniture design and fabrication.  Sartogo is comfortable with this strong affinity for modernism and it comes across in the design through the two-story glass enclosed atrium as well as the subtle but complex facets in the windows.

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