Vito e Gustavo Latis
Directional Centre and Historical Alfa Romeo Museum
Arese, Italy, 1976
The project to create a new head office and the Alfa Romeo Historical Museum, set within a large green area close to the Milan-Laghi motorway in the municipality of Arese, was drawn up by Antonio Cassi Ramelli and Vittore Ceretti. The various buildings of the complex (three office buildings, plus a single-floored fourth building, a cafeteria and the museum volume) are all centred around an elevated square. The entrance hall in building “B” is the first area accessed from the square. This five-storey structure also hosts the boardroom on its top floor, which is illuminated by a large skylight. Each building is set on a modular 760x760cm grid, considered the most suitable for this type of structure. The buildings are staggered and rotate ar aound an axis connecting the blocks, forming a continuous pat ah and constituting the backbone of the entire complex. To the back of the central corridor in each building, a windowless service block comprising bathrooms and lifts is located. All of the offices, on the other hand, look out onto the outside. The external façades of the various building volumes are divided horizontally by bands of parapets made from precast lined concrete, lightened by a series of square openings. These bands are broken only by large protruding corbels. The parapet balconies also serve a functional purpose. In fact, they facilitate external maintenance, help to break sound waves originating from the motorway, in addition to creating a current of air along the façades, thus reducing the effects of sunlight. The buildings are crowned by a large overhanging cornice constructed in smooth exposed concrete. This cornice is also interrupted in correspondence with the large corbels. The crowning band also conceals the slightly slopped pitched sheet metal roofs behind it. In comparison, the detached “Orazio Satta” Historical Museum building, built between 1973 and 1975, appears eccentric. This building is probably the part of the complex that most effectively conveys the compositional sensitivity of Vito and Gustavo Latis. The building is only two floors high and is accessed from the square by means of a staircase descending to the double-height entrance hall. The inside of the building is organised on staggered levels, with certain areas extending the full height of the building, providing an entirely free space to showcase Alfa Romeo’s historical models. The structure is made of metal, while the partitioning walls are completely transparent. The large exterior windows, a small internal patio and a sort of impluvium that four sloping sides flow into, all allow ample light to filter into the building. The museum building façade comprises a large transparent surface, a kind of showcase window that draws the attention of those travelling along the motorway.
The distinct parts of the large prism are culminated with an important protruding cornice, formally recalling the upper band of the administrative buildings.
Federico Ferrari (Vito and Gustavo Latis – Fragments of a city by Maria Vittoria Capitanucci – Skira Editore)
Pozzani Nautical Observatory
Bonassola, Italy, 1936
The first real professional assignment entrusted to the young Vito Latis came in the form of the Pozzani villa-observatory (1935-1936) overlooking the impressive cliffs of Bonassola, which, through typological experimentation, recaptured the elements of upper middle class holiday homes. The observatory resembles a modern machine thanks to its integration into the environmental context and its concurrent adherence to rationalist lexicon. This sense of modern was also extended to the structure of the building. In fact, the coastline was artificially redesigned and reinforced, in order to sustain the presence and inclusion of systems that were highly technological for their time. While, the seawater pumps for the small swimming pool on the top floor terrace and the beautiful rounded façade overlooking the sea, epitomise the dichotomy between the rigour of the language of those years with the upper middle class aspirations of the clientèle for maximum comfort, rebalanced by a strong sensitivity for the natural environment, a familiar aspect in all of Vito Latis’s work, whether individual or together with his brother Gustavo. With its sinuous façade reminiscent of Expressionism, this two-storey holiday home, which develops downwards towards the ground, featuring loggias and pergolas, pays tribute to Amila di Tremezzo of comasco Lingeri and identifies with all the “nautical” architectures that, from the end of the 1920s, became a feature of the modern developed coast lines of the Mediterranean. In later years, the Pozzani family asked Vito Latis to extend the house and a horizontal body was added to the existing structure. The design chosen by Vito Latis was in keeping with the series of contemporary “Pompeian villas” – including Gio Ponti’s Marchesano and Donegani villas – and “Neapolitan villas”, such as the severe and harmonious villas of Luigi Cosenza and Bernard Rudofsk. The design contributed to rekindling the heated debate on the concept of Mediterranean introduced by Carlo Enrico Rava at the beginning of the 1930s with “Domus”, continuing with Pagano’s focus on rural architecture, once again coming to the fore through Ponti’s magazine and even involving Le Corbusier. Accordingly, albeit being ahead of its time, the architecture of the observatory – and that of many other later works by Vito Latis – concur perfectly with current debates of the times, constituting his personal interpretation of the themes discussed by many in that era. The expression of an idea of architecture that the sketches drawn by the expert hand of Vito Latis emphasised, conferring a force of expression to design projects and forging a “communicative” understanding with the clientèle. Vito Latis was in fact a passionate painter and, in the wake of many colleagues, including Figini and Asnago, this second activity represented his great private passion which would accompany him throughout his life.