Aurigeno is located on the least sunny side of the river crossing the Maggia valley, above Lake Maggiore. In a good state of conservation, it stands at the foot of the steep Monte Lareccio, on a slight sloping crest along two main roads: a rural one above, and one of a more urban nature below. Austere buildings lined up along the road, form an irregular yet consistent curve with frequent open spaces between them. Until last century, construction work was discerning and frugal, making use of local materials such as stone and wood. Aurigeno remains one of few villages seemingly spared from anonymous yet pretentious small peri urban houses, regardless of their surroundings.
Designing any new building in this still homogeneous setting, is like imagining an individual blending into a community. Similarly, it is required to conceive a small, simple and functional house similar to the surrounding ones in the village. Adopting the original spirit and site’s cultural heritage is an ethical duty, and one of respectful modesty. For both architect and client.
Looking out over the main street in an elevated open position at the beginning of the village, the plot is enclosed on the other sides by two rural constructions and stone walls, which together form a sort of little hortus conclusus. The “new old house” is aligned to the street, but not to the adjacent stable of which it continues the front, bringing the village street to an end. The previously abandoned small field has been transformed into a cozy cottage garden, tucked away from the public space. A vegetable plot and a variety of plants in addition to the old orchard have brought the garden back to life.
Inspiration for the design came from traditional torba turf sheds which in the past doubled as homes, reinterpreting their shape: the wooden structure, the projecting roof and the characteristic elevation from the ground, with a basement set on granite plinths resting on a stone wall. Thanks to this support, the slope remains intact, incorporating the municipal wall with the base of the house. Composition, materials and facade take from the local stone constructions, with their irregular yet functional, and carefully directed openings. The “old new house” looks as though it has always been there.
The surprise comes when visitors open the front door, discovering a little gem made of fir wood, intimate and minimal, measuring just 100 square meters with a few bespoke elements providing for every need. A deep beam divides the space, organizing it lengthways and supporting the bedrooms, bathroom and the double height of the living room. The ground floor – clear of dividing walls – offers a generous flowing space only structured by a large kitchen-study-bookcase unit, above which rises a suspended staircase. The openings have been designed to frame internal and external views: intersecting and interconnecting, they open up small areas, creating unexpected links that reinforce the sense of harmony.
Details and construction techniques are elementary. The entire prefabricated wooden structure – made with dry construction techniques, without reinforced concrete – is supported by eight pyramid shaped granite plinths incorporating iron tubes and plates. There are no further basements or foundations.
The structure is clad in a ventilated facade of fiber cement siding, with raw lime plasterwork. Smooth plastered frames around doors and windows lend a graphic rhythm to the facade. All interior surfaces – walls, floors and furniture – are clad in multi-plywood fir sheets. Similarly, stone dominates every element of the external architecture. Reclaim granite slabs found on the grounds and at local quarries, have been used for the access and external paving. The stone blends harmoniously with the rest of the village, merging with the stable and garden walls, giving a timeless feel to the property.