A Modern Pluralist: Robert Barnes on the Work of Ignazio Gardella

By Indigo Leveson-Gower
Posted 23 October 2022 in Reviews


Image from an article on Ignazio Gardella’s Terme Regina Isabella on the island of Ischia, published by Gio Ponti in Domus 268 (March 1952)

In his lecture on Italian architect Ignazio Gardella (1905–1999), Robert Barnes (Architecture Diploma Unit 6) pondered the question of how Gardella’s work and philosophy can be seen as relevant to questions of re-use in contemporary architecture and, in this context, the role of historical precedent.

Gardella was a member of Gruppo 7, a Modernist collective who sought to rationalise architecture. His work seems to fit easily into this definition, but upon further inspection his quirks and intrigue as an architect become apparent. For Gardella, the drawing process was fundamental. Barnes demonstrated how drawing one idea from a range of points of view allows the architect to hone in on the fine detail and design of a project. The rational aspect of Gardella’s buildings means that his façade drawings may only be of a single bay, but when extrapolated the detail speaks of the overall building.

Gardella’s work simultaneously represents a modernist rational aesthetic while pushing the boundaries and adopting elements that counter these rigid ideas. At the Terme Regina Isabella on the island of Ischia, a stair becomes a pulpit or stage in the building, showing Gardella’s confidence to adapt and diverge from a strict philosophy of the rational and allow for playful elements. This playfulness is also expressed on the exterior where Gardella’s design carefully integrates an existing classical façade and its rhythm with the new-built elements. Gardella’s sensitive approach to re-use, and an understanding of when and what to keep is highly relevant to the contemporary architect. In the context of global heating, the re-use of buildings will become more and more imperative as a means to reduce the release of embodied carbon.

Ignazio Gardella was a pluralist, unafraid to mould his work to a situation or draw on previous classical ideas as well as the modernist rhetoric. In this lecture, Robert Barnes made Gardella’s design process and approach relevant to how we practice as students and provided a first introduction to the wealth of ideas Gardella’s oeuvre represents.

About the Author

Indigo Leveson-Gower is a Part II Architecture student at the School of Art, Architecture and Design.