A closer look at Tuscany reveals its traditions of architectural innovation and arts patronage are still very much alive
One of southern Italy's most striking contemporary buildings lies hidden in plain sight. Located south of Florence on the highway to Siena, the sprawling steel and terracotta structure of the Antinori Winery was designed by Archea Associati to blend into the hillside. Its curving facade follows the gentle folds of the landscape while its roof is planted with vines.
The building's cutting-edge shape reveals itself slowly. First in the curvature of the car park, then in the twisting, free-floating staircase visitors ascend to reach the podium level. From here, the building's facade of rust-coloured corten steel blazes against the blue sky. Inside, the dimly lit cellar has soaring cathedral-height ceilings lined with terracotta tiles, while private glass-encased tasting rooms are theatrically cantilevered over the oak barrels.
The scale and proportions of the building, which spans 50,000sqm, are a far cry from the medieval stone farmhouses used by most of the area's wineries. In place of marble and stone, the design incorporates thousands of terracotta tiles. Instead of reaching upwards, the building expands horizontally across the landscape. Most of Tuscany's revered buildings – from late gothic cathedrals such as Fillipo Brunelleschi's Duomo and the Basilica of San Lorenzo to medieval bastions such as Castello di Brolio and Poggio alle Mura – are impressive for their verticality.
And yet the Antinori Winery's bold design isn't exactly a departure from Italy's cultural heritage. The Antinori noble family has winemaking and art patronage roots dating back 26 generations; by building a showpiece of a winery at a cost of US$110 million that includes, among other flourishes, a 200-seat auditorium and an art programme, the family sees itself as continuing the innovative spirit of its forefathers."The huge investment is justifiable only if thinking of the next generation," winemaker Piero Antinori says in a video about the project.
The Antinori Winery isn't the only one that doubles as a contemporary exhibition space. Further south in Gavorrano, the Renzo Piano-designed La Rocca Winery revisits the traditional forms of Tuscan architecture within a modern, industrially inspired frame; in addition to a cellar and production facilities, the building comprises several art pavilions and spaces for exhibitions.
Historic hillside towns also incorporate modern art. Castello di Ama, one of Chianti's top-rated wineries, has been running an art programme since 2000. Its collection includes 15 site-specific installations with works by Anish Kapoor, Chen Zhen, Louise Bourgeois, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Lee Ufan, among others.
At the end of the village, where the valley opens out to a vast sea of planted vines, visitors encounter the giant reflective wall installation Sulle vigne: punti di vista (views of the vineyard) by artist Daniel Buren. Punctuated by square windows finished with black-and-white stripes of marble, the work both frames and reflects the landscape and transforms the viewer's experience of the already stunning estate into something – unbelievably – more beautiful.
A number of medieval villas and in some case, entire estates, have recently been converted into luxury hotels, and many of these properties also showcase contemporary art. Monteverdi, a boutique hotel in southern Tuscany, has been given a rustic-meets-modern make-over complete with reclaimed wooden beams, lime-washed walls and small casement windows that capture cinematic views punctuated with cypress trees and Renaissance rooftops.
This is an excerpt from “Tuscan spirit", an article from the January/February issue of Perspective magazine.
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