A contemporary rock dwelling in Matera
Maria Rosaria Mongelli, Antonio Giulio Loforese (Studio LOMO)
It was the pioneering photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson who in 1951 carried out the first reportage of the Sassi di Matera, raising awareness in Italy and abroad of the plight of a population forced to abandon their limestone cave dwellings due to the poor conditions of hygiene. Since then the Lucanian city, and the Basilicata region in general, has become a kind of social research workshop that has attracted artists, intellectuals and designers. Projects have included the urban planning work of Ludovico Quaroni, who designed new homes for the displaced; the cinematography of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who chose it as a second Jerusalem for his film The Gospel According to St. Matthew; the realistic black-and-white photos of Cartier-Bresson; and Carlo Levi’s powerful memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli. Matera, the European Capital of Culture 2019, rapidly became a place for experimenting with new development concepts that could be applied to the whole of southern Italy, inspired by an age-old history in which man and nature coexisted — and often fought — and by a continuous quest for dialogue between tradition and modernity, past and present.
This is evidenced by the many urban regeneration projects that have focused on the city of Matera and its Sassi, bringing a fresh lease of life to the so-called «lamioni», the barrel-vaulted cave dwellings dug out from the limestone.
The renovation project we look at here is a typical example. It is the work of architects Maria Rosaria Mongelli and Antonio Giulio Loforese, founders in 2013 of the Matera-based practice Lomo (the fact that one of the two studios is located in the heart of the Sassi demonstrates the architects’ strong links to the area). The house provides a contemporary reinterpretation of Matera’s architectural tradition. Retaining the masonry surfaces and the splendid tuff block barrel vault design, the project combines the ancient dwelling with a modern distribution system in keeping with the building’s new function as a hospitality venue.
The development project was carried out on three levels. While the bedrooms located in the final section of the «lamione» offer splendid night-time views of the Murgia Materana canyon, the front area hosts the living room to exploit the double height of the volume. The distinctive feature of the living area is the gold-painted metal staircase, reflected in the gold detailing that winds around the two-burner fireplace and stands out against the plain walls. Inside, the large windows offer glimpses of the landscape, different interpretations of the relationship between the cave city and the interior of the house. The sense of continuity between interior and exterior is also enhanced by the architects’ efforts to modernise the building typology, which involved lightening the perimeter walls and aligning previously asymmetrical openings.
Last but not least, the choice of porcelain tile for the interior floors and walls further enhanced the aesthetics and functionality of the project as a whole, allowing for successful integration between contemporary solutions and the legacy of the past. Porcelain tile (Concrete Jungle collection, Atelier 25 Honed rectified version from Blustyle by Cotto d’Este) was chosen as the flooring throughout the house. It blends perfectly with the colour of the ancient city’s sunlit rocks and at the same time recreates the distinctive colours and original graphic effects of urban concrete, while the 60×60 cm size brings a contemporary feel to the space. The smaller 30×60 cm size was chosen for the bathrooms.