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Villas in parco Ghigi, Bologna: a history of modern architecture for the residence of Leopoldo Cavalli

At Leopoldo Cavalli’s place. A magical location where architecture relates to the outside with the landscape and inside with the design.

14 December 2020

The complex of the houses in Parco Villa Ghigi in Bologna is one of the most intimate examples of the architectural activity of Enzo Zacchiroli. These villas contain a tribute to the projects of Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto, a modern conception of architecture with almost Brutalist overtones, in a dialogue between the brick and concrete of linear volumes and the park with its gentle slopes in the hills near Bologna. The villas have been conceived in such a way that from every vantage point, the geometry and construction – in brick and concrete – establish a harmonious relationship with the surrounding forest. The masonry enclosure is imposing: the barrier wall of the property, in reinforced concrete, is crossed by precise, deep openings for access to the house and the garage; the shape is marked by a sequence of angles and concave and convex curves, suggesting an entrance. The perimeter of the house, on the other hand, in brick – a distinctive trademark of Zacchiroli – is interrupted by smaller openings and ribbon windows.

While the exterior of the house conveys a forceful sense of engagement and intimacy, the interior displays a surprising openness to the surrounding environment. The living area features the presence of a ribbon window facing the park, and the observer cannot help being captured by the view of this green band that frames and pervades the domestic space. The osmosis between construction and greenery, the mastery in the “projection” of nature into the dwelling, and the evocative force of these linear glimpses, are undoubtedly the identifying factors of this work of architecture.

This is the home of the entrepreneur Leopoldo Cavalli, who lives there with his wife Monica, and their two children Michele and Anna, as well as cherished pets (a Cane Corso, an Amstaff, a Jack Russell Terrier, an inseparable parakeet, two hamsters and many goldfish).

Monica and I immediately fell in love with this house that had been abandoned by the previous owners for many years, after they moved abroad, though the household staff had remained in place for nearly a decade. They welcomed us with an apple pie fresh from the oven and a delightful tea service, and helped us to explore every corner, even the most hidden recesses of the house. We are both from Bologna, and in this residence we have rediscovered a meditative space, a private dimension of wellbeing that is perfect for our family. We have enhanced the place not only with sensorial elements – which on their own are capable of boosting the quality – but also careful selection of low-emission products, finishes and materials.

In this architectural setting with a rationalist matrix, an interior design project has been inserted, entirely carried out by Visionnaire, the metaluxury lifestyle brand Leopoldo launched 15 years ago, together with his sister Eleonore and their father Luigi.
Iconic products by the brand emphasize the size and luminosity of the spaces, while the meditative atmosphere brings harmony to the decor. The living area is arranged around a fireplace at the center, from which the various areas branch out. The zone for relaxation with the Bastian modular sofa seems designed to act as a privileged observatory of nature. Seated on the sofa, you can get lost in contemplation of the forest, which almost seems to embrace the viewer. The adjacent music area features a grand piano, obviously facing towards the natural spectacle. Musical instruments are a recurring theme, with two grand pianos, reflecting Leopoldo Cavalli’s passion for this art form, also assiduously cultivated in his professional life.

Music is my greatest passion. Not a single moment of my day fails to be paced by a melody – Leopoldo says. – I have a past as an aspiring singer-songwriter and pianist, thanks to my mother who helped me to discover the world of music when I was very young, and I have fulfilled my dream by acquiring the historic Fonoprint recording studio (previous the Museum of Sound and Song of the city of Bologna) from the heirs of the great Lucio Dalla, quite close to our new house. I also wanted to have a small recording studio at home, a space where all the members of the family enjoy composing, dancing and singing.

Music as a passion, but also as a form of therapy. In two large areas of the house excellent sound systems designed by the Fonoprint studios make the listening experience totally immersive, thrilling, for a daily “rebirth” of energy.

Leopoldo’s studio is a very striking setting: entirely clad in wood on the walls, it envelops the observer and transmits a contemplative atmosphere. A small opening to the greenery, created with the modules of the wooden bookcase behind the antique desk, acts as a source of abundant light. The adjacent area has again been set aside for music, and contains a Larix piano bar, with a Riverside sofa and ottoman in milk white leather.

The desk is one of my favorite pieces in the new house, and one of the very few items not created by Visionnaire. I found it in an old warehouse of historic treasures in Bologna; it has been renovated and enhanced by a top in Patagonia stone, which mixes granite and quartz – a masterpiece of nature!

The design of the kitchen is no less ambitious, and features the hanging cabinets of the Victorian kitchen, a product that stands out for the use of steel enhanced by ornamental brass inserts. Here again, a ribbon window crosses the walls and furnishings, offering a striking view while filling the room with light and shifting shades of green.

The kitchen as a matter for discussion with Monica. Our two personalities had to coexist in this intimate space. The soft feminine touch of oak and the hard, angular presence of steel. Contrasts that repeat in the dining table, where we like to gather with our children and close friends; I chose a Visionnaire icon, the Versailles table designed by Alessandro La Spada in 2008, which stands out for its truncated conical steel legs and blown glass, and the top in Port Saint Laurent marble that connects with the kitchen cabinets. Forty square meters of refined design, for a very evocative, inspiring, engaging setting.

Great care has also gone into the bathrooms of the house, all clad in stone (with widespread use of the Rosa Egeo and Invisible Grey from the Antolini collection). All the spaces are unique: from the sculptural bath, the Forma Mentis, a design by Simone Micheli for Visionnaire featuring a ceramic head as a washstand with a faceted mirror, to the Kobol bathroom of the latest generation by Alessandro La Spada, which contains a large wellness area, a true domestic spa with cryosauna, hypersalinized tub, fitness gear and a Turkish bath.

Total wellbeing, based on a philosophy of mindfulness, has always been my goal and that of my wife Monica, so much so that four years ago we opened a new Beauty Salon concept in our native city: a green space where the choice of natural materials for zero emissions and respect for the environment meets cutting-edge technologies in a unique location; a Beauty Academy, to learn how to care for ourselves in a concrete, lasting way. After this experience, it was only ‘natural’ to transfer the knowledge and technology into the most intimate spaces of our home, which thus becomes a true ‘greenhouse’ of relaxation and wellness.

The extraordinary value of this residence, with an indoor area of over 1200 square meters plus 13 delightful terraces, lies not only in its architecture, an expression of the Brutalism of Zacchiroli, not only in the refined design approach (all the levels have a double slab to create an interspace of 130 cm, to prevent mildew and humidity and to contain all the physical plant systems inside the floors), but above all in the fact that the house stands at the center of a marvelous public park, Parco Villa Ghigi, just 2 kilometers from the historical center of the city, and contains extraordinary trees in its private garden, including the oldest Himalayan Cedar in Bologna, almost 30 meters high, listed and protected as natural heritage. Nature and architecture, contaminations and vision, values that are reflected in this project, values the Visionnaire brand epitomizes and explores on an everyday basis.


Photo Credits: Max Zambelli



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