Contemporary Architecture in Puglia: Antonio Annicchiarico, CGA Studios, Andrew Trotter

 
 
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La Fiermontina: Ptta. Scipione de Summa 4, 73100 Lecce, LE 
Castello di Ugento: Via Castello 13, 73509 Ugento, LE
Masseria Moroseta: Contrada Lamacavallo, s/n, 72017 Ostuni, BR 

Photo: La Fiermontina

 
 
 

In the 1990s, scholars predicted tourism might become an important resource for the development of Southern Italy, which was historically slow to industrialize due to political and economic reasons. They were right: less than thirty years later and people are flocking to the South, precisely because for the same reasons why it was once neglected. Tourism has proven a driving resource in the development of Southern Italy, with major investments in the roads and infrastructure being made. But how do you avoid the fast, easy mass tourism, which is not sustainable in the long run and neither respects the local economy nor the heritage? How do you ensure development doesn’t trample over the existing culture and structures?

The answer seems to lie in good design. The most outstanding Pugliese establishments in our opinion have in common their seamless integration into the existing landscape with the least amount of intervention and the most research. We spoke with architects and designers Antonio Annicchiarico of La Fiermontina, Vicenzo Guadagno of CGA Studios of Castello di Ugento and Andrew Trotter of Masseria Moroseta, who respectively designed three of the most sought-after hotels in Puglia, with the aim of answering the question: how do you design for a territory steeped in history, while on the one hand staying true to the local traditions, and on the other creating for the present day?

Classic elegance describes La Fiermontina, a luxury boutique hotel built around a 17th century private home in the heart of Lecce, the baroque centre of Puglia. It is made up of 16 unique guestrooms and suites for rejuvenating repose, an art collection for the visually curious, a restaurant serving elevated interpretations of the local cucina povera and a walled garden of paradise in which to experience a moment of peace in the centre of the city among olive and orange trees.

When we ask architect Antonio Annicchiarico about his approach to designing La Fiermontina, he points out that all tradition is “an act of deception” – looking to the Latin and Italian term tradire, which means to betray. “Wretched architecture exists in Puglia, Italy and Europe precisely because of the twisted relationship between tradition and modernity. This is inherent to countries with a rich cultural history,” he explains. “Unfortunately, contemporary architecture [in Puglia] is in a state of subjection to the past: architects are not able to loosen themselves from the past and as such live in a detrimental state of nostalgia.”

The solution for the architect, he suggests, is taking all that came before us and approaching it as though we were reading it, or interpreting it. When Annicchiarico arrived to the archeological site in 2003, he found a heap of ruins: some olive trees that had spontaneously begun to grow, lots of local rock in its shade of pink, there were stone quarries on which the ancient construction was built, and he felt “a sort of fraternal affection for the client” as they affronted the site. Through his unique creative approach, the building he conceived became a type of monolith in Lecce limestone that places equal weight on the inside and the outside and that was carved to become a kind of sculpture.

Vicenzo Guadagno of CGA Studios shares the philosophy of interpreting the past as though “re-reading” it through modern means. CGA Studios, made up of himself, the founding architect Rosa Carafa and architect Enrico Carafa, were tasked with the hardy renovation and restructuring of the ancient Castello di Ugento. Guadagno points out certain unexpected turns of events during the initial site visit entirely changed the initial plan, such as the discovery of a hitherto-unknown tower which surely dated back to the Messapians in the 4th century, and suggests that a certain flexibility, as architects and uncoverers, is necessary to the design of a new structure.

The most awe-inspiring hotel on our list for its sheer museum-grade status, the ancient castle of Ugento’s history started well before its 17th century owner commissioned frescoes in the High Baroque style to be painted on the ceilings. Thanks to the careful work of archeologists, historians, and art restorers, among others, alongside the team at CGA Studios, the castle is now a luxury boutique hotel with nine individually designed rooms and suites, a gourmet restaurant Il Tempo Nuovo and a state-of-the-art Italian culinary school.

Neither La Fiermontina nor Castello di Ugento is simply a hotel: the former is home to a modern and contemporary art collection from its owners’ private collection, and the latter, in addition to being a museum, hosts regular courses in a cooking school, the Puglia Culinary Centre. If one thing is clear, it is that a thorough study, and mastery, of the history of a place, as well as a lot of imagination, is necessary to create something new on its premises.

In the province of Brindisi, Masseria Moroseta was not a renovation project but was built entirely from the ground up. The project was launched through a friendship between hotel owner Carlo Lanzini and Andrew Trotter, who met in London. “I prefer not to use labels,” Trotter tells us over the phone when we ask him how to describe himself, “but I am not an architect.” With a background in fashion, lighting, furniture design and creative direction, Trotter is as an “all-around designer.” 

A modern-day masseria – farm house – in Ostuni, a small town on the coast of Puglia’s province of Brindisi, nicknamed “the white town” for its characteristic white-washed appearance, Masseria Moroseta is built into the countryside overlooking the Adriatic sea. With particular attention to contemporary design while drawing neatly on traditional techniques, it is a modern sanctuary frequented by creatives of the design world, who take every opportunity to recharge in one of its six suites, to get some work done in the masseria’s inspiring common room, or to engage in one of the yoga classes and tuck into a plate of fresh fruit from the adjacent farm. 

In 2011, Lanzini had found the perfect location, but it was occupied by a building of no use. Says Trotter: “It was not beautiful and not in a good position, so we knocked it down and built a completely new structure.” Trotter initially designed something that was a lot more modern, but after spending time in Ostuni and talking to the local council, they decided to simplify everything. “Using the local and traditional techniques and materials makes it feel like it really belongs in Puglia,” he says.

Researching the local architecture, Trotter came up with a building that seamlessly blends into its surroundings, using not only traditional materials and techniques, but also solar panels, passive ventilation and insulation from both heat and cold to reduce energy consumption. He explains that the challenges encountered were for the most part related to complying with the council’s regulations. 

He explains the high vaulted ceilings of stone keeps it cool, and the dry heat, shade and space make everything feel fresher. Cross-ventilation in the buildings is a traditional function, as the walls of calcium and lime wash. As of 2016, Masseria Moroseta has been a fully functional hotel, open year-round with the exception of a few weeks in January and February. Trotter specifies there was a deliberate wish to make the hotel not simply a summer resort, but that a winter or spring visit makes for an entirely different experience. 

What brings the design of these buildings together is what Guadagno refers to as “minimal intervention” – the least amount of intervention yields the maximum results and respects the authentic nature of the structure, or location, the most. “When we architecturally intervene in any building, we try not to leave any prominent signs that contort the real nature of the building – we can say that we come in and leave on tiptoe.” It is clear that lots of work is necessary to pull off such a silent intervention – but the most skilled designers ensure it doesn’t interfere with the guest’s peaceful stay.

 
 
 
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