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The Architecture of the Sea

June 2022

Architecture. Antonio Iraci narrates the Architecture of the Sea.

Designing in and with the landscape: this is one of the focuses of the architecture of Antonio Iraci, of the Iraci Architetti firm. And “landscape”, for Iraci – a Sicilian by origin and education – coincides above all with the Mediterraneanity. Villa Ionica in Catania is a very successful attempt to establish a dialogue between the shapes, colours and materials of designed and natural space. The different areas of the building are organised in a loving and solid harmony between man and the environment, for a truly global well-being. 

“Mediterraneanity”: sun, sea, the lushness of coastal greenery, the purest blue of the sky… What does it mean to design a house in such places? 

First, you have to raise your eyes and look. Really look. Colours, for example: are we sure we know them for what they really are? The variety of greens, however, is never solitary, but lived in conjunction with the white of the stone and the blue of the sky and sea. And how many shades of this blue! Everything is changeable, and everything is mutual exchange.  

Becoming aware of the context means accepting the idea of becoming part of the landscape without overpowering it. As Villa Ionica is surrounded by greenery, we decided to create a dialogue with it by choosing, for interior and exterior floors and walls, the Bianco Lasa finish to balance two colours: the white of the light and the green of the hillside, in a sophisticated, yet never artificial combination. 

So, a building that blends in with its environment? 

 No, it doesn’t, and therein lies the sophistication of the design choices! A dialogue with the environment does not mean disappearing into it. On the contrary, we wanted Villa Ionica to stand out for its character and distinctiveness, but to do so without fuss. Therefore, we did not use finishes reminiscent of local stones (as I often like to do), but relied instead on Bianco Lasa, which takes its inspiration from a stone quarried in South Tyrol. 

The streaks reproduced on the large Laminam slabs then recall the effect of saltiness on the surfaces. And the roof is the same colour, which provides additional continuity by enhancing the finish. Designing in and with the landscape does not mean passively imitating it, rather understanding its language and then using it to say something original. 

On the beach, children build sandcastles. How does an architect design for a marine context instead? 
With two words in mind first: sun and sea. 
Villa Ionica is as sunny as our Sicily – very bright – but at the same time it is designed for the best energy saving. Are you aware of the temperatures reached here in summer? Thanks to the roof projecting in the south-facing living area, we achieved two advantages: letting the tenants enjoy a dreamlike view without the glare of the sun, and preventing the rays from hitting the large windows. 
In the sleeping area, again using the large Laminam slabs in Bianco Lasa, we created the cladding with double over-coating (inside and outside) to ensure thermal insulation. 
Well: we are in Sicily and the owner has never had to turn the air conditioning on! An incredible result for us as well. 

This is the sun. What about the sea?  
Designing by the sea means living with the saltiness that, carried by the wind, ruins façades, especially plastered ones. Ceramic is the most suitable choice here – as well as the most sustainable – precisely because of its strength and inalterability. 
But that is not enough, because it’s a waste to just watch the sea – the fascinating sea of Sicily! – isn’t it? You also have to live it. And so it is easy that in a real seaside home the floors both outside and inside are often soiled with sand, pebbles, earth and shell fragments. The ideal flooring material must be hygienic, easy to clean and scratch-resistantLaminam ceramic surfaces are perfect: compact and durable. If we had used resin, we would have had a “sea” (it has to be said!) of problems related to wear and cleaning difficulties. 

And back from the beach? “Sea” means holidays, relaxation, extended time, the famous nap after lunch… 
And indeed, nothing should be left to chance. A building is not a sculpture, but a space delimited by walls that delineate an “inside” and an “outside”. And this“inside” and this “outside” must be in harmony, to promote the well-being of those who live in the building every day. 
At Villa Ionica, I liked the idea of this large window dividing the living area from the outdoor patio, as if the garden “entered” the house, letting us enjoy its coolness through shapes and colours alone.  
The same logic guided the decision to maintain the same flooring – again in Bianco Lasa – for indoor and outdoor spaces, as if the outdoor space were merely an extension of the indoor one. 

On summer nights, if you raise your head, you almost feel as if you are closer to the stars. 

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