In art, there are no rules. Give the exact same material to two different sculptors, and they’re likely to make dramatically different objects. The same can’t always be said of architecture, in which the soaring possibilities of unfettered creativity are stifled by silly little things like structural integrity. Still, it’s interesting to see the results of the same experiment, in which the building materials that make up the local vernacular are translated to a whole new style. That’s what architecture firm Elastico Farm has done with “Houses of Cards,” two unexpected new dwellings set in a picturesque suburb of Turin, Italy.
Commissioned by a doctor for his two adult daughters, these bold residences are set within Torrazza Piemonte, a neighborhood which principal architect Stefano Pujatti calls “cookie-cutter.” Aerial photos back this up, especially on this particular block. Behind the houses sits a row of near-identical homes in contemporary Italian suburban style, with typical gabled shapes and terracotta roof tiles. Pujatti’s designs are more siblings than twins: composed of mostly the same shapes and materials, but clearly individuals, one more linear and orderly than the other.
To come up with these shapes, Pujatti started with a stack of business cards, cutting slits into them to arrange them into house-like shapes. He was inspired by another project his firm completed back in 2013 in a Sardinian quarry, where the clients asked the firm to invent a new way of using granite that was precision-cut with wire saws. What if, like these cards, he used slabs of this heavy and durable yet breathable material to construct dwellings? Elastico Farm experimented with using the material for load-bearing walls without losing a sense of sculptural expression.
The architects pieced the granite slabs together with prefabricated concrete panels using interlocking cuts, a technique that allowed for both quick assembly and creative arrangements. The granite is naturally resistant to compression and flexure, like reinforced concrete, enabling it to be used as enormous monolithic load-bearing elements. Metal pins hold the slabs together, and timber panels bring in a little warmth and softness.
Pujatti designed each residence, which he calls “Cat House” and “Dog House,” with its own individual formal logic. One is more orderly, the other more dynamic. “Cat House” was an experiment in using orthogonal joints, which the firm ultimately found to have seismic vulnerabilities. They added bracing steel reinforcements to boost its resistance to tremors. “Dog House” is arranged radially around a central patio, giving it a higher seismic rating, so it didn’t need any bracing. The open courtyard brings daylight into the depths of the home, making it brighter than the other.
Inside, the dry-fit panels slot together into each room for a playful effect that looks something like a child’s toy project. The natural texture and pattern of the granite and concrete become an essential part of the interior decor, and the project as whole proves that we could do with a lot more experimentation in contemporary architecture to break up the same old cookie-cutter structures seen all over the world.