Reading the Parisi Library for Casa Larini

Brian Kish

These monumental bookcases designed in 1948, for the library in the Casa Larini, were an early commission for the then newly founded architecture office of Ico and Luisa Parisi. The office, La Ruota (The Wheel), had just opened in 1947, in the lakeside town of Como, when various small commissions started coming their way. In this instance, they were asked to design interior furnishings. It wasn’t until 1951 that they would design entire villas for many clients in the Como region.

The Casa Larini commission was documented in the August 1950 issue of the vanguard modern journal, Architetti. The article discusses the influence a visit to an aeronautical parts factory, specializing in the production of gliders and propellers, had on the works of Ico and Luisa; the author writes: "That plant developed advanced techniques for profiled plywood which gave the elements produced, maximum efficiency with minimal weight and thickness. These purely utilitarian techniques inspired Parisi, the emerging architect, to create furniture where every element more specifically performs a function, where every structural part has a gauge exactly proportional to the forces that need to be sustained." 

These bookcases for Casa Larini featured in Architetti, 1950.

The Architetti article illustrates a dozen works from the Casa Larini commission and designs for two of the pieces can be traced to this factory visit: the hallway console and the library bookcases. Both are emblematic of the designers evolving methodologies. The glass topped console is composed of sinuous turned wood, creating a Rococo frenzy. Such a biomorphic form, at the site of entrance, resounded a note of disquiet. This disruption was tempered with seemingly familiar archetypes throughout the home, as in the highly functional library displays. Two tall bookcases in carefully crafted walnut have an initial appearance of sober monumentality. When installed at Casa Larini, they flanked a traditional marble fireplace mantle. At the top, both cases were connected by a floating shelf unit bridging the two vertical parts. This way of physically hemming in the fireplace turns the library wall into a metaphysical collage.

This element in the Casa Larini is a result of the fascinating synthesis of the two architects, Ico and Luisa, who by working together, created some of the most complex and yet coherent Italian mid-20th century designs. Ico Parisi interned and worked with the great Rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni and later enrolled in the architecture department at Lausanne University. While Luisa (née Aiani), graduated from two of Milan's prestigious institutes, the Brera Belle Arti (in fine art) and the Politecnico (in architecture) where she studied under the influential Gio Ponti. Both Ponti and Terrangi had a clear impact on the development of their young protégés, which is discernible in numerous design and architectural works created during the couple's long partnership.

The influence of Ponti and Terrangi on Ico and Luisa is evident in the Casa Larini library displays. Eight boxes are stacked above four bases and all are encased in lateral frames that are attenuated and profiled as Ponti might have done. Terragni's influence is more subtle, but manifest in the boxes which are suspended and slightly jutting out, recalling the architect’s abstracted window surrounds. In the hands of his former student, Ico, these elements are deftly unified in sophisticated tectonics, such as steel rods horizontally connecting the upper units, the varying small wooden spacers, all enhanced by voids, a negative space that paradoxically functions as a visual unifier.

The glass topped console from Casa Larini featured in Architetti, 1950.

From 1947 on, the Parisis’ work shows traces of a tension between the newer Metaphysical/Surrealist impulses emanating from Gio Ponti and the lingering Rationalist functionality of the prewar Giuseppi Terragni. One could conjecture that this is what characterizes the couple's collaboration. Ponti's influence on Luisa and Terragni's on Ico. This led to a synthesis with an emphasis on tectonics, a precise understanding of the specific properties of material, and a penchant for elevating objects of daily use to new heights of elegance. The Casa Larini commission is a singular collection of objects, alternating between functionality and a pursuit of ideal forms, between bourgeois comfort and an open defiance of convention.