The shipwreck | Sergio de Miguel

Malaparte House, Adalberto Líbera

“L´Architecttura, in quanto arte, è fenomeno felice, rarissimo e personale.”

Adalberto Libera


As it want to that we look seeing what others saw a lot before that we and that walk stepping the stepped of others, could not by less than sobresaltarme when contemplating the surprising figure, found by chance in a recóndita Mediterranean coast, of a wonderful sailboat of big eslora varado between the rocks. This presence dumped immediately in my interior the remember of the beautiful tragedies in which the sea is leading.

Despised and defeated, desolado although still whole, the estilizado helmet appeared mecido by the swell and his still pulidas surfaces shined veladamente under the sun. The rocks, punzantes and apparently intact, rocked with firmness his lastimeros movements. The certainty of the big tempestad and of his heroic navegantes did presagiar that the heat and the reigning calm were not more than a pleasant mirage. Then the landscape  tornó more beautiful. The sea, as almost always, dissembled; but this time had not had objections in leaving an irrefutable proof of his big can. The defenceless ship yacía náufrago when being given back with violent bang to his Earth Mother. Worthy and penosamente heaved bore still with poignant arrogance the punishment of the waves.

The man, in his become, has built ships to travel further of the limits of his knowledge and his curiosity, and like evolution, has contrived the ships to sail to win with slyness the difficulties that there could  find. Sail to sail supposes to displace silent and valientemente by a place in which it does not exist the space neither the time because all what there sucede, in reality, does not belong us. It treats  of transitar a place flowed of water and wind, an enrarecida border little hospitable that, however, is the half in which the navegantes achieve to float and cost of the winds to displace , to advance. And it is in this genial construction, in this odd nature, where find his deeper, although sometimes tragic, satisfaction.

Already be for thinking that actually they contain the own secrets of the sea or for perceiving his minimal and dizzy distance with the turbulent oceanic mass; the appliances that, born of the human ingenuity, are situated in the challenging line of coast become extraordinarily attractive before our senses.


For some reason, this unusual scene remembered the house that Curzio Malaparte was constructing himself at the end of the thirties at the edge of a rocky promontory on the steep coast of Capri’s island. Enigmatic and magic, isolated and foreign, it is considered to be one of the rarest mansions of the western world. Malaparte asked the architect Líbera to be “sad, hard, severe”, a house that with the time would turn into the best biography of his conventional proprietary little.

Novelist, essayist, politician, journalist, the director of cinema and of theatre, playwright and actor, was especially a writer though, after ignoring the directives of Líbera’s project, it turned in turn into the builder and the architect of his house into Capri.

Curzio Malaparte, Kurt Erick’s pseudonym Suckert, of Protestant German father and of Lombard mother, was born in the people toscano of Prato in 1898. It fought in the French front in the first world war and from 1922 up to Mussolini’s fall in 1943 it was characterized for being an active and anxious member of the Fascist Italian Party. In 1925 Suckert, which his friends were not hesitating to consider to be like conceited and snob, it changed of name on having read a nineteenth-century text titled partially “the Malaparte and the Bonaparte”.

Being the director of the newspaper “The Stampa”, I load that it showed from 1929 until 1931, he wrote some subversive articles of corrosive sense of the humor that strong hatreds were trying him inside the party. Skilful narrator of fables, was monopolizing the protagonism of any meeting and was delighting with his imaginations and sharp you tell the history of the high fascist leaders, his protectors, with whom it was daring to joke openly of the “Duce”. It managed to ridicule even in writing Hitler and such an excess, finally, cost the jail to him accused of antifascist activities. Little later, and thanks to his friendship near to the dictator, a sorrow was softened being confined for several years, under police vigilance, in Lípari’s island.

Exile, devoted himself to read Homero and Plato in Greek, it did not have with whom to speak and only was enjoying the company of his dogs to whom it put the names of the prominent figures of the classic tragedies. It was living in his terrace and was happening the hours looking at the sea as the only distraction. He itself remembered:

“too much sea, too much sky, for such a small island and such an anxious spirit” .

After the painful exile, in 1935 it returns to the intellectual scene this time to become strong as international celebrity. It founds the famous cultural magazine of surrealistic trend Prospettive and begins to practise as correspondent of war, beside continuing his intense literary activity.

In 1937, Mussolini inaugurates the “Mostra augustea of the romanità” to celebrate the second millenium of the birth of the emperor Augusto. The fascism, which is identified by the ancient Rome and establishes parallelisms between both leaders, recognizes in Capri’s island one of the favorite places of his imperial past (there is well-known the predilection that took the emperor Tiberio as this island where it managed to possess up to twelve villas). Since one proceeds complement of the efemérides to excavate and to announce numerous buildings and villas of the island. Malaparte, which was coming seeking to acquire a house from it was doing time it was not possible for less that to succumb before such evidences. It was at the time when it decided that his house had to be located in Capri.

He had written a series of autobiographical fantasies with titles as “a woman as me”, “a land as”, I “a dog as”, I “a saint as I”, and it does him to It Liberates a slightly habitual order; it wanted that was constructing him a “house as I”. The house had to satisfy his melancholy anxieties of space and at the same time to reproduce the conditions of his exile in Lípari, definitively, a house that was preserving the most former values of the Mediterranean.

It is not known very well with what capital, in January, 1938, he had bought the End Masullo the brothers Vuotto de Capri; a rocky cliff finished in the shape of peninsula with exceptional conference of the bay of Naples to the skirts of the Monte Tuoro.

But to construct in Capri was not by no means easy. It was a question of an environment environmentally protected by strict procedure, and any construction was needing a difficult and tedious approval of the administrative hierarchies. Lucky, his good relation with the fascist leaders allowed that it should to do an exception. In May, 1938 the project was approved and ready to be constructed.

The project of Liberates, that in that time was one of the Italian architects with more prestige, it was consisting only of four planes. A small and schematic plant of emplacement, both plants of which there was consisting the volume, the gatherings and the longitudinal section. Titled for It Liberates ” project for a small villa ” it was presented in the Town hall in March, 1938 coinciding with the period with the one that was developing his more representative and important project; the Palace of Receipts and Congresses of the EUR. In such circumstances, it is very probable that It Liberates did not have even the opportunity to visit the end Masullo and that, therefore, did not have topographic knowledge of the lot. Malaparte, to tenor of the facts, values the document that It Liberates delivers him as a mere step to be able to begin to construct his particular version of the house.

In the above mentioned project It Liberates defines a volume elongated and staggered of two plants. His dimensions were approximately 28×6.6 meters. The top floor was exactly the half of long billiard cue that the fall and in his emptiness he was taking advantage of a terrace that looking at the end of the steep mountain was denying the direction of the sea. He was arranging a system been ordained as rooms “in comb” with lateral corridor constructed by means of a basement of stone and a top surface of stucco. A house that without having the well-known effect of the rock too much in account and the importance of the landscape was solving tipológica and professionally the functional program and the aspect of a rectilinear racionalist villa. Definitively, a project of great correction but with an evident lack of commitment and intensity. The project was very far from his “opus with amore”.

The idea of the narrow and elongated volume would not get lost, it was undoubtedly an intuitive and guessed right beginning, but the disposition so much in plants like in section, and, since not, as for his relation with the environment, they were going to change substantially. Curzio Malaparte wanted to construct a “modern” house, avoiding coming to vulgar historicismos, but that overcoat was obtaining a strongly personal result. It seems to be clear that it was looking for his own reputation, fan since it had been always to the self-praise and the mitomanía; on the other hand It Liberates it was a figure of great transcendency that in the course of the process of construction could darken his longing of protagonism. During the construction, from 1938 to 1942, the silence between both was absolute. The house became as Malaparte had because It Liberates, once presented the project, disappeared forever of the scene.

The third personage, unjustly little remembered, the Teacher Adolfo Amitrano, began for constructing a cistern partially buried by means of walls of stone that reminded the ruins of an ancient construction. Malaparte writes:

It was clear from the beginning that not only the silhouette of the house, his architecture, but also the materials of construction had to fit with the wild and delicate landscape. Bricks not, concrete not. Stone, only stone, of the local type, of which the cliff and the mountain are made”.

The house ends up by measuring 28 meters of length of the project of It Liberates and all the evidences confirm the hypothesis of which Malaparte began the work with the intention of constructing the villa that It Liberates he had designed but that as the construction was getting up, growing in height, was introducing on the march the changes that happened to him. Dilettante prevailed his capricious attitude. It had in hands a species of pastime and did not have the sufficient formation to exercise professionally the architecture; it was doing and undoing again and again, did not have disadvantage in five and ten times changed the disposition of the walls or the stays, was not left to surprise for the force of the construction, as if of the draft of one about his writings it was treating itself was correcting when it saw it necessary.

Lo primero que se alteró fue el ancho de la casa y enseguida empezaron a surgir el resto de las notables diferencias que harían del resultado final un objeto inesperado. La intuición y el bagaje personal de Malaparte hicieron posible un objeto de arquitectura claramente inédito aunque no por ello exento de antecedentes.

The photo that Curzio malaparte took in 1934, during his Lipari’s arrest, opposite to the small perron of trapezoidal, widened form, of the church of the “Annunziata” is the test of his personal influence in the formal decisions of the house that was constructed. It is a question of a too strong and personal idea, and obviously removed from the architectural language that he was handling in this moment Libera, since to depart from the orders of the architect. It decided to resort to such an element during the laborious process of construction, in a new attempt for be representing to yes same, his experiences and recollections, and this lucky innovation altered of such a way the global conception of the house, supposed a change so radical that the development of other aspects of the villa saw strongly affected. The terrace, which in the Libera´s project was opposed in his escalonamiento to the sea, it is constructed as a final platform of the tour of approximation to the house, without any rail, only by a slight bounce of bordillo perimetral, as one sees in a former engraving of Lipari’s Salt mines, which undoubtedly also it was preserving in his memory. The house appears as a domesticated rock, artificializada across passable planes that form stairs and stays. It is implanted as a viewing-point that finishes with the tour that departs from the apex of the mountain for from there contemplating the immensity of the landscape. The protected stays stay under this generous cover on which Malaparte was rising daily to running or mounting in bicycle, and on that a solitary white wall stands out.

The plant, in turn, does not have the disciplined lateral traffic of the planes of trade of It Liberates. It becomes obsessively symmetrical with regard to his longitudinal axis arranging stays to every side. Even, the plant that stays immediately below the cover obeys a slightly usual boss inside the architectural typology. He arranges a great central room and in the ends it fragments, it might be said that excessively, in very much minor dependences that guard strict symmetry with regard to the axis. A shoking plant in his hierarchy and sizes. He has an interior stairs of size ridiculous and too much inclined for been credit planned by the expert hand of a great architect as Libera. It arranges a few rooms that do not guard a rational parallel series but they are controlling themselves as they balance on his ends. The windows are strictly functional, are done from inside and do not guard any apparent boss, do not try to look alike between yes; the majority they are small and look, as telescopes, very far, others, which serve to the great central room, are enlarged without apparent control, queriendo to be pictures of an interior that freezes and possesses the magic of the environment. They are not hollows done with architect’s eyes, come rather from the eventful need, everything more of the systematic one of the economy and not from the series, the guideline compositiva, or the volumetric global understanding that is perceived in the Libera´s project .

While Libera´s a mysterious silence, which had support good the rest of his life, Malaparte understands the house as an architectural self-portrait. The writer speaks proudly about the wise choice of the emplacement, about his materials, about his form, about the life in this place, and certainly it assumes the complete paternity of the house; he writes:

“I was the first one in constructing a house like that […], helped not neither for architects nor engineers, but for a simple master builder. The the the best, the the the most honest, the the most intelligent, and more honest that there has never known, small and extremely calmly, a man of few gestures and words […] The teacher Adolfo Amitrano began for feeling the rock […] During months and months, equipments of bricklayers were employed at this Capri’s distant promontory, until the house started emerging slowly of the rock with the one that was linked, and this way it was taking form, there being revealed like The Capri’s most daring, intelligent and modern house.”

In his famous novel, also taken to the cinema, titled ” Skin “, Malaparte tells that when it lodged the Marshall Rommel and this one he asked him about the origin of the house it him lied him answering that he had bought it as it was and, with a haughty gesture of sweeping the immensity looking at Matromania’s cliff, at three giant rocks of the Faraglioni, at Sorrento’s peninsula, at the island of the Sirens, at the distant blue of Amalfi’s coast and at Paestum’s remote coasts, he said to him

I have designed the scene”.

There does not fit doubt that Malaparte inspired in the purity and the simplicity of the models of the Mediterranean architecture, the image of the “Theatre” or of classic “Domus””, and that, as so many other writers of ends of the thirties, was strongly influenced by the classicism, the surrealism and the neorromanticismo, but there is something in his condition of not architect who speaks to us about an attractive attitude intensely removed from the architecture more to discipline. The result comes from a strange and personal search, supposes an unexpected finding. An object of wonder with the force of the unusual thing.


Little by little I realized. This house done by a man of letters, for a navigator of the imagination, is not only a house, wants to be in addition a ship. An epic dismasted ship that, victim of a violent shipwreck, has remained seated in an abrupt and distant rocky promontory on having been expelled by the brutal force of the sea. It was not constructed to live the land but to furrow the waters. His interior disposition us remembers the need that had to correct and balance the changes of weight of the sways of the waves and his internal walls look like the fossils of the frames that one day served for rigidizar the beaten hull. His form more that architectural it is naval.

It is immediate to recognize in his volume the prow and the stern, the small entry for the beam of port, his length, sleeve and francobordo, the cover and the canvas, the scuttles and the lateral steps of access, the berths and the bridge of control. For the effect of the time and the erosion one sees that it has lost the rigging, the rigging and the cabuyería, still when still it supports a diminished candle liberated to the wind.

It is an outfitter’s piece, designed to allow the navigation. Constructed to enjoy the feeling of freedom that it provokes to live in a craft, in an invention capable of going beyond the limits of the knowledge and of overcoming the physical hobbles of the reality. Malaparte constructed a “machine himself of travelling”, an appliance that supposes, definitively, the attainment of a fantasy, of a personal dream.

I imagine the perplexity that an architect since It Liberates it might have felt if it had put on him in the attitude to solve such a challenge. Only a brave dreamer foreign to the architecture more to discipline, a narrating expert with the sufficient energy to transform his expressiveness into a royal object, is capable of carrying out similar audacity. Normally the architect, extremely specialized, behaves with fatal infamy out of his domains. This house, there is no doubt, is a fruit of a fecund artist that it decides to construct, more than of an exquisite racionalist architect of the thirties who tries to propose new ways.

Independently of more or less guessed right interpretations, the house has gone on to the History of the Architecture, which it allows to think over brings over of that the area of the Architecture is not only in the works of the architects. It penetrates the threshold of the strictly professional thing to form a part of the wide world of the material creation. The Architecture, this house is a good example of it, is in the eloquent capacity of the man to translate his dreams and needs in constructed appliances. It has to see with this happy moment in which the mental thing answers with fullness to the physical thing and vice versa.

Sergio de Miguel, architect

Madrid, january 2010

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