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Villa Adonis

Dubrovnik, Croatia
1 of 14

The Manifesto

The cross section of Villa Adonis resembles a physical manifesto of Functionalism that has been adapted to the Mediterranean climate and to the sloping terrain. Its introverted volume rises above an open porch on four reinforced concrete columns, while its back leans against a garden terrace. The reinforced concrete frame structure enables the horizontal continuation of the windows in the southern facade, while the roof is flat and intended for use; through a continuum of vertical and horizontal axes, the structure as a whole creates a remarkable experience of space. On many levels, Villa Adonis's form and function resonate with today's concerns by activating the flat roof terrace as compensation for the occupied natural ground; by imbuing, but not merging architecture with nature at the open ground level; by adding value to the cross section of Villa Adonis, thus ranking Dobrovic's architecture technologically innovative even from our contemporary perspective.

The Technical Aspects

Two technical aspects of this cross section in particular represent Dobrovic's original contribution to the instruments of technologically reflective architecture. Concrete fiber-cement pipes serve to drain rainfall water from the flat roof and from the sewage. Both sets of run-off end in the mechanical cleaner buried in the house's front garden. Passing through several connected wells, the rainfall and wastewater provide constant watering for the garden. Another outstanding aspect of this section is the roof terrace's double floor. The top reinforced-concrete board rests lowered between four massive beams. Thus three shallow ponds formed in the concrete, and a secondary wooden floor was constructed above them. The space between was filled with water, which serves as a good insulator due to its thermal capacity; it simultaneously minimizes cracks in the thin, reinforced concrete slabs.

Dobrovic applied the same technical solution to all his buildings in Dubrovnik but it was not preserved for long on any of the roofs. After a few years, the wooden floors suffered-which had not been well maintained in a climate with sudden changes in temperature and humidity-and the increase of the volume of water around the freezing point-which in the Mediterranean occurs infrequently yet still often enough to cause damage-resulted in the reinforced concrete elements cracking. In the end, it was necessary to apply conventional sealing methods, which unfortunately partly restricted the roof's use as an inhabitable open-air space. The most seemingly mechanical aspect of these machines for living thus failed.

Reading the Modernism

The floor plan of the middle level also illustrates the radicalism of the architect's interpretation of the principles of modern architecture. For him, the contemporary in architecture simply equals the functional. His programmatic rejection of any handicraft makes his position clear: "This contemporary building requires no handicraft works...". The technical description of the project reads more like a manifesto published in an avant-garde architectural magazine or a textbook at an architecture school, than a part of the project documentation submitted when applying for a construction permit. It tells us why the house was raised on columns: so that "the garden may pass below the building into the space of the half-open porch." We uncover the architect's intent to reduce material use by applying contemporary technologies: concrete boards that are "only 8 centimeters" and "only 7 centimeters" thin; air cavities and layers of thermal and acoustic insulation; glass bricks that "let the light through very well, and at the same time they serve as bars." Yet with "this contemporary building [having] all plumbing and carpentry removed" to make it look like a sophisticated product of the machine era, a need arose for superior craftsmanship skills to execute its wooden and cement paneling, windows, doors, and built-in furniture.

Low Consumption

The principle of low consumption is strongly present in the building's rational-by which Dobrovic means minimal-material consumption and in its interior floor ratio. The bathroom in the center of the apartment, as a sort of spatial negative, confirms the functionalist layout's arrangement. The rest of the rooms are small and divided by thin concrete boards and built-in wardrobes. The residential rooms are separated from the service ones, so the apartment has two symmetrically placed entrances. The principle of Existenzminimum was applied with mechanical precision. It is justifiable, then, to question what makes the minimally designed family house a villa and why the architect called it such.

The answer lies in the richly dimensioned exterior spaces and the way in which they are imbued with nature: the porch below and the roof terrace above the closed apartment are anything but minimal. The idea of actually being in nature is another principle of new architecture that he emphasized. He certainly was not the only architect of his time who, coming from the cold north, was seduced by a flash of the bright Mediterranean sun and yet who was unaware that Mediterranean winters can be cold.

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bostjan, June 21st, 2017
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