Apart from other values that would belong more to the sphere of the "how", I think it is necessary to begin this text recognising, from the first moment, what in reality, for the eyes of an architect, is the noun of that place, something that could be expressed in this way: the terms in which architecture is produced are not strictly defined and the loan or, if the word might seem pejorative, the contribution of other disciplines, it can not only join ours but even become itself.
This would lead immediately to discussing how architecture is also a sensation, or at least to admit that this is a step prior to understanding architecture. On the other hand, to provoke a certain sensation with a space has been one of the objectives that the most cultured architecture has most often proposed and such a provocation, the last level of which would be achieved with fictitious architectures, with trompe-oeils: it often needed the help of other disciplines.
It is true that such an idea of architecture has been displaced by Puritanism, which undoubtedly characterises the architectural culture of our century who, valuing an extreme conception of purity, has exiled any possible interference from other disciplines.
But this has not always been the case. Space was not defined as a reality, but, on the contrary, it was described with techniques and disciplines that could, in the end, seek the complete transformation of it. Thus, Pompeian architecture was able to transform cubic pieces into very delicate rooms through painting and there are few spaces fuller of its own reality than the House of Mysteries in which the strict physical space is so small; Ravenna's architecture turned an elementary vault into a complete universe; the stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle allowed for the first time to think of a weightless space; Mantegna was able to turn a stay of the Palace of the Gonzagas of Mantua into a foreign world; the prospect of the Spada Palace in Rome created the ambiguity of a large garden in a small courtyard; cast iron, turned into palm trees, satisfied the need for strangeness of a court established in Brighton's kitchens.
The idea of architecture as a space quickly gave way to the idea of an architecture as an abstract space, alien to any other intervention on it, coming to prescribe with violence. Even the discussion of the integration of the arts in architecture is proof of how in the 50s and 60s architecture could give entrance, admit collaboration, but always without losing its guiding status: it was an integration in the architecture, to the maximum granted.
I think that Il Gardinetto gives way to an architecture not configured with purely architectural elements (understanding them here as those that in their corporeality have their own meaning), being proof of a process of liberation that, above all, makes wider field of work. Federico Correa and Alfonso Milá have already had the opportunity to build some restaurants: from the Reno to Il Gardinetto, to the Flash, there is a wide path that is somehow a faithful witness to this process.
I will try to explain myself. A place like this, where people are, is above all a certain environment or, if you prefer, a space, an atmosphere, capable of assuming rather imprecise and generic relationships. It is impossible to apply the Corbusierian metaphor, a restaurant will never be a food machine. The ways to achieve this environmental condition are very different: one could speak of an abstract definition of space, which, from the domain and the display of a certain language, would actually build an environment; or already passing the order of a concrete thing, to establish for the creation of the same a whole series of contacts with well-known spaces that would allow to provoke the mechanism of the evocation with its inevitable effect; or to represent with reality another reality, which in some way demands, as a precondition, to know what it is to be explained.
Even at the risk of simplifying and reducing reality, I will say that the first of the proposals would require, first, a method, and with it the work of the architect becomes a development that ends up providing an atmosphere; the Reno would be within this way of thinking the architecture in which security and correctness in the mastery of a language would seem to be the most prized virtues.
As for the second, thinking what an atmosphere might be from what it suggests, the Flash would be present, where the illusion of a world, which would somehow coincide with the image of its own customers, would make sense to the occupation of the subject: the white fantasy of a cinematic atmosphere.
Finally, the third alternative, which I think is used in Il Giardinetto, requires an effort of imagination, that is, to conceive the image of what is represented.
It is therefore no coincidence, nor a simple study technique, that at the base of the projects of Correa-Milá splendid perspectives always appear, witnesses of these initial efforts to obtain the image.
The knowledge of the architect will make that this image is not distorted and remains, throughout the work, what was thought. But in the case of Il Giardinetto, such an image was above all a representation or, at least, as such it was presented. As it is well known, whether architecture was capable of representation has been one of the key topics of discussion in treaties, extending into the writings on eighteenth-century architecture and to which a definitive solution seemed to be found in the pure visualism of the turn of the century. It will appear here again.
But, what is represented? To what extent is it possible to understand architecture as a representation? When I first heard about Il Giardinetto I thought I understood what the entity of what was being projected was, I redid the image and mentally recomposed what I thought would be the place, full of the fronds of the trees that completely took over the space. I confess that I thought so much more of the idyllic description of the collected atmosphere of an Italian home garden than of the strange and, I dare say, close to childhood, image that Il Giardinetto proposes to us.
The world of pop painting already allowed these transfers, these translations, the coexistence of two opposing formal worlds, understanding how the strength of a new image can emanate from the meeting of two different realities; It was not difficult to think of the inner garden, a feigned image of a country environment in which the meeting can be easier.
However, none of this is in Il Giardinetto; the formal world is completely alien to representation in terms of mimesis; nor is it a trompe-l'oeil or the violent impression of an unexpected reality.
In this sense, there is nothing as far removed from pop art as it is out of fashion in terms of the recovery of reality, such as Il Giardinetto.
What is represented is what has already been represented other times, it is already so mediated from our feeling, and by that I mean from our past!
Thus, the trunks that, alien to any mimetic temptation, are transformed into very fine tentacles, acquiring a living, lively condition; the flat roof materially curdled with leaves, with a bit of the subtle design of botanists; the braided wooden fence that, turned into a gate for disgust, supports the invading ivy; trunks, leaves… they have been so familiar to us since childhood. It is so well understood that fiction always alludes to our polite vision of a garden and not a jungle.
But the representation overlaps here in space and perhaps this is the most subtle of the operation; for even with the broader concept that space can have as an architectural category, what would have been the decoration, the treatment, that those pillars needed not to be converted like in fairy tales, in trees? Or how could that roof convey to us the feeling of freshness that is felt under the shade of the chestnut trees? Or what sign would have better indicated what the place of the toilet was?
On the other hand, and in the opposite direction, how not to admire the position that the cylindrical bar has in the whole? Or the care in the design of the scale, in which the experience and knowledge of the interests of the modern movement are so evident? Or the accuracy of the staircase in the doors, steps and covered spaces?
And here we enter fully into the analysis, the systematic encounter or, despite the change of attitude that Giardinetto supposes, with one of those attributes of the work of Federico Correa and Alfonso Milà maintained with greater obstinacy and perseverance: its requirement of satisfaction of the function, the education of the elements to a use.
The tables, the auxiliary furniture... are incorporated in an unequivocal image, the one from which the restaurant takes its name, become supported in the metaphor, in elements of that garden, but also allow to contemplate the dishes, or to feel how alienated the side table is; these aspects are fundamental.
That’s when you appreciate how that environment works; when it is discovered how in the shady bottom of the forest the profile of a head is cut out.
This wise use of colour, without losing the range, is revitalised by the presence of the gilding of the copper and the reflections of the ceramic located behind the sofa shelf, which, incidentally, is the least clear piece of the whole place.
The lighting achieved contributes to reinforcing the role that colour plays in the environment, providing definitive support. Few things are as difficult in architecture as lighting a room well; the way Il Giardinetto is lit is one of its great attractions. It recovers the singularity of situations from small spotlights that make the lighting, however, uniform; from such uniformity we understand the role of awnings which, allowing the appearance of gaps, give the atmosphere a certain sense of public space, not private, which I understand is absolutely necessary.
The world of objects, tables, furniture (we skillfully upholster the backs of armchairs) board games, cutlery, etc., is installed in the fictitious world with absolute naturalness while the plants (necessarily made of plastic), complete the variety of the space.
Such variety could be extended as a deliberate purpose of amenity does not preclude the requirement of quality in whatever the point; the spontaneous and the most exquisite care seem to be glimpsed without possible segregation. Nothing in Il Giardinetto has been forgotten, and yet the affectation does not appear and there is always like a sip of good humour that eliminates any possible reading in search of what is obvious and immediate; culture, from a certain epicurean point of view of life, may well deserve a smile that is certainly not contemptuous.
Thus, the lightness of the façade, its deliberate insignificance, in an environment as full of design as that of the city of Barcelona that barely shows the walls, allows us to see how it sticks its head out of it, white, dominated by the light ivy, making us think that intelligence does not always rule out freshness.