Discover a trio of Ico Parisi landmarks in Northern Italy

Parisi in Como

By Adam Štěch

One of my favorite Italian architect-designers is the under-appreciated Ico Parisi, who spent most of his life in the town of Como, a hedonic lakeside resort near Milan. So when, recently, I found out about three of his forgotten masterpieces in the area, I immediately set off on a pilgrimage to visit and shed some light on the creative and personal inducements of this extraordinary talent.

Born in Palermo in 1916, Parisi was drawn to the town of Como at a young age because it provided an ideal vantage point from which to witness and join Italy’s burgeoning architectural revolution as it unfolded in the 1930s. Como was the home of Giuseppe Terragni—pioneer of Italian modernism and author of the supremely rational and sublimely proportioned Casa del Fascio, the iconic headquarters of the fascist party. There were other progressive architects based in the region as well, including Pietro Lingeri and Gianni Mantero, from whom Parisi hoped to learn.

Following the rough years of the war in which he served at the Russian front from 1940-43, Parisi married Luisa Aiani—a student of the illustrious Gio Ponti—and together they founded a studio called La Ruota. The abstract theories of Alberto Sartori formed the intellectual foundations of Parisi’s early efforts, particularly the ideas that architecture should renounce all useless, superfluous elements and that harmonious color and line are supreme.

The Parisi studio became the heart of creative discourse in Como and a bustling meeting point for his many artist-designer friends, including Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari, Franscesco Somaini, Mario Radice, and Fausto Melotti.

Casa Bolgiana 

First stop on the tour: one of Parisi’s earliest residential projects from the 1950s, a group of four neighboring villas in Monteolimipino. There was one small problem with my visit from the get-go; I knew the general location of the villa, but not the specific address. Luckily, a good samaritan I happened to meet on the street turned out to be an architect himself; he took me by the hand, grabbed his car, and drove me right there.

The Parisi studio became the heart of creative discourse in Como, a bustling meeting point for his many artist-designer friends. A young Ico Parisi and architect Giovanni Galfetti in front of Giuseppe Terragni's masterpiece Casa del Fascio in Como Photo © Archivio del Design di Ico Parisi, Como
Upon our arrival, it was instantly clear that every aspect of this Parisi quartet—Casa Zucchi, Casa Bertacchi, Casa Bini, and most especially Casa Bolgiana—had been considered down to the smallest detail, fully embodying Parisi’s belief in the integration of architecture, design, and fine art. The structures give a nod to the minimalist essentialism of Terragni’s pre-war rationalism, but also encompass unexpected, dynamic elements, such as overhanging surfaces, diagonal and beveled forms, and organic materials like stone slabs, nestled into the lush, suburban landscape.

Parisi’s concept of melting a range of art forms into one unique experience is particularly evident in the interior of Casa Bolgiana, which has remained, for the most part, untouched. Composed of highly sculptural, mostly built-in furniture—a symphony of rare, lacquered woods in curving and sloping silhouettes—the layout of the space approaches perfection through the many art objects designed by Parisi’s friends, from abstract paintings by Radice to ceramic plates by Somaini.

Casa Parisi

Next, I headed to a sloping residential district above Como’s city center and Terragni’s Casa del Fascio, through narrow streets lined with beautiful, flowering trees and dotted with old homes. I rang the bell of the seven-story brick building and was met by Parisi’s niece, who kindly welcomed me in. Today, she lives in the family’s original penthouse in the top two floors, enjoying a spectacular view of Lake Como. The Parisi family has left all the original features in place; the interior is equipped with custom pieces and mass-produced designs from Parisi’s partnerships with manufacturers; his signature combination of organic and angular forms naturally intermingles with the day-to-day life that takes place there. Two elements dominate the main living space: the wooden staircase and the corner seating adjacent two large windows. In this interior, too, Parisi merges art forms to create an astonishing interplay. Highlights include Fontana’s mosaic decorating the terrace floor, along with decorative objects by Somaini and Munari.

Spurano Summer House

The second house Parisi designed for his own family, situated lakeside in the nearby, picturesque village of Spurano, is a small, unpretentious residence built in 1961. From the outside, it is easy to recognize characteristic Parisi elements, such as minimalist wooden window shutters, colorful glass windows, and geometric ironwork. Because the house has been sold to an unknown owner, I was unable to enter, but the dramatic pops of hyper-organicism visible from the outside heralds Parisi’s move away from modernism in his later career. Cheekily looking through the windows, I could see that the inner walls resemble caves and the column supporting a garden structure is made from a rough-hewn, monumental tree trunk—both unexpected and joyful discoveries.

Ico Parisi in the 1960s Photo © Archivio del Design di Ico Parisi, Como
After the 1960s, Parisi abandoned his post-war penchant for elegance and embraced a radical, experimental approach. His later family residences alongside Lake Como—Casa Fontana, Casa Bartoletti, and Casa Orlandi—are filled with avant-garde artworks, and his designs for production—most strikingly his floor lamps for Lamperti—became increasingly futuristic. His lifelong dream of symbiotic art expression led Parisi to spatial installations and conceptual objects as his aesthetics begin to echo the French New Realists and Italian Arte Povera. The outcome of his cooperation with artist Césare in 1972, Casa Esistenziale, is the quintessential Parisi project of this period, bursting with numerous artistic interventions that transform the living space into a purposefully intense, at moments claustrophobic, place.

Parisi’s outré output reached its peak through the course of the 1980s. His works in this decade include satirical objects, jewelry, monumental and utopic housing projects in the shape of human bodies, postmodern architectonic realizations, and bizarre, site-specific installations involving cars dipped in concrete or buried under a layer of barrels. Even as he began his career inspired by the most severe modernists, he predicted and propelled the rise of postmodernist, utopian visions.

This elongated and dramatic creative evolution—as well as the consistent synthesizing of architecture, furniture, and fine art, so perfectly evidenced in Casa Bogiana and his two private homes—is, for me, at the heart of Parisi's magic. Happily, there are still other unknown works to explore—but I am saving those for the next architectural adventure.

With special thanks to Archivio del Design di Ico Parisi, Como.

  • Text and Images by

    • Adam Štěch

      Adam Štěch

      Adam is a Prague-based editor and curator. He cofounded OKOLO creative collective and writes for publications like Wallpaper, Coolhunting, Domus, and Modern. He's also collaborated with Phillips de Pury, SightUnseen, Disegno, and Architonic.

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