Architecture, Travel

Before Watergate…

[Ian Macready]
Il Girasole (the sunflower) apartment building in Rome

That is the Watergate Complex designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti and built between 1962 and 1971,  a series of 5 buildings including apartments, offices and a hotel in Washington D.C, and not the scandal. Although the planning process for the project was hardly scandal free due to the involvement of the Vatican as one of the investors, which according to one protest group had eased its path through planning and resulted in more than 3500 letters written to complain.

And Moretti did not exactly start his career without some murky politics of his own either, designing the House of the Italian Fascist Youth, and for his collaboration with the fascists, spent a short time in prison. However, politics aside, it’s difficult to argue with his architecture and two of his best works are relatively small scale projects: an apartment building from 1949 in Rome, and a mixed office and residential project from the early 1950s in Milan.

The apartment building – Il Girasole  – in Rome is recognised as one of his masterworks and all his obsessions with organic architecture – curving and irregular forms juxtaposed with straight lines – are all on show here. The facade is full of contradictory illusions – the narrow vertical  cleft that divides the two halves of the front facade which then strangely do not align at the top, the rusticated base of the building that is overshadowed by the projecting main body of the building with its flush windows, with their sliding screens and roll down shutters. The sparesely decorated side facade of the building has projecting stage screens to bring more sunlight into the building. Its a flash of genius, a bit lost in its neighbourhood of speculative but agreeable apartment buildings in this district of Rome.

Up in Milan, on a complex triangular site in the city centre, Moretti designed this complex (and it is a very complex architectural programme) of 5 elements consisting of a 3 storey retail building along the street, and a variety of taller elements from 6 to 14 storeys with a connecting bridge element. It’s most striking feature is the projecting trapezoidal shape that extends over Corso Italia.

Much of his later work, such as the Watergate Complex was carried out in the USA and Canada, but these two projects completed with a developer with whom he developed a relationship while they were in prison together, Count Adolfo Fossatoro, as well his buildings for the sports facility Foro Mussolini (later Foro Italico) remain his best works, IMHO.


The front and side facades of Il Girasole, showing the extraordinary facade treatment, and its projection over the rusticated base
The internal staircase
The side facade with its projecting stage screens.
The rusticated treatment of the ground floor
A model of the building
Venturi's Vanna house heavily influenced by the Moretti facade. (internet shot)
Moretti's Milanese work on the Corso Italia
An image of the narrow end of the 9 storey block
The projecting element over the street
The undulating side facade
Another view of the sunlight hitting the side of the trapezoidal building
The Watergate Complex (internet photo)