Yesterday I spent several hours in Castelvecchio, the Scaliger Family's 14th century fortress that is one of the architectural landmarks of Verona. It is an extraordinary structure: enormous, brick and stone with a vast interior courtyard, towers, massive sundials and its most notable feature: imposing crennellations that are both severe and fanciful with their monolithic looking Y-shaped volutes. This distinctive design is also continued on the city walls that are visible at various points throughout Verona and at Sirmione's fortress (also a Scaliger construction) on the shores of Lake Garda.
The purpose of my visit was to see the Carlo Scarpa renovations that were executed between 1959 and 1973 and, in particular, his amazing concrete staircase composed of triangular risers. Scarpa also designed all the exhibition props: inventive bronze mounts for paintings, floating bases for statuary and light fixtures.
In addition to what may be the coolest staircase ever designed, there are at least four additional ones, not counting the wonderful slabs of steps outside. Looking at the famous one, I was struck by the dramatic play of light and shadow, which once I noticed seemed everywhere, a potent leitmotif that was reinforced by the play of intersecting planes in Scarpa's additions.
Though a couple of the staircases are similar, each is unique, ranging from the COR-TEN steel curved bans to the polished lace-like stone steps edged in cork. I love the fact that Scarpa is not locked into one uniform approach, but expands and stretches his range again and again.
The other thing I loved are Scarpa's surfaces. The occasional gleam of polished walls, the rough concrete indented with the grain of its wooden molds. The measured use of color: a rust panel here, Necco wafer gray concrete above pink brick there, or the unexpected dash of an indigo ceiling.
Scarpa's contemporary-meets-ancient approach is exactly right in this austere complex, bringing an elegant sleekness to what could have been an unmitigatingly grim, or at least boringly martial environment.
Castelvecchio has a superb collection of medieval and quattrocento art as well as incredible wall decorations that emulate elaborate tilework and fabric that date to the building's origin. But I was so dazzled by the Scarpa, I barely looked at them. Next time!