Joseph Connors

Presentation Date: 

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Villa I Tatti

Without the vision of Walter Kaiser and the genial pencil of Charles Brickbauer, the Deborah Loeb Brice Loggiato would never have been dreamt of. Without the spontaneous patronage (mecenatismo is the fine Italian word) of Deborah Loeb Brice it would have remained an impossible dream. And without the selfless generosity of members of the I Tatti Council and friends from all over, including distinguished American foundations and a long list of loyal former fellows, Debby would have stood on the mountain top alone.

But let us not underestimate the challenges of getting this dream built. Like Voltaire’s house in Ferney, I Tatti straddles two communes. The lower fields are in Florence, but the Villa and most of the buildings are in Fiesole. The gentle hillsides of Fiesole are a landscape of enchantment. It is enough to read the sign at the foot of Via di Vincigliata to remember the ghosts that haunt them, from Boccaccio and Michelangelo to the poets and patrons of the nineteenth century who planted thousands of cypresses. It is not a landscape to be altered lightly or for frivolous reasons. The Comune di Fiesole, with its various commissions, is a jealous watchdog over the territory. Any significant alteration has to be carried out in full partnership with the Comune.

I arrived in August 2002, and in my second month on the job, I posed the question to myself and the staff, why is the Loggiato not moving forward? Barbara Flores joined me in studying the situation and in a number of visits to meet with Sindaco Pesce and Geometra Benvenuti. The first obstacle was to finalize the general zoning plan for the entire estate, the piano di recupero, on which Michael Rocke had already worked. After much further work and many visits with the appropriate planning boards, I remember with pleasure assisting at the meeting of the Town Council of Fiesole, on a hot June evening of 2003, when the piano di recupero was overwhelmingly approved. This was not the end of the permission process, or the beginning of the end, but it was the end of the beginning. There were many, many meetings and many visits more. It took time for the project itself to be approved by the Ufficio Urbanistico: Geometra Mario Benvenuti, Geometra Alberto Biagi, and Architetto Daniela Castelli. The Collegio Ambientale visited the site and suggested changes; for the final approval we must thank Architetto Ines Romiti, Architetto Laura Settimi, and Architetto Roberta Bencini, as well as Dott. Paolo Becattini, Assessore alla Promozione del Territorio.

Most of all, an enormous debt of gratitude is due to the mayor of Fiesole, Dott. Fabio Incatasciato, and to the Assessore, Architetto Marcello Cocchi. They understood the deeper meaning of the project for the long-time well-being of I Tatti. They understood the international importance of I Tatti, which is, along with the Istituto Universitario Europeo and the Decameron, one of the three jewels in the crown of Fiesole. On a personal level, I was very moved to hear their admiration of the way I Tatti managed the land, planting vineyards and maintaining the stone terracing. Together, we finally achieved the partnership that allowed the permission process to move forward, and the friendship that allows me to look back on my years in Fiesole with such pleasure.

We are grateful to the firm S.I.R.E., managed by the architects Umberto and Stefano Fani for their excellent craftsmanship, which you will all see as you walk through the building. Architetto Domenico Tufaro managed the construction site with the highest professional standards, along with the head of the cantiere, Domenico Ricciardi and Franco Scala, the crane operator and foreman. The work of all professionals and companies involved could move forward swiftly and surely because of the masterful translation of Charles Brickbauer’s project and list of construction materials provided by Architetto Anthony Costa Heywood and Architetto Giuliano Valtieri who were often consulted on a variety of matters. The land and buildings were expertly surveyed and measured throughout construction by Geometra Fabio Lombini of Progeo. Ingegnere Alessandro Casali of the firm Tular, with his able and helpful assistant Ingegnere Francesco Panciroli, working with Soiltest, insured a sturdy, earthquake-resistant structure, and to make room for it in the hillside, Giacomo di Marco moved thousands of cubic meters of earth. Fabrizio Raspanti worked long hours and weekends to keep the supplies of pietra serena coming to the site. The superb craftsmanship of the roof is due to the Impresa Vinzenz Seebacher, based in the Alto Adige. You can admire the expert woodwork of the firm of Gianfranco Scala both in the Smyth Library and in the Loggiato. Techniconsult, lead by Ingegnere Pier Angelo Galligani and assisted by Ingegnere Riccardo Cungi, provided the design of the heating, ventilating and irrigation systems and on the advice of Allen Grieco designed one of the first geothermal systems in Tuscany for the garden structures. Most of the HVAC system for the entire site was installed by Graziano Balloni’s firm.  The complex electrical and audio visual system was designed by P. I. Alessandro Baldini and Franco Pantalei patiently matched wood samples and provided the acoustical paneling for Gould Hall.

On the I Tatti side, from 2005 to 2009, Nelda Ferace stayed on past the normal retirement age to coordinate construction, and working closely with her, Architetto. Domenico Segatori and Architetto Maria Nives coordinated drawings and worksite security. Marco Pompili and Sergio Galeotti thought through the placement of a video security system.

Barbara Flores watched over the finances and helped us cope with steadily rising prices in the era of a declining dollar. Our many dozens of meetings on the project were essential to its financial well-being. We are all most grateful to the Harvard administration for administrative support and for approval of the financial plan, allowing the Loggiato to move forward at a time when most Harvard construction was stopped. Provost Steven Hyman treasured I Tatti and came to Florence several times to understand it better. He and Alan Simons, from the Harvard CAPS Office, shepherded the project through Harvard’s complex approval process; Lori Gross, the Associate Provost for the Arts, and Katie Lapp were also most helpful in this process.

Allen Grieco invented the parts of the project relating to the garden, but from the beginning he also lent his expertise in matters far beyond the landscape. I will be eternally grateful to him for taking the reins in his hands just prior to my departure. His sense of integrity, both in buildings and in people, guided the cantiere through the difficult last year of construction. Firms that have long worked with I Tatti on other projects lent their assistance time and again, often working over holidays at no extra cost: Giorgio and Claudio Piazzini with Massimiliano, Spartaco, Pietro and all of their men, as well as Stefano Leonessi of SIMPEL, Stefano and Marco Nesi, Stefano Fantini for the ironwork and Silvano of Ditta Bettini for waterproofing of a building that is half underground.

I want to single out Architetto Roberto Zanobini, the supervising architect of record, for special thanks. He was there from the beginning to the end. He devised the complex calculations that allowed the building to comply with all the volumetric regulations. He represented I Tatti in Fiesole dozens of times. A man of integrity, and as all of us know, great eloquence, he acted with I Tatti’s interests foremost from start to finish.

Nelda kept excellent records and I used to joke with her that the Loggiato is better recorded than Chartres Cathedral. Sadly, we don’t know the Brickbauer or the S.I.R.E. of Chartres, or the Tufaro, or the Grieco, or the Piazzini, or the Zanobini. Chartes itself is the silent witness to their great skill and dedication, just as the Deborah Loeb Brice Loggiato is the testament to the skill and dedication of the people all of us have named with such gratitude and admiration.

Joseph Connors
Director, 2002-2010