The inland of Istria, top of a hill, dry stone walls covered with a tangle of scarce winter greenery, cypresses bending in the wind. Not a soul in sight. The scenery that can be an introductory scene in a sentimental mush, family drama, but also a horror film. In the village of Pižanovac near Bale, on this dream location, the Homestead (stancija in Croatian) is placed. At first sight, the question really is how to build anything here. And while building in urban cores entails a specific responsibility due to the fact that a building will become a part of everyday life for a large audience, countryside offers its own challenges. Sometimes it seems that it is simpler to hide mistakes in less populated places, nevertheless, architecture in such areas becomes the main symbol of recognition, a landmark in space and it requires a cautious builder. In this particular case, the very location is enriched (or burdened) with almost all elements of the analysis of a space – natural and cultural. The inland of Istria is a region with intense historical architectural identity. Town gates, loggias, and bell towers are elements which remain preserved in memory long after an Istrian town is visited, and this can be as much a source of inspiration, as it can be misleading. The hill top where the complex is placed is attractive with great vistas, but it also raises a question of the type of structure which would be adequate there. After all, the natural landscape here is not merely an additional commodity and lucky coincidence: it is the essential constructional element, and the very idea of the emergence of the house is based on this fact. Tourist Information Centre, associated with ethnobiology and aromatic herbs planting, is surrounded by olive trees, fields of sage, lavender, immortelle, and Dalmatian chrysanthemum, and this interconnection is unbreakable, both literally and conceptually.
The access to the Homestead offers the initial views of the architecture placed there. Geometry of white stone interrupts green frames, thus completing them and gradually forming the idea of the house. Semi-circular composition on the eastern side is closed, and it resembles a defensive wall. And yet, it allows us to enter its interior through a passage, formed in such a manner that merely fragments of what is ahead are visible, but the whole picture is not offered. Once we have squeezed in through these doors, we find ourselves in the open space of a square which accepts and controls all the surrounding activities – residential section, the Centre in the north, and the restaurant in the south. The square is of such proportions that it is able to protect a user, and at the same time provide an unhindered view of the entire surroundings, thus creating a space convenient for large companies, as well as for peaceful contemplation of the countryside. The square and the house – the core and the wall – therefore produce a harmonious spatial and conceptual entirety. A feeling of being comfortable and connected with the place has been achieved, without forcibly using customary visual motifs as instant solutions to evoke the feeling of intimacy. However, the lectures in history, although carefully incorporated, are only one of many layers of this house, and this house looks as if it has been conceived by interlocking skilfully chosen correct answers.
The very assembly of the Homestead consists of three themes: the residential section, the Tourist Information Centre, and the restaurant, and it is crucial that the three can function separately, yet remain connected. The architects placed each building on a spot which corresponds to its specific individual need, and then connected them into a ring-like structure by means of roofed passages. They accentuate this unity of the buildings with a roof which follows the outline of the space. Topography is used to create a system that is, in spite of the difference in height and levels, harmoniously installed into the hill. And while the design of the exterior demonstrates that these are spaces with a common denominator, the interiors of individual buildings undoubtedly indicate that they host different functions. Spaces of individual parts of the programme are designed precisely according to their needs. The interior of the residential tower, the highest element of the complex, is spatially playful in order to be able to offer different experience every day, with its openings and orientations adjusted to both, day and night life. The Tourist Information Centre is pure, clear, and introvert. It guides visitors efficiently through the history and the use of aromatic herbs, and it ensures that the contents remain dominant. The restaurant, extending downwards to the south, is the most extrovert section of the complex. It is in close connection with the exterior spaces. Cascades of the restaurant ensure diverse utilization, pleasant dining as well as a dramatic auditorium, physically connected to the square, yet visually connected to the fields of aromatic herbs which spread all over the surrounding hill slopes.
Materialisation of the house confirms all the ideas of the architects without error. Thanks to large glass wall fronts, the view into the house and through the house is ensured, providing attractive frames not only of the countryside, but also of the events in the Homestead itself. Thus, once inside the house, one is simultaneously part of all the scenery occupying the house and surrounding it. The designed passages between the individual buildings also direct view following the same philosophy. Stone used as cladding has already been building Istria for hundreds of years, but it appears in forms that are pragmatic and characteristic for contemporary architecture, leaving little space for doubt that this an artefact from the past. The manner in which the house is assertively incorporated in the landscape, without imposing itself and yet not being hidden, affirms that it is not an unfortunate disturbance, but an equally valuable element of the cultural landscape.
The language mva Architects use is clear and concrete. They incorporate numerous layers into their project with balance, always being faithful to themselves and to their work. They do not ignore elements of Istrian towns, nor do they literally repeat them in inept and anachronous manner. Instead, they skilfully install these elements into the system they build, interpreting them as ideas. Architecture of the Homestead reflects cultural heritage of the region to which it belongs, without the melancholy and mournful evoking of the past. Most important of all, it is honest in its presence and in its contemporary attitude towards the surroundings and programme. Integrity and consistency of the idea make it a compact collage of our time.