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Cinematic architecture in Sardegna’s wild landscape

Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Cupola

The wild landscape of Sardegna is cinematically otherworldly.  Monumental prehistoric stones, acrid countryside, and long coastlines of untouched beaches and dunes in impossible hues of colors. If you were a location scout, you easily find the Wild West of the 1800s, a lunar landing, a Robinson Crusoe, and more incredible backdrops. It’s no wonder that Michelangelo Antonioni chose Sardegna’s Costa Paradiso in the island’s northwest as the setting for La Cupola.

La Cupola is, or rather was, an architectural manifestation of love. Built into the resounding landscape, rocky and lush with pink granite was a graceful grey dome that was the hideaway of Antonioni and his muse Monica Vitti, the actresswith whom he made L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse, and Il Deserto Rosso.

The ingenuity of an architect

Antonioni was fascinated by the secluded and rocky landscape of Costa Paradiso and it was there in 1969, that he chose as the setting for a love nest. Architect Dante Bini seemed destined for the project, meeting the director following a chance encounter with Vitti where he casually explained his passion for ingenious, efficient and organic form architecture which he called “Binishells”.

In the early 1960s, Bini invented the Binishell after an afternoon playing tennis under an inflatable dome. Inspired, Bini designed a large reinforced concrete dome, shaped and lifted by air pressure. “Back in the ‘60s, it was very fashionable to work with ancient structures like domes or tensile structures— in general, efficient structures that use little material. I realised that the cost of the formwork, a structure that disappears after the dome is completed, was sometimes higher than the cost of the dome itself”, Bini told Arquitura G.

Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica

Ingenious and efficient, the binishell was (and still is) easy. Concrete was poured over a circular membrane (with reinforcing steel) which was then inflated with a blower. Windows and portals were literally cut out of the membrane, and the overall construction tookroughly one hour. It was more than architecture, it was a philosophy on leveraging strength of materials and embracing geometry and nature and it was the next evolution of epic domes like Rome’s Pantheon. Binishells began appearing across the world’s landscape for schools, housing, tourist villages, sports arenas, storage, silos and discothèques. 

La Cupola

The overlap of cinema and architecture, La Cupola was a collaboration between director and architect from the outside in. Antonioni precised every detail of the villa, including choosing the precise location as well as hand-picking granite from a local quarry, and Bini had total freedom and creativity. The interiors were a maze of organic spaces and of lore is the staircase whose wraparound course was specifically designed for a spying bedroom-bound Antonioni to watch Vitti descending.

Antonioni wasn’t interested in making architectural history. He wanted to make art, taking inspiration from Capri’s Casa Malaparte. And Antonioni wanted utmost privacy and required Bini to sign a nondisclosure that kept the location of the villa private and prevented any pictures from being published or describing it for as long as the villa was in the hands of the director and Vitti.

Interior space of La Cupola.

The end of the affair

By 1972, the love affair between Vitti and Antonioni was over, and a decade later the recluse director would abandon the property as Costa Paradiso was “discovered” and no longer a secluded refuge.  With the nondisclosure moot, La Cupola was left to the landscape and became a cult destination for both architecture lovers and cinephiles… a relic of lost love affair, or perhaps simply a relic of love.

By Erica Firpo.

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