The Hermitage by Ilabb is a 12-Square Meter Structure - BluPrint

llabb Designs The Hermitage Responding To Its Environmental and Social Needs

October 19, 2022

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By 

Rick Formalejo

In the heart of the Apennines between Liguria and Emilia is the Trebbia Valley, a land in Italy far from everything. Along its steep ancient terraces, llabb has built a wooden structure in an unusual workshop. The Hermitage is a 12-square meter structure inspired by the Japanese teahouses and cabins encountered in Scandinavian forests. The project explores an original idea of space and environment. 

The design of the Hermitage is an expression of the need for Luca Scardulla and Federico Robbiano, founders of llabb, to pass on to their collaborators the knowledge they had acquired in the years leading up to the opening of the studio. When they started their career in 2013, they converted a garage into a carpentry workshop where they learned the art of making, designing, and fabricating custom furniture pieces. Over the years, their handcrafted experience has characterized the architectural projects developed by the studio. 

The project is approached from above. The rectangular volume, which stands off the ground and is positioned perpendicular to the steep slope, is first captured in the rear part facing northwest. In this viewpoint, only the entrance door is visible, marked by a pronounced boarding and accessible through a footbridge.

The walls that define the cabin and which enclose it on three sides are clad with plywood boards arranged horizontally. The fourth side facing southeast opens to the valley. The interior space extends into a terrace separated by four full height glazed panels, one of which can be opened. The fenestration follows the modularity of the brise-soleil that surmounts the terrace, which in turn continues the roof structure. A small longitudinal window appears on the southwest side. 

The boards of the three exterior walls are mounted in such a way as to leave a gap that on either side of the entrance and on the east side of the terrace produces a filter effect. Where the walls enclose the interior space, this gap is filled with thin, slightly protruding profiles, so as to determine on the facades a play of shadows that emphasizes the horizontal pattern. At the floor level and at the top of the building tall cornices run uninterrupted, projecting from the walls and delimiting the composition.

The construction is supported by four metal brackets, fitted with wide 60×60-centimeter bases, which rest on sandstone beds. The 4 legs, composed of paired wooden elements, slender the structure upward, making it fly above the ground.

“The simple modularity of the structure makes it easily scalable and adaptable into different compositions. The basicness of construction, the minimal impact on the land and the use of natural materials that can be easily sourced locally enable a respectful installation in natural contexts. These Hermitages put human beings back in touch with nature by lightening the anthropological load that marks all building activities,” explains Scardulla.

The view of the valley below welcomes the visitors of the cabin. This is mediated by a series of features that articulate the interior space on three different levels. 

At the entrance level, there is a countertop that runs along the entire right wall. It also serves as a seat, a desk, and storage space while it guides the visitor’s gaze outward. After going through the entrance, the visitor will descend to the third and final level. It defines the largest surface area, extended onto the terrace. The wall that encloses the tiny bathroom accommodates a fold-out bed that hovers above the sofa when opened. The summer sun produces a variety of patterns of light and shade inside at different times of the day.

Robbiano shares, “We paid special attention to the design of the interior space. Minimal and flexible, with the expansive glass wall facing the terrace, the space feels light and contemplative. The interplay between different levels offers the possibility to better manage storage spaces and technical compartments, while contributing to the definition of a graceful atmosphere.”

The walls, floor, and ceiling have been pre-assembled and are composed of Okoumè marine plywood panels, a smart choice of wood for its resistance to weathering. The facades are mounted on spacer battens so as to create an air space between the facade and the walls, improving insulation performance. 

The roof is made of corrugated metal sheet. It has two photovoltaic panels that are connected to a storage battery. The prototype is designed to be totally off-grid, as there is a compostable toilet and water canisters. However, the structure can easily be connected to a sewer system and water supply.

Photos by Anna Positano, Gaia Cambiaggi of Studio Campo