Magnifico! New Casa Opens May 1

Photograph: In the newly rebuilt Casa Italiana, exuberant Florentine glass chandeliers grace the former open air loggia now enclosed to create a brilliantly colored conference room for the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America. Photo Credit: Eduard Hueber.

Casa Italiana, the newly rebuilt and magnificently restored landmark home of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, will reopen formally Wed., May 1, in ceremonies that will draw scholars and public figures from around the world.

President Rupp and representatives of the Italian government and New York Italian community will inaugurate the building, with its freshly cleaned and completed classical exterior and stunning Italian design within. The Academy is newly founded at Columbia in partnership with the Italian government.

A daytime ribbon-cutting and flag-raising ceremony will officially open the doors of the rebuilt, 70-year-old Florentine palazzo. A concert and dinner that evening will be part of a week of inaugural events that include three major public exhibitions and a symposium.

"The Italian Academy's gloriously recreated home may represent the most original rescue of a great building ever achieved in New York," said Rupp. "On the outside, true to its landmark design, it is for the first time a whole building, the scar of an older one erased by new matching windows, bricks and stone. In the largely rebuilt interior, its brilliant light and bold color, artful new details and daring floor-through spaces, together with a beautifully and scrupulously restored theater and library, make a classically modern Italian statement for our time. I am sure the scholars from many lands and disciplines who gather here will find inspiration in their surroundings to bring original ideas to bear on urgent issues of global concern."

The first Academy scholar will be Umberto Eco, the Italian author, historian and literary critic, who will arrive this October, to be followed by other scholars whose selection is not yet complete.

The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America was conceived by Columbia and the government of Italy as a "university within a university," to bring together writers, journalists, scientists, artists, poets, economists and others from around the world for broad-based intellectual exchange on major international issues.

Columbia assigned title to the Casa Italiana to the Republic of Italy under a lease-back agreement in which the Italian government pledged $17.5 million to the University to restore the structure and jointly create and endow the programs of the Academy.

The Casa was designed in 1926 by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White.

The restoration work began in 1993 on the designs of Italian architect Italo Rota of Paris and Milan and Samuel G. White of Buttrick White & Burtis of New York, the great grandson of Stanford White.

More than half of the building was gutted, a great white marble stairwell was installed and three floors of new studios and offices were created with dramatic openings between floor levels for vertical communication.

An exposed loggia at the roofline was enclosed to create a long conference room in stunning angles and color. Walls of light, natural and artificial, define spaces. Colorful, flowering Venetian glass lighting fixtures blossom from walls and ceilings.

At the same time, the original second floor Teatro Piccolo, an assembly hall with finely detailed decorative ceiling and tall arched windows, and the third floor wood-paneled library have been restored as period interiors.

"Communication was at the heart of our design," said White, the architect.

"We strove for easy and fluent connections among individuals and groups, spontaneous and organized, formal and informal, within the Academy and between the Academy and the world beyond."

Provost Jonathan Cole, who was involved in the creation of the academy, said:

"This academy, dedicated to preeminence in scholarship, will be an ideal setting for discovery. Blending old and new in its restoration and renovation, the Casa will be a social context conducive to the growth of ideas. It has become one of the beautiful spaces in New York and at Columbia. We have worked ten years to see this building take its current form, and our high expectations have been met."

During inaugural week, photographs by David Finn of great Italian sculpture will be on view, and an exhibition will display artifacts and documents on the pioneering inventions of Guglielmo Marconi, who spoke at the original inauguration of the Casa Italiana in 1927.

An additional exhibition of finely printed books by the prestigious Italian publishing firm of Giovanni and Vanni Scheiwiller, which has helped Eastern European publishing houses reestablish themselves, will be accompanied by a symposium titled "Italy as a Publishing Bridge Between East and West."

"The Casa is now the ideal environment for Americans and Europeans to think together," said Maristella Lorch, director of the Academy.

"Like Columbia, a great research university, Italy is a country that is and has been for centuries an inexhaustible source of ideas, a laboratory for the invention of hypotheses and for their proofs. The building of the Casa in its beauty and efficiency offers a gate through Italy for the study of Europe and beyond."

The Italian Academy is governed by a board of 12 guarantors--six prominent individuals appointed by Columbia and six by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs--chaired by the Provost of Columbia.

Twenty scholars, ten Italian and ten American, comprise a Board of Senior Fellows, who advise on programs and goals.

The Academy's president is the president of Columbia; its honorary president is the president of Italy.

Its director is a tenured member of the Columbia faculty.

Columbia University Record -- April 19, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 24