Lake Como may be the most well known of the Italian lakes, but its bigger sister, Lake Garda, wants for nothing in comparison, in terms of style and natural beauty. This is the largest lake in Italy, a popular international sports hub and a coveted holiday destination for many central Europeans - especially Swiss, Austrian and southern German - who descend in numbers during the summer months to sample the good Italian food and weather.
The hills and waterside surrounding the small town of Gardone are dotted with grand, heritage Lombardian resorts, traditional Italian houses and old limonaias - the area's typical Italian lemon tree grove farmhouse. It is within this picturesque scenery of classic grandeur that Austrian developers Signa spotted an opportunity for a new, ultra-modern private luxury resort - and Villa Eden was born.
Seeking to create a stylish composition of different architectural languages - rather than employ a single architect to work on the whole - Signa approached a star-studded team of architects for the complex's 11 buildings: Matteo Thun, Richard Meier, David Chipperfield and Sphere architects worked on the architecture and Enzo Enea on the landscape design.
Matteo Thun was the first one on board and helped spearhead the project - he had been visiting the Lake Garda since his childhood and felt a strong connection to the land and the area's famous wind, the Ora. He designed Villa Eden's main clubhouse (which includes a small boutique hotel, a restaurant and bar for members and a spa), a private house and a small apartment building, called the Landmark, which is still in construction. His approach was about blending into the landscape, taking his design cues from the rich Italian nature and the area's 'genius loci'. 'Architecture should disappear,' he explains.
A similar approach was adopted by David Chipperfield's team, who worked on two private houses that draw on the architecture of the area's limonaias. Recreating their defining vertical columns in an abstract way on the houses' timber facades, Chipperfield clearly pays respect to the local vernacular.
The landscape design involved saving and rearranging the site's existing olive trees. All outdoors areas were treated as a single space, avoiding private outdoors areas for each villa. The aim was to produce a coherent, seamless surrounding that feels at home in this Mediterranean setting and doesn't distract from the hillside development's long views of the lake. 'We worked to frame and integrate the view,' explains Enea.
This was taken on board on all house designs, and worked particularly well with Sphere managing partner Marc Mark's overall design approach. 'The landscape comes first,' he says. 'We thought - no gardens. We didn't want any fences and private space seeping into the public areas.' The practice was involved in the design of three villas, one of which sits at the development's highest point, unashamedly modern yet fittingly discreet, striking a careful balance between the environment's old and new elements. 'We wanted to have this tension, between the very modern villa and its historical context,' he explains.