Success depends on the fact that work and style are inseparable, as Reyner Banham stated in his article The style for the job, which originally appeared in the New Statesman back in 1964, underscoring how: “beauty, of a sort, has been given as a bonus for the honest service of need”, conjuring a “convincing form out of service of function”.
The modern ceramic manufacturing cycle is certainly one of the most industrialised and sophisticated qualitative and quantitative production processes. A process that thrives on its own particular aesthetics as well as on the arcane charm of the factory. But also on the beauty it expresses elsewhere through its finished products. Could it be possible to establish a point, or rather an intermediate and equidistant “place” within this process where to promote reflection and thought? A place where to create and disseminate knowledge, information, and innovation and share the results? A place of logical conclusions and serendipity, of unexpected but not fortuitous discoveries? A place where to find the style for the job in the broadest sense of the word?
This is the challenge that Casalgrande Padana has launched within its strategic development policies. A challenge that Casalgrande Padana has launched to Studio Cerri Associati Engineering by appointing the task to convert an existing building into a new functional “container” with a completely new purpose: the Creative Centre. A place where the continuous flow of ideas and the concept of creativity are developed and expressed at different levels, from display to workshops, thereby defining areas with different degrees of specialisation to host and gather all the players and names who gravitate around Casalgrande Padana and the broader world of architecture, planning, design, art, and research.
An innovative envelope
The architectural intervention kicked off with the complete restoration of an existing office building, which occupies a prominent part of the frontage along the road and the main entrance to the production area. Maintaining the structural layout alone, the building was reinterpreted so as to make a spatial statement that summarised the work carried out inside.
The new envelope, characterised by a brise-soleil system and fully made of porcelain stoneware tiles, is the strength of the building. A creative parameter that flaunts and tests an innovative application of the material manufactured in the factory behind it. The particular shape of the elements and the titanium dioxide treatment of their surfaces provide a new idea of façade, characterised by pollution-abatement and self-cleaning properties, which maintain the texture and colour features intact over time, without the need for periodic maintenance.
The building consists of two orthogonal volumes and a central block, which houses the vertical connections. The central block is entirely glazed and serves both as a luminous dolmen, which highlights the building at night, and an element of compositional complexity, which breaks up the thick horizontal weaves of the porcelain stoneware tiles.
The entrance door, internal wall cladding and sides of the new façade are made with zinc titanium slabs, creating a chiaroscuro effect.
The conference hall is located on the inner side of the building, well away from the main entrance. A new volume that underscores the link between the two wings of the building, enhanced by the glass roof, which hints at the concept of a greenhouse of ideas.
Casalgrande Padana’s commitment to environmental sustainability reflects perfectly in the care with which the building services were engineered. The proximity to the factory has allowed the engineers to design and install climate control systems that recover the waste heat of the ceramic firing kilns, thereby ensuring energy saving and optimisation. Moreover, passive ventilation solutions have been implemented, with particular attention to the climate conditions during intermediate seasons.
The interiors have no visible trace of distribution systems or terminals, such as fan-coils or radiators. In fact, climate control is ensured by a sophisticated high efficiency radiation system, whose pipes are buried in the plastered walls.
The surprises are not limited to the envelope. The functional organisation and layout of the Creative Centre’s interiors are another distinctive feature of the project. Casalgrande Padana’s vast production range, is an ever evolving universe with an infinite variety of types, sizes, colours, and finishes. Therefore, one of the focal points was how to display these products.
“We decided to stray from tradition – explained Alessandro Colombo, architect from Studio Cerri Associati Engineering – and create Muro (the wall), which has two purposes. On the one hand, it presents the products in the best possible way, either alone or grouped together. On the other, it outlines the space becoming part of the architectural composition of the interiors.” Its narrowed ends give it a strongly two-dimensional structure, which consists of a series of square ceramic-coated modules (60×60 cm), which can rotate around their vertical axis. By simply pressing on it, one can switch from the exposed ceramic element to that applied to the rear, and examine the colour, finish, or size. This solution doubles the display area and makes it more dynamic. The Muro elements are positioned so as to define flexible pathways that can be modified as required. These hinged modules allow the surfaces to change into infinite combinations. Similarly, the Muro elements can be moved and repositioned easily, even by turning them around the pillars of the building concealed inside them, when necessary.
“Flexibility is at its highest level – underscores Colombo – both in terms of handling the elements, as the panels can be easily replaced and updated, and general layout to meet any company requirement.”
A special area dedicated to technical elements has been set up in the basement. The image reflects that of a workshop, with a large linear display unit with steps that run longitudinally along the entire volume creating a dialogue with the large work tables.
Beyond the finishes
The Creative Centre’s spotlight is on the products. Every finishing solution has been designed to be as neutral as possible. The interiors are covered with light frames lined with white fabric so as not to take the viewer’s attention away from the displayed products. This way, the walls and ceiling form a neutral soft-box. For all other instances, the products from the Casalgrande Padana catalogue have been interpreted with tailor-made solutions. The Creative Centre’s floors, stairways, indoor and outdoor coverings become a perfect example of the exceptional qualities of porcelain stoneware. Lighting is extremely important in the definition of the areas and, more importantly for appreciating the materials on display. This is why it was important to adopt the most simple and homogeneous solution possible. The choice fell on the Nobi lamp by Metis Lighting (Fontana Arte) to meet all the Creative Centre’s lighting needs, from lighting the products to the conference hall, work areas and meeting rooms. The furnishing was designed according to the ways in which the various rooms were to be used. All display areas have Naòs System tables (Unifor) and Aluminium Group chairs (Vitra). Pride of place was given to a special version of a table featuring a homogeneous, thin ceramic covering that protects it from any damage occurring when heavy and remarkably hard stoneware samples are handled. The reception areas and common rooms feature classics that have made the history of design, i.e. Le Corbusier sofas (Cassina), Rietveld chairs (Cassina), and Saarinen side tables (Knoll). All the other elements, reception desk and bookcases included, have been specially designed and manufactured as per drawing. Sincro safety glass sliding walls by Unifor open the new conference hall to the adjacent areas, ensuring maximum flexibility. Its spectacular glass roof makes this conference hall one of the distinctive features of the entire building.
If you work in the field of architecture, planning, or interior design, come and visit Casalgrande Padana’s research and creative hub.
Visit the Creative Centre – in via Statale 467, 101 in Casalgrande (Reggio Emilia) – Monday to Friday, from 8.30 to 12.30 and from 14.00 to 18.00. For further information, call +39 0522/990730 or email us at email@example.com. Sharing ideas for creating innovation. At the Creative Centre.
Creative Centre – Credits
Client: Casalgrande Padana
Project: Studio Cerri Associati Engineering. Pierluigi Cerri and Alessandro Colombo, architects, with Paola Garbuglio, Matteo Lualdi
Building services engineering: Ebner Engineering. Claudio Pagani