Limitless dialogue at the Knowledge Transfer Centre in Milan

ph: ©Caviola


Libera Università di Lingue e Comunicazione, Milan: a threefold story

Today’s article, which is dedicated to the IULM in Milan, is in fact three stories in one.

For there where three component parts that made up the IULM project in Milan, all of which we would like to explore today. They were: the IULM (university, cultural hub, centre of knowledge and dialogue); Studio 5+1AA Alfonso Femia Gianluca Peluffo Architects (architectural firm with headquarters in Genoa and Paris); Casalgrande Padana, the producer of the porcelain stoneware tiles used in the project. The fusion of these three entities gave rise to a project known as the Knowledge Transfer Centre, which won a first prize at the 10th Edition of the Grand Prix International Architecture Competition.

The defining material used for the project was undoubtedly Diamante R20 BOA, an exclusive variety of enamelled porcelain stoneware tiles characterised by their three-dimensional nature. Moreover, thanks to their shine and diamond-inspired facets, the tiles in this collection create surfaces that seem to move, sparking endless reflections and shadowy contrasts. One of Casalgrande Padana’s many lines and collections of tiles, you can take a closer look at its unique design and structure with our special Pinterest board.

 

One tall tower, two short buildings

Let’s start by discussing the IULM in Milan and the transformation that has seen it become a Knowledge Transfer Centre: a centre of cultural exchange, of dialogue, of knowledge. To complete the project, Studio 5+1AA Alfonso Femia Gianluca Peluffo Architects chose a three-pronged approach. Continuing our threefold theme, IULM is composed of three buildings, each with different shapes and functions, yet each one working with the next, as if engaging in dialogue or debate – or the pursuit of harmony between multiple components.

The three parts of the “Knowledge Transfer Centre” project are a tower and two shorter, more linear buildings. The former, as you can read in this article on the Milan Order of Architects’ website, is designed “to create a strong presence and authentic sense of openness. The tower, which features an internal helical staircase, is home to the university archives, consultation rooms and the digital library, a place of study and training and the IULM’s memory of its initiatives and activities in the fields of fashion, cinema and communication. It is where dialogue and knowledge come together at the IULM.”

In the same article, the two smaller buildings are defined one as the incarnation of the Knowledge Transfer Centre’s desire to create, a place that promotes exchange and dialogue, and the other as a place to build a more intimate relationship with the culture and expertise of the past.

According to the article, the south building “is home to flexible spaces suitable for a range of academic areas – offices, laboratories, lecture theatres, halls – and also features rooms ready to host events and activities with partners from the world of business.” Indeed, the Knowledge Transfer Centre’s primary objective is to “strengthen the operational bond between knowledge creation and production.”

The north building, meanwhile, “hosts the library and the traditional archives, which add to the digital archive in the tower. This building, which is linked to the entrance, can be opened to the public, thus acting as a direct link with the city.”

Inside the project. Around the project.

A vital part of the project – the one element that enables it to express the many innovative messages the space will surely emit – was the use of ceramic tiles for the cladding of the buildings. It was a decision to showcase the intimate, hidden part of the university’s spirit, bringing the unique, creative needs within to the surface, both metaphorically and literally. For it is here, on the surface – in this case, the façade of the buildings – that thousands of people catch their first of many glimpses of the university.

Casalgrande Padana’s ceramic tiles were those chosen to fulfil this challenging task. A company always at the forefront of façade systems and technologies, Casalgrande Padana’s Diamante R20 BOA line was selected for this project. This unique line of porcelain stoneware tiles has a three-dimensional surface onto which light and reflection create a dancing game of shadows, enhancing overall appearance.

When the outskirts become the centre

At the centre of this threefold story, in which three important entities come together as one to create three stunning buildings, is the notion of the edge of the city becoming its centre. Outskirts becoming the city centre, as Studio 5+1AA Alfonso Femia Gianluca Peluffo Architects write on the Knowledge Transfer Centre section of their website.

“The outskirts almost become the city centre. This is not a building built on a plot, as is the way nowadays, but one that creates a sense of fullness and emptiness all at once. It is a building that seems to blend in to its surroundings. Bricks, visible concrete, glass, plaster. And then, inside, an explosion of emerald-green ceramics. Like a traffic light in the fog.”

Remaining, in order to leave

Yet when one observes the IULM in Milan as a whole, the impression is one of much more than a simple traffic light in the fog. It is a traffic light inviting all who see it to pause for a while, admire its complexity, its fusion of technology and aesthetics. It is a traffic light inviting us to rev our creative engines, as if we were racing drivers at the start line. It is an invitation to wait for green and then propel ourselves at full pelt towards the next milestone, towards the future, towards what is yet to pass. It is the very essence of research and communication, and how could it not be, given all that the IULM represents?

The reasons for the panel at the Grand Prix International Architecture Competition awarding the project a first prize should thus come as no surprise:

“This is a journey of research and experimentation, one that strikes the perfect balance between quantity and quality in industrial ceramic production. It uses creative elements and innovative morphology and installation techniques to initiate a process that sensitively elevates the objectives of the project and the product.”

Nor should it come as any surprise that this project – which is designed to grow and remain through the passing of time and memory – represents an invitation to keep moving forward, towards the future.

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