(Milan, Italy) 1982-88
Conceived on the model of the French service industry hôtels industriels, the Mario Bellini project on the Via Kuliscioff is a kind of urban intervention new to Italy. This industrial and office complex in the Milan area was undertaken in an effort to re-industrialize the city by the introduction of eleven projects which would offer spaces intended for use as laboratories, offices and storage, but which would allow flexibility to adapt them for other uses if required. The architect's aim was to give an architectural quality to this industrial complex. The plan was highly constrained by internal organizational requirements. It was develop ment as an enveloping fabric which would do more than just wrap the site as a 'package'; it would provide scale, texture, colour, play with light and shadow, proportioning and geometrical coherence. The need to generate these qualities resulted from the location of the complex in a recently urbanized zone to the west of Milan, a context of mixed buildings -residential, office and industrial - deprived of any clear rules of coherence.
The long buildings erected by Bellini present a truly urban, uninterrupted, although asym metrical, facade. On the north side, the building is characterized by a continuous base
(Opposite, below) Perspective drawing of one of the facades lOpposite, above) Detail of the facade
(Above right) Perspective drawing of the outdoor corridor
(Far right) Volumetric plan of the site which carries three 'towers'; the south side presents a solid surface marked only in the centre by a gate suspended from four high metal beams.
The two volumes are unified by a prefabricated reinforced concrete cladding, produced and installed by IPM of Molinella, which is distinguished by a 'refined treatment' of the surface: the joints are smooth, while the internal surfaces are sanded in order to enhance the colour and the granulation of the marble gravel in the concrete. The optical effect is a strong contrast of light that tends, in Bellini's words, to 'ennoble' the appearance of the sheds and to 'reinstate the sculptural values of a non-superficial architecture'. The module of the panels is 120 x 60 cm and covers the height of an entire floor (360 cm), except for the base and the cornice which are 140 cm high. A corner panel hides the open vertical joints, thus re-enforcing the continuity of the cladding. The high quality of the surface of the panelling system was meant to stop any adverse Philistine publicity responses to the enterprise.
Another contributing factor to the architectural quality of the building is the vertical 'breaks' that interrupt the facade, where the coupled cylindrical bodies house the staircases and lifts. This subdivision of the facade helps to form a mental link between the external arrangement of the building and its internal organization, making the complex less formidable and more approachable.
In the final analysis, however, neither the concentration of just one kind of activity nor the introverted character of the complex - both anti-urban attributes - are essentially overcome by the inventive treatment of the facade. Furthermore, the skin of the building is determined more by criteria related to its perception by outside viewers than by the internal requirements of the workplace. Nevertheless, in today's drive for the renewal of cities, such architectural qualities are important for the way in which they improve the quality of life and enrich the cultural wealth of an environment with at least optical comfort. This is something which the Via Kuliscioff project supplies abundantly by means of its indisputably monumental character, a monumentally served by the excellence of the detailing and the machine-based craftsmanship of the panelling system which provide a quality of nobility, to use Bellini's term, for the women and men who work and produce.
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