Industrial And Office Complex On The Via Kuliscioff

(Milan. Italy) 1982-88

Conceived on the model of the French semce industry Mtels industrials, the Mario Beiinv project on the Via Kuliscioff is a kind of uroar 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 alio* flexibility to adapt them for other uses i' required. The architect's aim was to give ar architectural quality to this industrial compiei The plan was highly constrained by Intern» organizational requirements. It was develop ment as an enveloping fabric which would do more than just wrap the site as a 'package': i* 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 tie 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 preset a truly urban, uninterrupted, although asyttv metrical, facade. On the north side, t;»e bwid ing is characterized by a continuous base

Opposite, below) Perspective drawing of one of the facades

(Opposite, 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 monumentality 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.


(Vienna. Austria) 1983-89

The law firm of Schuppich. Sporn. Winischofer. Schuppich wished to extend their office, which was situated on the first and second floor of the building at the corner of Falkestrasse and Bilderstrasse. into the attic." Thus begins the description of the 'scenario' for the 'case' of the rooftop construction by Coop Himmelblau. one of the most intriguing and influential projects of European architecture of the past twenty years and possibly the most idiosyncratic lawyers' office In the world.

This description is intended to provide a 'clue', it is a kind of apocryphal narrative as to what the most significant aspect of the pro gramme was in the genesis of its spatial schema. The clue lies in the name of one of the two streets of the site: Falkestrasse (Falcon Street). A remarkable omen! The authors of the narrative take it back, however: We did not. in this case, think of a bird or wings." And then they change their minds - perhaps: 'although it was hard not to do so." The figural concept of the project began out of chance and possibility.

The project accommodates a conference room of 90 square metres, three office units, a secretariat, a reception area and adjacent rooms. Provision was also made in the layout for converting the office into an apartment if the need arose. Light from and views of the privileged roof area are controlled by the strategic placement of transparent and opaque roof panels. While the topology of the small facility plan conforms to the ordinary and rather simple requirements of a modest legal consulting workshop, the volumetric layout detonates a poetic fiction about a glass, steel and concrete falcon.

The viewer is initially shocked at confronting what appears to be a reversed lightning bolt' breaking up an existing roof, or else a 'taut electric arc', or a realistic silhouette of a strange bird. This first impression swiftly recedes, and what takes its place In the viewer's mind, in a rebus like fashion, is the abstract representation of either flight or an explosion. Both flying and exploding are instances of conquering space as the result of a sudden release of energy, which involves a displacement of elements. In both flying and exploding, the continuity of the form of the complete figure is broken into snatches ol

(Above) Design sketch and ground floor plan

(Opposite) Exterior view of the section housing the conference room

matter. In both cases, the formal characteristics of a closed figure are negated: the geometry of the elements is rectilinear instead of curved; the elements come together at sharp angles and through intersecting lines and planes.

To describe the design we have to proceed through contradictions. While the overall figure approximates a streamlined shape, representing the genesis of form by external forces acting on matter - carving it. sculpting it. rounding it out - the particular pieces that make up this general figure seem unfinished, a representation of the destruction of form by forces from within - detonating, fracturing, dismembering it. There is a duality of containing and contained worlds in the arcane, indeterminate figure, bird or bolt of lightning: but it is also impossible to decide whether the figure on the top corner of Falkestrasse and Bilder-strasse is landing or taking off.

There are. of course, in the history of architecture many precedents of exploding, of displacement, of the breaking up of the conti nuity of form. One can cite the Futurists or Constructivists and. closer to home, we see it in the work of the Viennese Hans Hollein. In details such as the emblematic 'cracked' look of the Schullin Jewelry Shop (pp. 72-73).

As In other cases of contemporary architecture - such as Calatrava's Lyon Railway Station for the TGV (pp. 284-85) - Coop Himmelb-lau's rooftop is to a large extent a study in thinking through architectural means. Both Himmelblau and Calatrava are concerned with movement and flight. Both Calatrava's complex and the general figure of the Coop Himmelblau rooftop appear to be the result of mimesis, as they both outline an airborne silhouette. But any similarities end here.

In Calatrava's structure the streamlined motif of the general figure is repeated in the constituent components. Forms of the same family are embedded in a 'fractal' manner. Asa result of his consistent, hierarchical 'nesting' of formal, spatial motifs, there is a continuity without surprises in the unfolding of the total figuration.

In the Coop Himmelblau project, on the other hand, the motif of the arched figure is eiaeor ated on a lower level of the scale in fragments, cracked pieces, shreds, snippets a ft snatches of matter, which, as previously stated, break the continuity of the form of the overall figure - they negate the figure's formal rules. This negation of the formal rules occurs on two levels: in the geometry of the indtvidu* elements (none of which is curved) and m the way they come together. By contrast, on a higher-scale level, there is a general Impiidt curvilinearity in the intersecting lines and planes at sharp angles of bird-like figures.

At first sight this seeming heap of materials may appear awkwardly assembled: one can find endless 'false' ways of attaching one piece of structure to another and invent inter pretations. But there is a studied carelessness that raises questions about structural formedness. invites comparisons, provokes thinking. A 'correct' way of construction wafc not necessarily make one ask deeper questions about form, structure and validity.

Abo*») View of the conference room and Mtranca to the reception area


¡Above left) The conference room, with kc*m to exterior balcony

[Right) View of the office on the Falkeatraese lid*

Especially captivating in the new structure, as it emerges on the top of the traditional Viennese building, is the implicit elective affinity between two kinds of work that are so different. This might be due to the composite. Imitative image the two objects suggest, as if they were entangled together in a coital embrace. There is. however, in addition a more abstract, equally fascinating relation between two architectural ways of worldmaking. Both have a long history, and both incorporate cognitive systems for thinking about the world through spatial-iconic categories: the one. the traditional classical canon based on coherence. closure, hierarchy; and the other, the anti-classical canon of incompleteness, open ness and chaos.

It is not the first time one encounters such a sophisticated juxtaposition of cognitive systems of organizing space, the classical and the anti-classical. In the music of Arnold Schoenberg. for example, there is a longue durée conflict between tonality and dissonance which, in Schoenberg's words, enjoys a special, breathtaking 'renewed strife'. Bringing the products of the two rule systems face to face, or literally superimposing them, has obvious cognitive and aesthetic benefits which result from estrangement and foregrounding. And such a superimposition makes it easier better to capture each system's rules, implicit in the design of each artifact, through comparison and contrast. But one can also unexpectedly read desire, tenderness and passionate consummation in the interplay between these two apparently adversarial systems. And. in the representation of conflict resolution, there is perhaps a hidden motivation to produce an appropriate optimistic emblem for a legal practice.

Otto von Spreckelsen

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