Italian architects reuse industrial site for high-tech headquarters
The project for German company Schüco’s new Italian headquarters was a daunting task from all points of view. The brief was for an architecture that pushed back horizons in terms of innovation and technology, energy efficiency and occupant well being and comfort. The projected started in March 2008 when Schüco identified a former industrial building as a suitable site for its Italian headquarters.
At the time the architects, B+B Associati, were conducting a technical assessment for the Schüco, which creates building envelope products, requested a preliminary reuse project in the space of a couple of days. B+B Associati accepted the challenge and after five days working round the clock presented a feasibility project, which ultimately led to the firm winning the project. Complying with Schüco’s delivery timeframe and no-overrun budget presented a real challenge for the architects, client and also the contractors.
Despite the complexity of the project, however, B+B Associati and Schüco managers and the German parent company found all shared the same vision of what all wanted to achieve - energy efficiency combined with architectural compositional excellence - and how to achieve it.
Renovating the 1990s former industrial complex built on a 31,000-square-metre plot rather than commissioning a new building from scratch is a very topical issue in contemporary architecture and one that held a particular challenge for the architects. Likewise for an environmentally responsible client like Schüco, it represented a considerable added value.
However, the choice of a brown field site meant the architecture had to deliver new volumes whose size, composition and elevations fitted with the existing buildings to ensure a unified whole where functional and logistic requirements were optimized despite the existence of a complex of interlocking units. Also the site needed to feature energy-efficient buildings using Schüco’s building envelope technology and renewable-energy fuelled plant.
The site is located in the industrial district of Padua, and is one of the largest in northern Italy, and characterised by an anonymous succession of industrial sheds devoid of any architectural importance and laid out along an equally unassuming grid of approach roads. The absence of any landmark buildings with which to refer to prompted the architects to develop an “inward-looking” project where the built volumes are centred around a green area created between the new management and showroom unit and the existing warehouse. The warehouse is shielded by a long, curved wall of reinforced concrete that rises in front of the double-height exhibition spaces of the new building. As a result, the fulcrum of the complex is not a built volume but a void, a green space standing in the midst of cutting-edge technology. It aims to be a symbol of everything Schüco stands for.
B+B Associati believes that the key to good architecture lies in form and volume rather than the use of extravagant materials. Therefore, the architects designed a dynamic complex where the different forms and circulation routes transmit the image of a innovative company under constant development. Similarly, the various sections offer different perspectives from the inside outwards or vice versa and a constant interplay between work and relaxation environments. The complex is designed to exude the idea of the “industrious” workplace. The use of natural light and slender sun-shading roller blinds that can be operated locally and centrally by sunlight sensors reflect that idea as well. From the outside, the sunshades give the glazed lights a luminous, fluid appearance. The artificial lighting was equally designed to enhance the building’s dynamic effect.
The long, articulated circulation route running at first floor like a backbone along the east façade onto which the various other parts of the complex connect and is a key feature of the building. The long corridor concludes against a bow window, with a photovoltaic clad double skin, which projects from the south façade. Offsetting and intersecting the long axis is the long curved envelope shielding the warehouse building. This in turn encloses the green space on one side and forms an attractive prospect for people in the company canteen and the upper office wing. On reaching the main façade, the outer envelope veers north to form an acute angle. This, and a triangular-shaped canopy frame the double-height glazed façade of the renovated office block. A wide glazed walkway links the renovated block with a new, 3-storey office building clad in wood panels. On the east wall of the new building, projecting wood panels frame the jutting glazed façade of the senior management offices on two storeys.
The new block is the result of two volumes being placed one on top the other at a slight skewed angle so as to produce a double-height reception area and a triple-height showroom. The curving lines of volumes and circulation routes create a visual tension and enhance the fluidity of the connections between volumes, reducing the perception of long dull corridors. The undulated aluminium sheet cladding on both the new block and renovated warehouse contributes to the appearance of a single complex from which rises the tall, striking dark grey stack of the new automated warehouse.
The finishes were chosen to mediate between the image of an international company known for its high-tech production and traditional Italian materials. The latest generation structural façades have been juxtaposed with stone and wood flooring and wall cladding on exterior and interior.
The second key feature of the project was the shared view that worker well being is as important for future company development as it is for the individuals themselves. As a result, socialisation and relaxation spaces, such as the company canteen and communication circuits, are not just necessary functional elements but places offering different views onto other parts of the complex and the exterior as a means of enhancing occupant comfort.