Ancient Wisdom, Rather Cosmic
And having dreamed that he was a bird, a bee and a butterfly,
He was uncertain why he should try to feel like anything else,
Hence his contentment.
Ezra Pound, 1915
The urban revitalisation project for a former Enel electricity plant at Largo San Giorgio in Pordenone northeast Italy, aimed to return a green space to the city, connect two areas on different levels and use a walkway to create a unified whole of a park, small lake and the square in front of the church of San Giorgio. Its counterpart, an architectural project for the adjacent parish residential units and community buildings focused on blending architecture with its surrounds.
Clad in the same Piasentina stone as the public square, the buildings are an integral part of the urban landscape. A water drain in Istrian stone in the centre of the piazza forms a track for the metal security grating enclosing them at night. They stand as silent protagonists of two contrasting ground surfaces: the stone surface of Piazza San Giorgio, and the fluid surface of the pond. At the water’s edge, built volumes conform to the shape of the pond. Their large wood-framed windows take the natural landscape indoors and reflect it in the wide expanse of glazing, which in turn reflects it once more onto the water.
The constructions rise in height with the increasing gradient of the paved path up to a first level and weir on the way to the pond, all once a part of the former electricity generating system. Here the path narrows only to widen out again slightly at the entrances to the parish residential buildings. At this point the material changes too. Everything becomes wood: after the stone benches in front of the buildings, a boardwalk along the water’s edge extends to form jetties out into the pond before moving on towards a narrow bridge supported by inclined metal pillars. Like the reflections on water and glass, here too aqueous and earthy elements intermingle.
Once past the pond, the path returns to the city becoming stone paved once more.
The pathway along the other side of the lake starts from Piazza San Giorgio. Sheltered by naturally growing reeds, this more secluded walkway is an appropriate earthy colour - obtained by dyeing the Levocell concrete mix. On this side, it is the pond not the buildings that form a natural backdrop amongst the bulrushes. Only at one point does a clearing leave space for the bridge connecting the two banks. On this side too, the buildings mould to the lake, their wide lights reflecting the surrounding greenery when open, or presenting expanses of warm wood when the sliding shutters are closed.
Slight colour differences on the variously oriented façades create a chiaroscuro effect indistinguishable from the natural play of light and shadow.
The north frontage of the square has all the characteristics of an official public building. The parish classrooms and residential quarters are located in this area together with a partly sunken auditorium.
There are no official “entrances” to the different blocks, nor any direct passage between exterior and interior. Once again confines are blurred.
Public space is delineated by a series of elements, each with their own microclimate: a ‘sotoportego’ or covered passageway, staircases and atriums connect the green area and piazza with the gardens behind the buildings. They seem to invite a visit to the auditorium designed in the same materials and colours.
Little mention has been made of the environmental and energy sustainability of the project. As an urban renovation project, Urban Lake Housing makes use of the pond for its heating and cooling needs thanks to an innovative heat pump system that exploits the constant temperature of the water. In this way the pond is once more part of its contemporary surrounds, an energy provider for its community - and a source of human inspiration.
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