Vidre Negre’s office building is set amidst an uninspiring cluster of prefab factories and warehouses in the outlying industrial area of Cuneo, northeast Italy. Built with the aim of covering as much space as possible at lowest cost, these sheds would seriously detract from any attempt to construct something more original and aesthetically pleasing - probably making it look out of place, awkward and pretentious. Which would have been quite the contrary of what architect Duilio Damilano and his Client/builder had in mind. Hence the idea of landscaping the surrounding area to create a quality setting and isolate the new construction from its wider context. So it stands in a large park with an artificial lake, protected on all sides by a black perimeter wall. As the Client also owned some of the adjacent plots, he was able to have a say in what was built close by. One of these new constructions was a petrol station, also designed by Damilano. Its long sleek frontage is an attractively dynamic addition to the area. Another plot, turned over to the local council to become a public park, has also been landscaped to hide the ugly buildings nearby. Redesigning the surrounding landscape came at a price in terms of built volume and protracted timeframes, especially when it came to negotiating with the local authorities. But it was worth it. As well as carving out an area of great beauty, the Client has created an exceptionally effective image for his business, a construction company also manufacturing district-heating systems. Lengthy preliminaries were, however, compensated by efficient construction once building got underway. The whole job took less than a year to complete. The Plan has already presented the architectures of Duilio Damilano, underlining how they encompass three aspects: the symbolic, the sculptural, and the emotional. The symbolic dimension has to do with the fact that as well as functional containers, Damilano’s buildings often resemble organic beings. They exude a dynamic that is wholly sculptural; in fact Damilano’s father and brother are both sculptors. His buildings also never fail to strike an emotive chord in the viewer. Never introverted, they invite you in through unusual, often unexpected circulation routes. Seen from outside, the Vidre Negre office block brings two images to mind. It resembles a Stealth aircraft that has just touched down - hence the need for a large open green space around the building that would otherwise have looked hopelessly constrained and out of place in a regulation plot. Alternatively, it looks like a meteorite or huge stone hewn to a diamond shape. Like all good architectures though, these metaphorical images can easily be replaced by others - or nothing at all! For good architecture is always allusive, never pervasive. The building could equally be seen as a series of differently angled black glass panes, as its name suggests. Whatever the imaginative suggestions that spring to mind, however, the building invites you to walk around it and go inside through the tilted entrance. As well as abolishing any distinction between wall and roof to create a sleek continuum on the whole outer surface, the black glass reflects the surrounding park to great effect. As the surfaces are multi-facetted the reflections are never simply reproduced but interestingly and artistically distorted. Moreover the use of glass as allowed for a precision of line that would have been hard to achieve with other materials. Damilano and his Client/builder had each glass component individually cut to size. The glass of the base is flanked by wood. This highlights the play between natural and artificial, organic and rational, uniform and multi-facetted that is a leitmotiv of the whole building. Inside, a sequence of spaces leads to the senior manager’s office with a huge picture window overlooking the park, reinforcing the fact that the whole building is part of the landscape created around it.
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi