Coming across the Atelier Fleuriste in a quiet street of Chieri, a small town near Turin characterised by 1960s apartment blocks and the odd local playing field, is an unexpected encounter. Set in a row of 19th century houses, the brick façade has been replaced by glass panes down which flows a steady stream of running water. The new elevation aligns with the other houses giving the impression that one of them has been removed and a glasshouse slotted into its place. As well as its extraordinary impact, the new insertion radically changes the perspective of the whole row.
Stefano Pujatti, founder of the practice Elastico Spa, rejoices in the unexpected, delighting in creating quality architecture by putting everyday materials to unusual use. He tends to steer clear of high-tech solutions or spectacular effects, preferring ingenious ways of solving the problems of a brief while at the same time seeking an affinity with existing features. In this case, the client of the Atelier Fleuriste, needed a multi-purpose commercial space in which to sell flowers, plants, furniture and accessories but one whose exterior would clearly signpost the activity inside and be an easily recognisable landmark.
Elastico SPA’s eye-catching insertion lends distinction to an anonymous street traversed by through traffic. His intervention has triggered a general progress of regeneration of the surrounding context that has taken its cue from the new glazed frontage with its water cascade - a stratagem designed to avoid overheating of the interior during the summer. This striking façade is further offset by the many original structural parts left in place. It is this juxtaposition that makes the whole project work; the new elements integrate intelligently with the 19th architecture yet stand as a distinctive features in their own right.
All major quality elements have been retained, with only minor buildings like the stable and hayloft being demolished. This allowed the creation of a completely open, full-height interior space with walkways to connect the 19th century parts left untouched. The same discontinuity between contemporary additions and existing structures has also been maintained at the back. The approach here is different to that used on the front façade: the back elevation is less transparent to ensure greater privacy for the completely new residence that now stands in the back garden. Most of the ground floor of the new building is completely free, allowing the garden to penetrate underneath the house.
The two upper storeys cantilever over the supporting base, lightening the overall appearance of the building. The projecting geometry and curved staircase are the new buildings’ most compelling features, which also required the largest financial investment. An outer cladding of broken perforated-brick shards adds a further striking feature - a method developed by Pujatti in the years when his practice had its offices next to a brickworks. As well as effective and economical, the brick shard finish is highly aesthetic.
The Atelier Fleuriste project is a prime example of how to deal with a delicate and stratified context such as this site in a provincial town near Turin. It also flags all of Elastico SPA’s signature characteristics: clearly legible architecture where complex volumes are never ostentatious, and minimal construction details to allow more representative elements to stand out. The monumental quality of the glazed façade is played down by the very mundane materials used and by the fact it is there to meet a programme requirement, not out of any wish for self-advertisement. All Pujatti’s choices are made with a view to procuring functional architecture. The result, in its simplicity, is surprising.
This project opens up new prospects. In contrast to much self-referential architecture, Pujatti’s careful mix of simple ingredients has produced sensitive, unexpected results.