Bologna City Council’s new “single” office complex, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, is an ambitious architectural and urban development project. Located on a key city site (formerly occupied by the wholesale fruit and vegetable market) just beyond the railway station and its tangle of tracks, the new headquarters are the latest development in an area that has maintained its regular grid format over the years.
Earmarked to be a driver of architectural innovation for the whole city, the complex is a prime example of forward-thinking, functional building applying advanced technology to ensure sustainable, energy-efficient comfort-zone interiors. The project brief also included setting the standard for a new kind of public space, returning to values of liveable urban neighbourhoods that deliver a range of services and functions. So as well as bringing together the city’s various offices and their 1300 employees (formerly scattered over the city in some 20 separate locations), the complex includes private businesses, restaurants, a nursery school, kindergarten and post office. The rectangular footprint of the complex recalls the ground plan of the former general market. The new project does not rise as one single building, however, but like a sundered rock splits into diagonal faults, creating a series of unexpected spaces and perspective views. Three triangular or trapeze-shaped buildings of different height (8 to 12 storeys) are arrayed to create a central pedestrian square from and onto which thoroughfares depart and converge.
Providing access to the busy city streets beyond, the circulation routes become typical urban spaces conducive to socialisation. These and the slightly sunken square comprise a series of flat areas, ramps, and staircases with glazed parapets. To one side the main entrance to the city council offices: a covered area protected by a transparent canopy and landmarked by an almost sculptural system of oblique trestle steel pillars, anchored to the ground.
Separating the office blocks into three buildings and adding other essential urban features like retail outlets and high-footfall public services was key to the neighbourhood regeneration plan that aims to deliver everyday accessibility. It is also in line with the economic requirements of project financing systems that pool public and private funds. As a result, the architecture of the complex, as well as an adjacent 900-place parking lot, in part reserved for the city council, pivots around the idea of creating unity out of variety.
The elevations of the buildings, of different heights and volume, share the same architectural style, their outer curtain envelopes a repeated sequence of glazed panels. In all the buildings, the ground plan puts office space at the perimeter, with an internal circulation loop around a central core of vertical distribution and services.
The main unifying feature, however, is the “sail” hovering above the three buildings. This intriguingly shaped steel frame with 300 mm diameter aluminium cross members stretches over the three roofs and intermediate spaces, contrasting effectively with the modular vertical façades and making the city council headquarters a landmark building of Bologna’s new urban face. More than just a landmark, however, it also provides sun shading and thermal protection to the most exposed south façades. This, together with the selective, silk-screen glazing of the elevations, slightly inclined for greater protection on the exposed façades, reduces the need for energy-consuming cooling plant for the summer months and provides greater natural light penetration during the winter.
Energy efficiency is also ensured by approximately 1000 sq m of roof-mounted photovoltaic panels. This, along with an innovative heat and cooling plant, ensures sustainable building energy efficiency.
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