Outside Porta Genova, this former industrial site in Milan is a now prime development area. Served by a metropolitan underground line, the area is being revolutionised, the buildings of its industrial past replaced by architecture in line with its new identity as a creativity, design and fashion hub. The new headquarters of luxury fashion brand Ermenegildo Zegna is part of this urban and architectural transformation.
Designed by Antonio Citterio and Partners in collaboration with architecture practice Beretta e Associati, the building’s quiet, restrained architecture dialogues with the surrounding urban fabric, responds to the functional and technology requirements of the activities carried on inside and embodies the elegance and creativity of the famous griffe. The constraints posed by the site prompted a consequential series of architectural solutions.
Hemmed in by other buildings, an imposing entrance was not feasible. The muted discretion of the solution is, however, well suited to a building that only gradually reveals what lies within: a whole world where fashion is created and put on show. The double height frontage onto the road is in fact a series of adjacent buildings under a single roof. On one side, the entrance proper presents as a glazed façade with steel uprights, broad canopy and flat roof. On the other, the outer glazing encloses a garden, beyond which one glimpses the glazed curtain wall of the complex behind. An emblematic sculpture by Michelangelo Pistoletto “Wollen - La Mela Rigenerata” graces the area.
The complex’s factory typology and characteristic saw tooth roof are, technologically and architecturally, a more sophisticated version of the former turbine factory that once stood on the site. The visible mullion and transom frame, again synonymous with industrial architecture, has the advantage of greater functionality and speed of construction.
The orderly array of structural steel components typical of a factory building also defines interior space, creating an easily readable grid especially in the office areas.
On the interior, the textures and gun-grey shades of the diverse materials used for furnishings, walls and floors (in Buxy porcelain stoneware slabs) blend effortlessly with the grey structural posts, cross beams and bolts. Throughout, inside as well as out, everything is harmony or discreet contrast. The exterior walls combine curtain glazing, shiny aluminium panels, and Kerlite slabs in reduced thickness porcelain stoneware.
The irregular shaped wall overlooking the blind road is a contrasting assembly of transparent glass, aluminium panels and grès slabs that reflect the buildings enclosing the Zegna plot as if to enhance its presence. Overall, the graduated transparency and alternating matte and shiny components vary the luminosity streaming into the interior from the façades and north-lights.
Constructed as a single block occupying the plot, the building is subdivided into sections to accommodate all company functions: from concept and creation through to promotion and showroom presentations of the latest collections.
On the ground floor, the 4-storey “gallery” is a unifying element. It is only apparently a large empty space; the eye takes in linked sculptures, the obliquely angled overhead walkway encased in aluminium sides, the glazed balustrades on steel joists, and, at the far end, the staircase. On one side of the ground floor lie reception and public areas, while opposite is a 500 sq m theatre-cum-forum for fashion shows and other events.
On the upper floors are offices and workshops, the latter large open spaces bounded on three sides by luminous glazed curtain walls overlooking the inner court, pivotal focus of the whole complex.
Its gently sloping ipé-clad roof is cut away at the first level to create an internal “garden” separating the theatre from the showroom. The fourth side of this inner court is glazed, its steel profiles topped by a north-light truss. Single and double skins of the outer envelope regulate air circulation and luminosity.