Combining volumes, highlights of architecture: the Centro
  1. Home
  2. Architecture
  3. Combining volumes, highlights of architecture: the Centro Polidiagnostico

Combining volumes, highlights of architecture: the Centro Polidiagnostico

SCAU Studio

Combining volumes, highlights of architecture: the Centro
By Francesco Pagliari -

Zafferana Etnea nestles on the lower slopes of Mount Etna, 600m up from the Ionian Sea lying quite close below. The Centro Polidiagnostico facility is situated so that the change in level is around 4m, or about the height of a storey. This position – both the topography and the physical requirements – forms the basis of an idea that has been developed into a comprehensive design and ultimately the creation of the entire building. The volumes that comprise the structure are envisaged as related geometrical entities, where the subtle use of accentuation brings definition to the complex. This ensures the different volumes are skilfully differentiated and determines the visual impact of the edifice.
Seen from the road on the mountain side, the Centro Polidiagnostico appears to have two above-ground floors, although the morphology hides the basement garage. From the lower side, the highest building is set back from the road, creating a nuanced perception of the actual volume. Consequently, the building is a dual-fronted complex, with differing architectural structures that result in a sort of parallel tension of form without excluding the search for alternative solutions. Balance is achieved and can be clearly seen in the combination and juxtaposition of different volumes, playing with transformations.
By creating access on both the higher and lower sides, the Centro Polidiagnostico is able to cater for people with limited mobility via a long access ramp that, ultimately, has become a key feature of the design. In bridging the gap between the two façades, this ramp becomes a strong, visible volume that goes beyond being a merely functional feature to an integral part of the dialogue between the various architectural elements. As such, the façade on the lower side has two parallel volumes that differ in size and intensity. The one, for offices and the lab, is a two-storey building with differently-sized windows that bring a distinct rhythm to the structure. The other – the long ramp – is not merely a line overhanging the road, but also a mass defined by the use of materials (concrete) and the colour. The façade on the higher side has glazing at road level that provides the support structure for the level that juts out above (i.e. the real third floor, although it appears to be the second).
The architectural composition uses intersections and overlaps - geometrical and formal - of function and meaning. Although the top floor is characterised by the overhang, it is actually a reduced volume, housing the lodgings for the building custodian. The glazed wall at the entrance on the higher side softens the volumes of the building and creates a contrast with the six concrete beams on the side that form a sort of shady pergola on the ramp landing.
Transparency is the guiding principle for the fencing and mimics the entrance glazing. The glass panes sit on a small wall made of concrete blocks, displaying the articulation of the building. Slight differences in colour separate the volumes, creating an almost pictorial quality out of the different shades. Light tones are used on the mountain-side volume, while the light blue on the lab block is almost like watercolour, mimicking the variations in the colour of the sky. The frames of the square windows are slightly projecting from the walls, creating gentle shadows and making the walls more distinctive. The effect is almost to make the walls seem like they are made of lava, with reflections of the bright blue sky and clouds.

Francesco Pagliari

Location: Zafferana Etnea, Catania
Client: Antonino Barbagallo
Completion: 2008
Architects: SCAU Engineering - Angelo Vecchio
Design Team: Koncita Santo, Valerio Veronese
Works Managment: Aldo Indelicato
Contractor: Giovanni Sorbello

Structural: Carmelo Lanzafame
Plant: Giuseppe Puglisi

Door and Window Frames: Metra

Photo by : © Giovanni Chiaramonte 

SCAU Studio 
SCAU Studio was established in 1980 as a Studio Consociato di Architettura ed Urbanistica following the coming together of Angelo Di Mauro, Angelo Vecchio, and Francesco Russo.
In 2000, the firm was overhauled as a provider of integrated design services, welcoming onboard two new partners, Koncita Santo and Alfio Cavallaro. In March 2002, it adopted ISO 9001 quality certification.
SCAU Studio has completed a large number of projects for the public and private sectors, always in a spirit of approaching each design as an entirely new creation. Every project is the product of ongoing research that brings together innovation and experimentation so as to constantly redefine the relationship between technology, functionality and aesthetics.
Over the years, SCAU Studio has developed a method and an approach to continuously redefine its unique architectural language so it can even take on the challenges of today’s globalized culture with professionalism. It has recently evolved yet again as an international player, developing its key areas of focus into new opportunities, and work in different cultural and landscape settings.


- 1st Place – Competition for the design of the new Santi Cosma e Damiano church in Acireale (Catania)
- Special mention – Ciclope shopping centre, Acireale, “Quadranti d’Architettura” prize in the section Giovan Battista Vaccarini prize for a work of architecture, Pedara (Catania)
- 3rd Place – La Zagara hotel, “Internazionale Ischia di Architettura” prize, 19–24 July 2010, Ischia (Naples)
- 1st mention – Competition of Ideas for the redevelopment of the Edil Tomarchio business park, Aci S. Antonio (Catania)

Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054