Inaugurated in Bologna, northern Italy, in October 2013, MAST (Arts Manufacturing, Experimentation and Technology) is a multipurpose building designed for the varied activities of the Foundation of the same name. The philanthropic brainchild of the Coesia Group (a world leader in precision engineering and industrial solutions) and its president, Isabella Seràgnoli, the MAST Foundation combines facilities for Company employees, like training, technical meetings and a canteen, with cultural initiatives like exhibitions and events open to the general public. Sited alongside the Company headquarters, the building is a new urban landmark in the western suburbs of Bologna. The architectural project involved renovating part of an abandoned industrial building. A competition held in 2005 was won by architectural firm Labics (Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori) whose design project developed a composite building encapsulating values of functional clarity and expression enhanced by external and internal works of art. MAST’s multifaceted architectural programme caters for a broad range of (sometimes conflicting) occupant requirements. The screen-printed glazed double skin envelope lends an austere yet evanescent quality to this imposing building, giving the façades an ethereal consistency as if draped with gossamer-thin curtains. The austere grey-toned glass shell juxtaposed to segments of unrendered concrete contrast to great effect with the vibrant pixelated colours of the vertical porcelain stoneware brise soleil slats of the ground floor day nursery. The two huge access ramps leading directly to the distribution hub on the first floor is matched by the extensive cantiliver of the auditorium that gives the building the aspect of a cross section. These features contrast with the delicate hues of the day nursery interiors, the reflective pool in front of the Company canteen, and the auditorium soffit. The street frontage presents as a series of interconnected articulated volumes flowing one into the other. In contrast, the rear of the building facing the Company headquarters is compact and linear. The architectural programme caters for the building’s multi-functionality by providing separate access points for each user type and separate ‘public’ and ‘private’ circulation routes, for example, to exclusively Company premises like the canteen and offices, the semi-public facilities like the day nursery and wellness centre, and to public areas like the exhibition spaces, technological museum, training academy, educational facilities, the 400-seat Auditorium, foyer, and restaurant. The linear geometry and bulk of the volumes comprising the complex are attenuated by the glazed outer shell. The entrance to MAST reflects the complexity of its architecture. The parallel ramps rise to mark an impressive entrance accompanied by Mark di Suvero’s sculpture ‘Old Grey Beam’, a dynamic interwoven frame of bright red knotted metal beams. Paths branch off to the first floor platform towards the museum-exhibition area and to stairs leading to the second floor and the opposite side of the auditorium. A long corridor bordered by the training rooms links up with a bridge-walkway to the Auditorium, one of the nerve centres of the building. Here the raked seating is separated from the distribution aisles by striking double-T steel structural columns. Circulation flows intermingle: the panoramic lifts course alongside the stairs that from the foyer rise through the three floors; the foyer itself can also be reached from the below-grade exhibition spaces. Inside, clear-cut rigorous spaces welcome visitors, inviting them to follow pathways connecting interior and exterior. Inside, a linear succession of environments follow on from one another, each, however, clearly marked out by artworks held by the Company, notably its industrial photography collection. The overall layout is a constant reminder of the building’s ambitious programme to extend beyond Company confines and open its cultural activities to the city at large. Francesco Pagliari
Client: Coesia Group
Gross Floor Area: 25.000 m2
Cost of Construction: 40.000.000 Euros
Architects: Labics - Maria Claudia Clemente, Francesco Isidori
Design Team: Chiara Capriulo e Carolina Bajetti (project architect), Leonardo Consolazione, Francesca Delicato, Giuditta Milano, Andrea Ottaviani, Luigi Panetta, Dominique Réthans, Maria Adele Savioli, Elisa Villani
Main Contractors: Cesi, Dottor Group
Structural: Proges Engineering - Andrea Imbrenda
Mechanical and Electrical Plant: Hilson Moran Italia
Acoustic: Higini Arau
Landscape: Paolo Pejrone
Façade: Focchi Group
Mechanical and Electrical Plant: Cefla
Security Installations: Metrovox
Wall Coverings and Flooring: Laboratorio Morseletto
Auditorium Seating: Poltrona Frau
Multimedia and Home Automation Systems, Scenografic Effects, Sound Amplification for the Auditorium with 3D Projections and Surround Sound System, for the Museum, Course Rooms, Academy, Gym, Kindergarten and Corporate Restaurant: Videoworks
Immersive Room for Videoconferences: Videoworks, Cisco
Photography: © Christian Richters
Headed by Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori, Labics is an architectural practice based in Rome. Established in 2002, the firm is involved in projects ranging in size and scope from interior design to urban planning. It places a particular focus on urban transformation projects, such as the masterplan for ‘Le Serre’ in Tirana (2005), a new village in Nepi (2004) and the Terranova mixed-use development in Rome (2010). Labics’ involvement in urban planning has also taken the form of a number of research projects, including ‘Borderline Metropolis’, a study of the urban territory of Rome presented at the Venice Biennale in 2008.
Labics is currently involved in several projects, including the restoration and extension of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo; Tower Split, a masterplan for one of the eighteen areas identified as new centres under the masterplan for the development of Rome; and the recent Masterplan in Wu-Hu, China, an ambitious project for development and restoration of this ancient city centre.
Labics has also completed a number of smaller projects, including Piazza Fontana in Rozzano, Milan, which encompasses private dwellings, offices, and restaurant interiors. Since 2003, the practice has overseen the general concept, interior design, and architecture of Obikà, an international chain of Italian restaurants and bars in Milan, New York, Rome, London, Turin, Florence, Kuwait City, and Tokyo.
Participation in competitions has always been an important part of the practice’s activities, giving it the opportunity to experiment with new forms and techniques. And Labics has won several, including the invitation-only competition organized by Techint SpA for the design of a university teaching complex in Rozzano, Milan, and Rome’s Città del Sole (2007), which is scheduled for completion in 2014.