Cantini&Partners’ design for a new multi-functional complex is located in a marginal position along Prato’s Piazza San Marco, just outside the perimeter traced by the old Medieval walls. There was a time when the walls bisected the space that today is the piazza, dividing it into two halves. In Medieval times, one of the gates that provided access to the city of Prato – known as Porta Fiorentina – stood where Henry Moore’s sculpture Square Form with Cut is located today. Until the late Eighteen Hundreds, the piazza was half the size it is today, covering solely the portion within the old walls. The piazza assumed its present layout after Porta Fiorentina was demolished in the 1870s and the ring-road boulevards built in the early 1900s. New buildings continued to be erected around the piazza until the 1950s, outlining the enlarged square. One of these buildings was the old post office, which has now been replaced by the building made by Cantini&Partners. Only a few remnants of the Medieval walls remain today, off to one side and for the most part hidden by the surrounding businesses and their advertising hoardings. Given the acknowledged complexity of this context, the designers came up with an architectural organism that, relying on the linear shape of its constituent elements, can prudently take its place in this varied urban backdrop, exploiting the lightness of its metal structures and the transparency of its large glazed areas. The building hosts a mix of different functions: commercial premises on the ground floor, offices on the first floor and, from floors two to floor, residential units, each equipped with broad terraces and horizontal glazed areas with aluminum sunshade slats, offering views out over the whole square, over the public park and the portion of medieval wall running alongside the multi-purpose complex. Transparency and light-colored color choices inside and out ensure uniform light distribution to all rooms. The building’s load-bearing structure is constructed out of white lacquered steel. The ventilated facades outlining the elevations are clad in a sanded light-color stone material, in harmony with the Alberese stone from which the medieval walls were built. The building’s eastern elevation runs directly alongside the city walls. To give greater breathing room to the heritage element and maximize the close relationship between the new architecture and the old walls, it was decided to set the multi-function complex back from the previous post office building. The freed-up space was exploited for a green zone and an area hard by the elevation shielded by an iron and glass structure, offering a protected standing area sheltered from inclement weather for the ground level retail spaces.
Location: Prato, Italy
Client: Coop Prato San Marco
Completion Date: 2016
Design Team: Alessio Cantini, Vittoria Cantini, Marco Benassai, Costanza Tassi
Construction Management: Alessio Cantini
Façade System: Tecnocostruzioni Zella
Façade Cladding: Santafiora Stone
Photography: © Claudia Gori, courtesy of Cantini&Partners
Alessio Cantini graduated summa cum laude in architecture in Florence in 1974. He wrote his thesis on Design, under Prof. Leonardo Savioli. He began his career in 1975, teaming up with architect Marco Benassai to work predominantly on public housing. In more recent years, the practice has focused on residential, commercial and industrial work, not just in and around Prato and Florence but throughout the region of Tuscany. Recently, the Practice has been converting abandoned buildings from Prato’s 1950s textile industry into new multi-function centers. In 2010, the practice took on architect Vittoria Cantini, and in 2011 Costanza Tassi. Cantini&Partners is the resulting company.