a matter of Rhythm
As an important boiler manufacturer at the cutting edge of research and new technological applications especially in renewable energy and allied sectors, the client found it only natural to engage an architecture practice like EFA (acronym for Esperienze Forme Architettura), also at the cutting edge of architectural research, to design its new research and experimentation center called the Laboratorium. In fact, the company has a history of similar partnerships with forward-thinking firms, its advanced training sector, Domus Technica, being built by the Iotti + Pavarani practice. Founded 55 years ago, the company has maintained close links with the community from which it springs, as was evident in 2017 when the nearby River Enza burst its banks, flooding the industrial district and halting work on the Laboratorium. A manufacturing plant must respond to the operational needs of the activity carried on inside, its layout a function of these requirements and the particular site. Yet while components have to be essential parts of a rationally organized system, they should also have a broader architectural and more abstract significance. The Laboratorium succeeds on both counts. Its pure logical forms and layout meet the company’s functional demands. At the same time, the regular alignment of the façades reflects the exacting precision required of the work going on inside, embodying the essence of the company’s identity as a top-end research and development facility with a strategy of continuous innovation. The expressive rational program also meets another brief specification: to provide worker livability standards on a par with those enjoyed in a home. The building is therefore an amalgam of modifications and transformations within a contemporary architectural framework that however does not discard its historical roots. This architecture is also the latest addition to an already “stratified” industrial site, which like any urban context will continue to evolve. On the east and west elevations, the geometrical linearity of the evenly spaced prefabricated concrete “solids” alternating with the “voids” of the glazed wall behind the outer envelope creates an assertive yet reserved “public” face for the Laboratorium. Elusive and somewhat remote, this three-dimensional façade reflects the highly sophisticated research conducted on-site. Although a sequence of staggered elements, these east and west elevations present as a continuum on account of the regular variations in luminosity, the regular rhythm of projections and recesses, and the alternation of the “background” and “foreground” materials. The Laboratorium comprises two parallel volumes containing research and experimentation facilities, offices and warehouse. Following the same rigorously geometrical logic as the two main blocks, the central connecting unit, its glazed façade supported by a mullion and transom steel frame, contains the entrance and atrium. The center of gravity of the Laboratorium, this central connecting volume contrasts with the other two volumes in its explicit transparency. On the south façade, the entrance is signposted by an imposing brise-soleil system of projecting light-colored aluminum louvers, a feature that further emphasizes the play of geometrical forms and alternating opaque and semi-transparent surfaces. Narrow open areas resembling small inner courtyards lie between the parallel blocks. This urban style layout creates intervening spaces furnished with paved paths, plants and a long reflective pool, creating many different sight lines from both outside and within. Inside, the layout follows the same logical linear sequence dictated by the center’s functional requirements of the place. Structural columns in reinforced concrete support long span beams allowing maximum flexibility of the sequential distribution of the company’s laboratories.