The upgrade project reshaping the premises to Manifattura Tabacchi ‒ the former cigar producer based in Florence ‒ is continuing and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2026. This industrial complex comprises 16 blocks, which have been or will be converted into business spaces, schools, cultural centres, housing units and public green areas.
The next step in the development involves conversion of two blocks into accommodation units to provide 45 apartments, designed by Patricia Urquiola and by the q-bic studio, where the original factory architecture is reworked in a contemporary and eco-friendly key.
The new project is part of the broader renovation operation that has already transformed Manifattura Tabacchi into a prime creative hub ‒ an artists' meeting place attracting young talents and professionals from the realms of design, fashion, art and culture.
So here we take a look at the new homes designed by Patricia Urquiola and the q-bic studio, while this article goes into the concept behind the areas pivoting on fashion, design and art.
Anilla is an interior design project emerging from Patricia Urquiola's creativity. It takes shape in the form of Block 7 at Manifattura Tabacchi: this building originally serving as a warehouse features a curved ground plan that inspired the design name and identity. The word anilla is in fact connected with anilladora ‒ a female worker who saw to putting the anilla (band) on the cigars. It is a clear reference to the spirit of the place, which is confirmed also in the fluidity of the interiors.
Architecture must always be empathetic. The historical and cultural context to Manifattura was a great source of inspiration in our design, Patricia Urquiola explained. We conceived the spaces in such a way as to encourage a bond with people. A balance between tradition and innovation capable of truly offering a sense of feeling at home.
The main façade features a work by the sculptor Francesco Coccia and this picks up on a theme very dear to Urquiola: the central role of working women.
The separation between the day and night zones is distinct, introduced through a rhythmic network of columns that guide the subdivision of the spaces. The connection with industrial architecture is also pronounced. However, this does not alienate the edifice identity but enhances it, with a series of mezzanines, platforms and areas on different levels.
The 21 apartments occupy the upper storeys of the block: the first floor features flats with terraces, while the second and third house three bigger units with glazed verandas to exploit the natural light through large windows. Instead, a new volume created on the roof of the existing building provides two panoramic penthouse flats, with spacious terraces and indoor gardens. This addition is built of brick ‒ a material used to clearly emphasise the new identity of Manifattura Tabacchi, while establishing visual and material continuity with the bottom level of the edifice and the adjacent roofs.
Another choice underpinning the design is the opting for natural light as a connecting theme to generate continuity between the spaces while at the same time highlighting the building's industrial identity. Floor-to-ceiling windows, terraces and winter gardens attract from inside and out, endowing the interiors with details from the nearby Piazza dell’Orologio and Piazza del Teatro, in a sophisticated spatial configuration.
Each kitchen too succeeds in mirroring Urquiola's design concepts in its own way and confirms its position as the heart of the home ‒ a space for sharing and socialising while practicality blends with aesthetics. Each example is a one-off design piece by Urquiola herself, and is custom-made by artisans in every apartment. The forms and shapes vary from case to case, and sometimes the resulting kitchen stands as a curved volume in the living room, whereas in others it is an open interacting corner that, thanks to the day-zone lighting, becomes an intrinsic part of the larger room.
The ground floor is given over to commercial use, while the two entrance lobbies ‒ one with a concierge's office ‒ are also located here. Some of the finishes from the interiors project have already been intentionally included in these spaces: lines specific to Patricia Urquiola's style have been incorporated within the existing settings and generate an uninterrupted dialogue with the flooring and the visible structure in beams and columns.
Puro ‒ Block 12 of Manifattura Tabacchi ‒ is the edifice upgraded by q-bic and is the oldest in the complex. Back in the days when manufacturing still took place at the plant, this space was for packaging and boxing the finished product. The term puro means cigar in Spanish, and in this context the name refers to both the minimal style of the design and to the elongated form of the building.
Bearing in mind the main project aim ‒ to conserve and enhance the existing architecture ‒ the architects worked to accentuate the presence of the metal trusses supporting the pitched roof and to keep the original wooden windows. In addition, and also out of respect for the historic value of the property, they used materials typical to classic factory premises: concrete, resin and industrial wood flooring made of solid planks.
The first storey of the building provides 24 open-space flats in a variety of sizes. On one or two levels, these feature spacious volumes, visible wooden beams and cosy sheltered outdoor spaces. The large south-facing windows naturally light the double-height interiors, where metal trusses support the hipped roof and define the spaces without dividing them.
The attic level has been used with intelligence and determination, and its large size means it can accommodate bedrooms and pocket terraces cut directly into the roof. These terraces, along with the various skylights, enable the entire attic space to be lit. This allows distinction between the day and night zones while they also remain interlinked ‒ the visual continuity of all the areas of the home can be noticed just by looking out over the living area from the mezzanines above.
Unusual describes the conversion of the bridge-like structure that used to connect Block 12 with the adjacent one: today it houses three open-space flats with original and distinctive spaces, which look out on both sides to fascinating views of the Manifattura Tabacchi complex. The layout of one of these apartments has enabled creation of a large panoramic terrace on the roof of the 'bridge'.
The q-bic studio also drew inspiration from the wild green areas that had spontaneously grown on the ex-factory buildings over the years of disuse, making vegetation a key factor in the design: green nature in fact envelops landings and pocket terraces, even stretching inside the apartments.
Both Anilla and Puro have been designed to the highest standards of environmental sustainability (achieving BREEAM Excellent certification): right from the first stages of design, construction and management, cutting-edge solutions have been introduced to ensure the greatest energy efficiency. The apartment systems have been specifically designed and extend in a series of condensation circuits serving the entire complex. This solution draws on geothermal energy to feed the underfloor heating and cooling systems.
In addition, all the flats are designed with a dual solution for collecting and recycling both rain and well water, while a home automation system is fitted for managing lighting, heating, cooling and the video entry-phones ‒ even from remote and to ensure the highest standards of security, comfort and energy savings. Thanks to these innovative elements and based on the thermal-quality data for the buildings, Anilla is calculated as a Class A3 edifice and Puro a Class A2 on the scale by the Italian APE, which issues energy performance certification.
Location: Florence, Italy
Project by: Patricia Urquiola, studio q-bic
Site Area: 110.000 m2
Images Marketing Suite by Valentina Sommariva, courtesy of Manifattura Tabacchi
Renders by Tecma Solutions, courtesy of Manifattura Tabacchi