“Live, Work, Enjoy”: the worksite kickoff was interpreted in April by an exceptional maker, Francesco Mandelli, with coordination by Nic Bello, to make this program into a signal of faith in the future of a unique place. Translation: from September 2022 the Factory will be the new creative and productive center inside Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence, a 24/7 space for contemporary makers. In tune with the industrial spirit of the site, the expression of an imaginary that becomes possible.
The Factory represents an important step in the process of recovery, renovation and functional conversion – slated for completion in 2026 – of a former industrial zone built in the 1930s and 1940s: seven hectares, 16 buildings and 110,000 square meters. The facility produced cigars and cigarettes until 2001, with about 1400 workers (many of them women). The project conserves many aspects of this past, with the zone was part of the industrial city and then became an abandoned no-man’s-land.
“With the Factory, which covers a total area of over 21,000 square meters, in buildings 4, 5 and 11, and with an investment of 30 million euros, our aim of making this historic complex a new destination for the contemporary in Florence becomes even stronger and more concrete,” says Giovanni Manfredi, CEO of Manifattura Tabacchi. “A micro-city in the city, open to all, a new destination outside the historical center that was the protagonist of the Italian Renaissance in the world; the idea of another center of attraction and gathering, for an international community of professionals and creative talents who decided to work and live here, in a place that offers entertainment, education and hospitality, amidst culture, fashion, art, design and quality crafts. A major stimulus and an opportunity, also in terms of tourism.”
With this vision, and an investment of 250 million euros, a joint venture was formed in 2016 between Gruppo Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and the PW Real Estate Fund III LP managed by Aermont. In 2018-2020 much has already been done to rediscover the fascinating heritage of this production site bordering on Parco delle Cascine. The first phase of its history involved the construction of warehouses. In a second period, the production facility was built, an example of the finest Italian rationalism, inspired by Pier Luigi Nervi, with whom the builders had worked in the past. This influence is evident in the linear forms, the structure in reinforced concrete and iron, and the harmony of the overall design. In a third phase, closer to the Roman rationalism of the regime, monumental buildings were created in travertine, with exedra-shaped fronts, large openings with architraves, portals at ground level and large windows above, provided with striking decorations.
In keeping with a master plan formulated by world-famous designers, including SANAA and Studio Mumbai (developing a program initially presented by the Dutch studio Concrete Architectural Associates), and then taken forward by the Florence-based firm Q-bic and Studio Antonio Perazzi, about 3000 square meters of exhibition space have been recovered, set aside for temporary activities. Makers like Baba Ceramics, Bulli&Balene, Canificio, Duccio Maria Gambi, Mani del Sud, Mòno, SuperDuper, Todo Modo, Stefano Mancuso-Pnat, Birrificio Valdarno Superiore have already moved in. The first player to respond to the challenge was Polimoda, purchasing building 6 to create the third facility of the school in the city, with 7000 square meters of workshops for over 800 international students. There are many other guests as well: the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence, the IME (Istituto dei Mestieri d’Eccellenza) of LVMH, the team of DogHead Animation, a start-up 2D digital animation. Or, among the others, the artists who have taken part in the three editions of Residenze d’Artista, a project of life, work and production, site-specific, curated by Sergio Risaliti, director of Museo Novecento in Florence.
Now, with the project of the Factory under construction, with architectural design by Q-bic and landscape design by Antonio Perazzi, the spirit of the place becomes even more fascinating. There will be a new undercurrent of energy and thinking, of those who produce creativity and knowledge with their hands, between tradition and innovation, ceramics and tailoring, from hats to restorations, in a new, more complete and recognizable identity. Building 4 and its mirror image in building 5 will contain managerial and co-working spaces; the ground floor will be for shops, ateliers and restaurants, also with interchanges of the kind once seen in workshops on the squares of the city.
In the heart of the Factory, building 11 will contain NAM - Not a Museum, a place of artistic production and contemporary experimentation. On the flat roof, the Officina Botanica will have 100 trees, 1300 shrubs and grasses, and 250 square meters of ground cover plants, in a tribute to the quality of Mediterranean vegetation: a roof garden open to the public, like a small ‘highline’ conceived as a landmark of the entire master plan. In line with the principle of regeneration, not just cultural and architectural but also environmental in nature, as in the entire project of Manifattura Tabacchi. Amidst plazas and spaces for socializing, porticos and boulevards, active control of hydric resources and the use of geothermal energy, particular care has gone into the design of greenery, including the planting of over 1000 trees, the installation of pavements with large gaps to permit drainage, and the insertion of vertical plantings on the facades of the buildings to improve energy efficiency.
“Trees and green areas imitate the process of spontaneous colonization of nature in constructed spaces, reproducing on a large scale the action of filtering and absorption of carbon dioxide and air pollutants already in progress in the ‘Fabbrica dell’aria,’ the experimental installation of environmental phytodepuration created with plants by the neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso with Pnat, currently located in the temporary spaces of building B9,” says the architect Michelangelo Giombini, in charge of product development at Manifattura Tabacchi, who has coordinated the work from the outset.
“We also worked with Tomás Saraceno at the time of the exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, where his ‘flying sculptures’ narrated the end of the period of the Anthropocene and the start of the Aerocene. The sustainability of the whole project is a major priority for us. Demolition of buildings has been reduced to a minimum, and the materials, images and memory have been preserved wherever possible. The new materials utilized also have a recognizable industrial matrix: lots of dark calamine iron, metal grilles and platforms overlaid on the existing structures, stucco that displays the patina of time. We have also experimented with and prototyped temporary spatial solutions, which will then shift into the definitive project. These have all be delicate refurbishings or grafts, done in coordination with the local heritage authorities in Florence, and with international experts on restoration and conservation. With a particular sensitivity to space, light, heights, air, distances, safety, security, bringing out the value of the natural virtues of the buildings.”
The future growth of Manifattura Tabacchi? “Much remains to be done. The schedule calls for the renovation of building 10, the former heating plant that will become a brewery, a place of production and tasting of craft beers. Then comes the intervention on B12, the first residential project, designed by Q-bic: workshops for artists and designers on the ground floor, lofts with an industrial look on the first floor,” Giombini continues.
“Another focus will be the Piazza dell’Orologio, an unencumbered public space for events and installations, faced by building 6 of Polimoda and building 7. The latter, formerly a warehouse, will be converted for residential lofts in a project by Patricia Urquiola. It is part of the last historical phase of growth of the complex, which left behind an elegant building with a concave façade, having a travertine base, ribbon windows, a flat roof, a bas-relief from the 1930s made by Francesco Coccia as a tribute to working mothers. The apartments envisioned in this part will have a more feminine touch, and a more elegant image. Buildings 8 and 9 will contain offices and residences designed by Quincoces-Dragò & Partners. A totally new block designed by Piuarch will be for administrative and residential functions, with hospitality facilities for students. Because the master plan indicates three new constructions, as well as renovation of the original structures with a detailed functional mix. Considering the fact that nothing should be missing in the multicentric city, at the level of urban insertion a connection point is being developed between Manifattura Tabacchi, which still has its monumental entrance on Via delle Cascine, and the historical center, thanks to the new T4 tram line.”
Project Q-bic, Studio Antonio Perazzi - Photos courtesy Manifattura Tabacchi