The latest example of the commitment of Casalgrande Padana in the field of experimentation with ceramic products for architecture is there for all to see at Expo Milano 2015. A special tile in porcelain stoneware, specifically developed with Daniel Libeskind to make the iridescent, sculptural wrapper of the Corporate Pavilion China Vanke, of the Chinese real estate giant.
Focusing on the tradition of the Shitang, the collective dining area, a place to meet and socialize in the Chinese tradition, a space and ritual that survive between past and present to underline the social aspects of everyday life in China, the Vanke pavilion – iconic and marked by an enveloping volumetric movement – rejects the usual sequence of facades and roof, making the latter into the architectural skin of reference.
Like a ‘friendly dragon’ that welcomes us inside it, the pavilion is completely covered with 4200 sheets of porcelain stoneware with a metallic finish from the Fractile series with a three-dimensional matrix, designed by Daniel Libeskind for Casalgrande Padana and already utilized in another tone for the installation Pinnacle in 2013, during Bologna Water Design, inside the 17th-century Corte del Priore of the Ex Maternità.
The Fractile sheet was developed for the Vanke pavilion in a seductive custom lacquer red color that combines tradition and innovation, overtones of Chinese figurative and materic culture with the international design creativity and know-how of the company from Reggio Emilia. The stoneware sheets, like other products by the company, stand out for their ecocompatible character; materials of high performance but low environmental impact, as proven by Emas and ISO14001 certification.
In terms of installation, in this case, a particular metal flange that can be adjusted for different angles permits installation of the sheets in an overlapping arrangement, obtaining the effect of organic iridescent scales, attached dry thanks to the particular installation system developed by Bodino Engineering in collaboration with the Engineering Division of Casalgrande Padana.
The installation creates a particular three-dimensional effect of the overall volumetric surface, underscoring its dynamic spiral sculptural shape. According to Daniel Libeskind, the Vanke pavilion “also reflects the idea of an organic nature inspired by the alchemy of paintings, landscapes, the figures of Chinese mythology, that nature that is enclosed in their innovative bird’s-eye perspectives.”
The relationship of collaboration and interaction Casalgrande Padana has established with international architects and designers is one of the corporate policy guidelines, open to experimentation and ready to support outstanding initiatives for design culture, including the Grand Prix, the international competition established in 1990 to recognize a vast range of architectural typologies that make use of the expressive and technical properties of the porcelain stoneware sheets produced by Casalgrande Padana.
A collaboration between the company and the protagonists of international design that has been consolidated over time, not just with fertile encounters (Daniel Libeskind, Kengo Kuma, Renzo Piano, 5+1 AA, just to name a few), but also on the level of services, with the consulting offerings of Padana Engineering – the company created to assist designers in every phase of the work, from development to construction – and with the Creative Center, a laboratory open to sector professionals closely connected to production processes and capable of making innovation and creativity interact.
With Daniel Libeskind, Casalgrande Padana has also worked on the facings of the City Life Residences in Milan, where as many as 50,000 m2 of porcelain stoneware sheets have been used (Granitoker and Granitogres lines), developed precisely for this project in terms of material and installation, to adapt to the plastic, geometric form of the buildings. Libeskind has also created the new landmark The Crown for Casalgrande, now being completed near one of the company’s production sites.
This idea of creating new ‘architectural signs’ in the landscape was already pursued by Casalgrande Padana in 2010 with Kengo Kuma and the Casalgrande Ceramic Cloud, with which the Japanese architect radically changed the functional aspect of the street rotary in front of the main entrance to the production plant, transforming it into a permanent sign.
Here Kuma used white stoneware sheets not as a facing, but as a construction material, making a magical, light perforated white screen paced by a regular geometry of relations between full and empty zones. Kengo Kuma describes the work as follows: “This singular structure has made it possible to avoid building a work that simply occupies a portion of space; we wanted the project to be an integral part of the place, to give it a particular character. So we decided to construct a device that divides the space in two, making it special, granting it a dual personality and achieving a very different result than the usual road rotaries.”
After this project balanced between Land Art and architectural experimentation with the use and potential of ceramic materials, Kuma approached the restoration of an old abandoned farmhouse on the company’s production site (2011). The renovation was radical yet respectful, transforming this epitome of the genius loci into a facility for the documentation and archives center of Casalgrande Padana, but also a place for events, encounters and cultural happenings.
The encounter with Renzo Piano came about thanks to the project for the reception center of the Convent of the Clarissas of Ronchamp (2011), at the foot of the famous chapel by Le Corbusier. A project grafted into the landscape, exploiting the topography of the site to create twelve cells for the sisters, with spaces for community life (dining hall and workshops), a visitors’ entrance, an oratory open to pilgrims and lodgings for guests in search of peace and spirituality.
The cells are tiny independent housing units of maximum sobriety, with private winter gardens for meditation and prayer. The convent complex includes an oratory conceived as a community space open to pilgrims and visitors of all faiths. For the floors and walls of the kitchens of the dining hall, the restrooms and all the bathrooms of the cells, the choice went to Bios Antibacterial Ceramics sheets.
This material was developed by Casalgrande Padana to achieve high antibacterial performance and an image that does not change over time. The sheets stand up to wear and use, even in situations of high humidity. With Alfonso Femia and Gianluca Peluffo of Agence 5+1 AA, the company has developed a range of projects with products created for the occasion and then put into production.
These include the 3D diamond-finish tiles used in Brescia for the new LIFE residential development (2010-2013), underlining the play of volumes. The idea of treating emerging portions and architectural segments on a materic level was also repeated in Milan for the new facility of the Libera Università di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM (2012-2014), where inside a complex volumetric collage the rounded ellipse of the auditorium stands out, clad in green ceramic.
A volume underlined in its balanced interlock by a spectacular surface composed of thousands of three-dimension diamond-finish tiles, a custom product by Casalgrande Padana. An architectural episode that is part of an overall, choral figure that goes well beyond its function and, as the architects put it: “represents disorientation, surprise. The response for us, always struggling against universal gray. It is the stoplight of Luigi Ghirri in Modena. The stoplight of Bruno Munari in the Fog of Milan. Today little fog remains. What is left is nostalgia: the nostalgia of those who discover, when the fog clears, that what was gray was the city.”
by Matteo Vercelloni