Materials represent collective design intelligence. In this six-step special, architects and Italian companies narrate the materials of the future, from tradition to innovation. Sustainability, efficiency and durability, but also beauty, are the paradigms of the selected works, which interpret the major themes of our time: space and health; circular economy and optimization of resources; new habitat models. Today we talk about experimental concrete

Alfonso Femia / Atelier(s) Femia AF517

“‘Innovative’ is an adjective often used in the construction sector, almost a design mantra. For materials innovation is mostly technological, something very close to chemical interpolation and performance capacities. Companies work on expanding their range, on variations, and more rarely on true revolutions and/or evolutions. Developing new materials or reformulating existing ones, there are indispensable elements involved in the virtuous process of production and application, oriented towards the ecological efficacy of materials, especially in public works, for three years now, since the publication of the Legislative Decree on Minimum Environmental Credits. What is the motor of change? From the initial phases of any project, I assess the material that best expresses the architectural idea in relation to the site, its history, its time, its function. Even in the originality of each experience, it always has to interact with the changing light, the reflections, the shadows, different perceptions at different times of day, different days of the year. My objective is not the exception, disposable customization. I prefer dialogue with companies and clients to innovate and evolve, to rely on the supply chain of Italian know-how, which is unique in its capacities, versatility and competitive thrust. The material becomes a strict test of the project itself, because it confirms its role in relation to the architectural idea, its ability to control all the complex themes that are destined to emerge in the development of a work of architecture that shapes all the details in pursuit of balance, harmony, and hence beauty. For the Dallara Motorsport Academy, a complex with areas for training and museum display at Varano de’ Melegari, Parma, 2018, the high-performance prefabricated concrete panels produced by Styl-Comp with the TX Active photocatalytic system in cement (the latter by Heidelberg Italcementi) close the construction on the eastern front, producing a wavy pattern, a visual echo of the movement and flexibility of the whole project; and they are transformed, at the position of the large windows, into a filter that allows light to pass through. They are the result of dialogue and a challenge approached with Styl-Comp, with the aim of bringing prefabricated concrete back into architecture, in its contemporary evolution, just as we have done for ceramics, wood and glass blocks. This exclusive artifact in prefabricated concrete, thanks to the use of the photocatalytic cement component, activates a process of oxidation in contact with sunlight, and transforms part of the organic and inorganic harmful pollutants present in the air into innocuous compounds, inert salts that are washed away by rain and thus guarantee total lifetime cleanliness of outdoor surfaces, while helping to cleanse the atmosphere of smog.”

Photo Stefano Anzini

Vudafieri Saverino Partners

“In an era of urban concentration and the need to adjust to rules of social distancing, Valet represents an interesting streetscape, redesigning the city starting from the street and its landscape. This special cement composite developed by Centro Ricerca Italcementi, offering a system of prefabricated, modular, draining, photocatalytic, skidproof slabs composed of recycled and recyclable aggregate, easy to assemble and reposition, offers a concrete way of approaching the challenges of the post-emergency restart. With reduced times and costs of construction (because installation does not require constructive operations), the Valet parklet makes it possible to intervene on streets, extending sidewalks and transforming them into gardens, outdoor seating areas, pedestrian zones and places for social contact. We can rethink the form of the street and the relationship with the various categories of users: a central theme to improve quality of life for people and businesses facing those streets. Furthermore, use of the system reduces – especially in the summer – the effect of ‘heat islands’ that overheat urban centers, because the slabs are conceived as a matrix on which to place plants (shrubs, shade trees) and other elements (awnings and umbrellas, furnishings and lighting). We have experimented with it on Via Melzo in the Porta Venezia zone of Milan, selected as the first application site. We are working with two other Milanese studios, PRR Architetti and Lorenzo Noè, and with the citizens, merchants and territorial associations in the zone.”

Carla Caldani

“The new Polo Didattico San Rossore 1938 of the University of Pisa opened in February 2020, where I supervised the construction, is by the Swiss studio Diener & Diener Architekten at the helm, with the Pisa-based Heliopolis 21, including Professor Alessandro Melis, founding partner of the studio in Pisa and upcoming curator of Padiglione Italia at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. This work of clearly brutalist architecture is the result of the partnership with the University of Pisa to transform the site – originally occupied by Laboratori Farmaceutici Guidotti, and polluted due to the presence of mercury and other elements – into an eco-sustainable center whose energy needs are supplied entirely by a mixed geothermal system. The façades and other parts of the building are in concrete made with an innovative treatment, that of so-called ‘liquid cement.’ This is actually Supershield Crystalspray, a water-base liquid product that is ideal for concrete surfaces or supports with a cement matrix. Crystalspray is an activator of hygroscopic single-component crystals (DPC system) and can be used on its own or as a primer in combination with Multiseal. The Crystalspray + Multiseal combo forms the Multiseal H system that permits resistance to strong hydrostatic stress. Thanks to the DPC (Deep Penetrating Capillary) system, the product is reactivated whenever phenomena of humidity arise, creating a lasting protection mechanism. The surfaces are treated inside and outside with a protective coating, also by Supershield, which is water-based and scratchproof.”

Photo Ilaria Fruzzetti & Alessandro Gonnelli

Aldo Parisotto / Parisotto + Formenton Architetti

“Our headquarters in Milan, the P+F BOX, has been designed as a container for projects, creativity and networking. The regeneration of the space has been guided by the desire to free it from internal fragmentation that had been imposed over the years. Therefore we have gone back to the original layout, allowing natural light to penetrate as much as possible, thanks to large glazings on multiple sides. In particular, we have used Cimento, an innovative cement compound with which to make panels for wall cladding, floors, ventilated façades, reinterpreting and updating traditional concrete through new tactile and aesthetic virtues, structural lightness and versatility of application. Given the special properties, we have used it in various situations, including the flooring of various spaces and the facing of surfaces and volumes. The material and tactile effect, versatility of use and lightness have made it possible, through application on vertical and horizontal planes, to create a sense of uniformity in the various zones of the studio. The installation in contrast with other materials like natural oak and earth-based stucco brings a simultaneously contemporary and classic image to the spaces for work, breaks and encounters.”

Photo Alberto Strada