For almost a kilometer, flanked by severe buildings that reveal the industrial origins of the site, along Via Regina Pacis. A name chosen in the 1960s by Pietro Marazzi, son of the founder of the Emilia-based ceramics manufacturer of the same name, who refused to christen the street in the family’s honor, instead suggesting the name of the Madonna (who still watches over the entire industrial area today).
We’re in the middle of the Emilia ceramics district, at Sassuolo, where one city is flanked by another. Because Marazzi has grown over the last 80 years, embracing the historical center of this town in the Modena area, becoming an integral part of its history and everyday life. In short, a city in the city.
The numbers are impressive: over 300,000 square meters of area, for a volume of 1,315,000 cubic meters, forming an industrial site of prime importance, a place of excellence not only for the local economy but also for Made in Italy in the world. Also thanks to the renovation of all the architectural spaces.
“We have redesigned the company’s headquarters,” says Gianluca Rossi of Uainot Architetti, the firm that has collaborated with Marazzi for years on the design of spaces around the world. “The goal was to emphasize the industrial image of the site – Marazzi, in fact, is one of the largest ceramics manufacturers on an international level — and to safeguard its history, also in terms of architecture. For us this was an indispensable choice.”
Starting with two new showrooms for the brands Marazzi and Ragno, created inside former industrial facilities. “There could be no more suitable place to display the company’s products,” the designer explains. “We have ‘cleaned up’ the buildings that had lost their industrial character over time, revealing the iron trusses, the linear volumes, the simplicity of the spaces; in short, all the architectural features that bear witness to a productive past.”
Taking a step forward as well, because today the factory looks beyond its gate. Rossi continues: “the key idea was to insert a new glass front, which cuts horizontally across the facade of the sheds, opening the interior and the collections to the outside, bringing them to the street and thus to the city. Furthermore, in front of the two showrooms a sort of plaza is clad like ceramic paving, to display the outdoor products in an original setting, in direct contact with the public.”
While the showroom are is indeed the ‘public’ part of Marazzi, the office building, completely renovated (it dates back to the 1950s) is instead the managerial and commercial core of the firm, which has gathered its entire staff here. “Again in this case the idea was not to simply restructure, but to carefully recoup architectural spaces, an operation of mimesis that restores the building to the community (and above all to the employees) with new functions in technological and physical plant terms, and with an updated image.”
The chromatic game of black and white generates an original restyling. “We have ‘dressed’ the office building, originally in exposed brick, with two non-colors,” the designer says, “a sort of second skin that without altering the original H-shaped layout of the building becomes external insulation and a chance for aesthetic renewal. The white brings out the vertical thrust of the main facades, giving them the look of towers, while the black almost totally disguises the internal spaces of the two courtyards, putting them in shadow.”
Finally, the ‘new’ Marazzi includes the rebirth of the oldest and most historic part of the company: the Crogiolo (Crucible), or the original production facility, where in the 1930s the first tiles were made, and where in the 1980s architects, designers, artists and ceramists were called in by Filippo Marazzi to experiment with ceramics. A true research center, a ‘hotbed’ of new ideas. “In this case the project is a true operation of conservative restoration,” Arch. Rossi concludes.
“The elegant wooden trusses, the concrete floor, the beautiful masonry facades, the arrangement of the doors and windows: nothing has been altered, but simply ‘cleaned.’ The challenge was to update the building with modern technology, creating a sort of super-technological box inside, detached from the original structure, which exists in full independence.”
Sustainable design taken to the highest levels, as a distinctive feature of the overall architectural intervention.
by Laura Ragazzola
photos by Saverio Lombardi Vallauri
MAURO VANDINI: CERAMICS? BEAUTIFUL, TECHNOLOGICAL AND SUSTAINABLE
Mauro Vandini, CEO of Marazzi Group, tells us about the future projects of the Modena-based firm, one of the symbols of Made in Italy in the production of high-quality ceramics for floors and facings. Starting with the new plant at Fiorano Modenese, a model factory in terms of production capacity, technological innovation and environment
interview by Gilda Bojardi – edited by Laura Ragazzola
EIGHTY YEARS AFTER THE FIRST HISTORIC PLANT IN SASSUOLO, MARAZZI OPENS A NEW PRODUCTION FACILITY IN ITALY, AT FIORANO MODENESE. WHAT IS THE GOAL OF THIS IMPORTANT PROJECT?
Our objective is to accelerate innovation both of products and processes. The whole history of Marazzi is one of technological revolutions that have changed the way ceramic tiles are made in the world. Just consider the patent for single-firing, filed by Pietro Marazzi in the 1970s when no one believed in this technology: it permitted reduction of production times from 24 hours to one hour, with enormous savings in terms of energy and operations, creating products with absolutely new characteristics of format and strength. An advertising slogan in those years said “Marazzi you’re great,” to present the revolutionary 60×60 cm format for single-fired tile. Since then this continuous pursuit of innovation has never stopped…
…AS DEMONSTRATED BY THE NEW PLANT?
Precisely. In the Fiorano facility production capacity passes from 4 to 9 million square meters per year of porcelain stoneware. But above all, Fiorano is a factory of the latest generation, which uses the best Italian technologies, respecting the environment and offering high levels of safety, to guarantee not only great productivity but also more flexibility. These two factors do not always go hand in hand.
DO YOU THINK FLEXIBILITY IS A DECISIVE FACTOR?
Absolutely. Being flexible means being able to bring new products to the market on a very tight schedule. Every year, to respond to changing tastes and needs of consumers, we introduce about 20-25% new products. To be provocative, I might say that international ceramics manufacturers should pay royalties to Italian firms for product innovation (the success of Cersaie in Bologna bears this out). The new factory at Fiorano will permit us to be quick and flexible, and therefore increasingly competitive.
THE INNOVATION AND PRODUCTIVE POTENTIAL OF THE NEW FACTORY GO TOGETHER WITH THE NEW DEVELOPMENTS OF THE GROUP’S HEADQUARTERS IN SASSUOLO…
Yes. We wanted to reinforce our roots, renovating the facility from the 1950s, which once again contains the offices of the group, as well as the Crogiolo, Marazzi’s first industrial plant, dating back to the 1930s. Furthermore, we have converted the former industrial sheds into two new showrooms for the Marazzi and Ragno brands, with windows directly facing the street.
TO TAKE THE COMPANY BEYOND ITS GATES?
The idea is to make it live in the territory. We want Marazzi to be an increasingly active part of the city of Sassuolo, in the history and everyday life of the citizens.
FROM EMILIA TO AMERICA: THE INTERNATIONAL RISE OF MARAZZI CULMINATED IN 2013 WITH THE ENTRY OF THE MODENA-BASED FIRM IN THE AMERICAN GROUP MOHAWK INDUSTRIES: WHAT ARE MARAZZI’S GROWTH STRATEGIES IN THIS GLOBAL ECONOMIC SCENARIO?
We have three objectives: to be a winning team in terms of ideas, creativity and capacity to innovate and manage processes; to continue to achieve significant business results, maintaining a position of leadership in the sector; and to be a center of excellence inside the entire group. I can proudly say that we already are just that, in terms of design, technology and reliability of the brand.
Taking the Marazzi headquarters back to its birthplace, in Sassuolo, we also wanted to reinforce our identity, our group spirit, involving all the employees. Because a company is excellent only if inside it everyone shares ideas, projects, ambitions. And I believe that consumers judge brands not only for their products, but also for their perception of the company: if it is a united, correct, fair business. In short, brand reliability becomes an indispensable factor.
DOES THIS ALSO APPLY TO ASPECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY?
Definitely. And certain values come from long experience. During the renovation of the office building we discovered that in the 1950s it contained nursery spaces, for example. At Marazzi, sustainability also means paying attention to the needs of employees.
Where the more tradition ‘green’ aspect is concerned, since the 1980s Marazzi has had a closed-circuit production cycle, meaning that we recover and recycle in production not just raw materials but also water, and the heat emitted by the furnaces. Today we also work with scrap from companies that do not have the technological capacity to do the same. For us, being ‘sustainable’ is a factor of social responsibility, but also of competitive advantage and positive brand perception.
OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES ARCHITECTS HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH CERAMICS. WHY?
Where Marazzi is concerned, for over twenty years we have had an Engineering division that develops solutions for architecture, from large sizes to different thicknesses, based on the needs of designers. Nevertheless, the success of ceramics is a much bigger story: from consumer to residential to retail. The large contracts for architecture are increasing, but they represent only 30% of the market.
IN GENERAL, CAN WE SAY THAT THE PERCEPTION OF CERAMICS HAS CHANGED? Ceramic is increasingly similar to a natural product. Thanks to new technologies of decoration — digital printing — we can not only replicate natural textures, patterns and colors, but even invent absolutely original ones. It is also true that ceramic products contribute to safeguard raw materials like stone or marble, which are running the risk of depletion.
SO CERAMIC MATERIALS HAVE AN ENVIRONMENTALIST FUTURE?
Of course. Not just due to the energy performance of our production plants, but also due to the new characteristics of our products in terms of image and touch, virtues that are added to those already familiar to consumers, namely hygiene and strength.
The new ‘Materika’ facing, which has also won the Ceramic Design Award 2015 assigned by ADI: pure, simple, natural material, worked with very advanced technology.