Archive for June 5th, 2011

June 5, 2011

An Engineering Magician, Then (Presto) He’s an Architect

The pedestrian bridge designed by Cecil Balmond in Coimbra, Portugal. The bridge shifts at midpoint, as if the center had snapped.

Mr. Balmond with a model of the Battersea project.

A rendering of the Twist building at Battersea, designed by Cecil Balmond.

private home near Bordeaux designed by Rem Koolhaas, on which Mr. Balmond worked.

Cecil Balmond helped Anish Kapoor create “Marsyas” for the Tate Modern in 2002.

Inside the Serpentine Gallery’s pavillion in London, designed by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond.

The Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond.

Arup’s Advanced Geometry unit, headed by Cecil Balmond, created “H_edge” for Artists Space in New York.

The pedestrian bridge designed by Cecil Balmond in Coimbra, Portugal.

The design for the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, China.

Published: November 26, 2006
WHEN the ribbon is cut this weekend and Cecil Balmond takes his first tentative steps onto a bridge he has just finished in Coimbra, Portugal, it will represent a crossover into unknown territory. After decades of service to some of the world’s most celebrated architects, this is the first project he can truly claim as his own.

“I’m pretty proud of it,” Mr. Balmond, 63, said in a recent interview over tea at a Park Avenue hotel. “In elevation it seems perfectly normal. It’s a simple arch. But as you move closer, half of it disappears into shadow. It becomes really strange and ephemeral.”

The visually confounding footbridge shifts abruptly at midpoint, as if the center had snapped and either side were dangling precipitously over the river.

Mr. Balmond, deputy chairman of the British engineering firm Ove Arup, is hardly a late bloomer. He has made structural feats like these possible for a pantheon of architectural luminaries over the last 30 years, from James Stirling and Philip Johnson to Rem KoolhaasDaniel Libeskind and Alvaro Siza.

As architects push the limits of their formal language, Mr. Balmond’s engineering genius has been crucial to the emergence of a new aesthetic of shifting asymmetrical structures that mock conventional notions of stability. Beyond making their projects buildable, his solutions spur such architects to explore forms they might not have considered before.

But Mr. Balmond has decided that the mantle of engineer is not enough. In 2002 he began working with the artist Anish Kapoor on the first of a series of colossal public artworks: a tubular blood-red sculpture installed at the Tate Modern that seemed to defy gravity. He has emerged as a full-fledged author with works like “Informal,” a window onto the playful back and forth between architect and engineer in sketches and diagrams. And at Arup he has organized an “advanced geometry unit,” a tight-knit group of engineers and mathematicians who have ventured onto turf normally reserved for architects, from houses to office buildings to master plans.

His shift to architectural work has raised an eyebrow or two in the profession. Some fear it will distract him from his primary engineering work. Some dismiss it as an ego thing. But Mr. Balmond’s career raises a broader question about the nature of collaboration. If a skilled engineer can boldly enrich the work of even the most talented architect, what is lost when the architect is tossed aside?

As Mr. Balmond explains it, his view of both architecture and engineering has always been more intuitive than mathematical. “I was always looking at patterns — in music, literature,” he said. “It was never only about structure.”

Born in Sri Lanka in 1943, he was reared in places that were both rich in cultural influences and in a constant state of political turmoil. His early memories include walking to school along lush mountain roads in the Sri Lankan village of Kandy, where his father was president of the country’s only university. With the outbreak of a civil war, his family left for Nigeria, where in his early 20s he was introduced to the writer Wole Soyinka and musicians like the political activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

When war broke out in Nigeria in 1967, he moved again, landing in Southampton, England, where he enrolled in the university’s department of engineering. “In those days what I wanted was to be a classical guitarist,” Mr. Balmond said. “I was playing flamenco gigs in bars.”

In settling on engineering, he saw it as a conventional career choice that played to his talent in mathematics. Yet when he arrived at Arup in 1968, the firm was in the throes of what is still considered one of the most audacious challenges of the late Modernist era: the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Designed by an inexperienced young Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, the opera house’s sail-like roof forms had proved unbuildable. Arup was brought on to rescue the project.

Its solution was ingeniously simple: rather than try to meld an elaborate composition of dissimilar forms, all of the shells would be designed with exactly the same curvature, as if they had been cut out of a single orange. They could be efficiently manufactured; but more important, those concrete plates also gave the design a formal clarity it had lacked. Completed in 1973 in Sydney Harbor, it was hailed as a masterpiece that signaled new possibilities for architects across the globe.

For Mr. Balmond it was an epiphany. Beyond crunching numbers, he realized, engineering could mean rethinking an architect’s design.

“I realized that engineering was more than calculating,” he said. “I became intrigued with the way that forces shaped things, the way you assemble structures in series. The idea thatwe could help shape things — all that was in the air.”

Ove Arup, a founder of the firm, eventually took the young engineer under his wing. “It was a training ground.” Mr. Balmond said. “Mr. Arup was my critic. I’d have to see him every few months, and he’d argue for the poetic qualities inherent in concrete over steel, for example. I was really refining my game. I was learning to push a structure further, span impossible distances.”

In 1977 he worked with the architect James Stirling on the stone-clad Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany, now considered a masterpiece of postmodernism. But the breakthrough was his partnership with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who enlisted him to work on a competition for a modest bank building in Amsterdam. (They lost.) Soon afterward Mr. Koolhaas embarked on the ZKM Center for Art and Media Technology, in Karlsruhe, Germany, with the idea of carving out immense sloping voids within a rigid block. The multistory voids, which include a lecture hall, library, museum of contemporary art, media theater and video labs, would function as a “Darwinian arena” where classical and electronic media would be in a constant delirious competition.

Pondering how to carve out such vast spaces without causing the building’s collapse, Mr. Balmond opted to create a stack of interior Vierendeel trusses whose ribs form triangulated units.

For Mr. Balmond and Mr. Koolhaas, such solutions are part of a running argument that architecture has been confined too long within the Cartesian logic of compartmentalized space. Yet while other architects experiment with radical forms, these two root their work in a more fundamental rebellion related to engineering itself. They want to defy the regimented order of the industrial world, shake it up, embrace the fundamental discontinuities of everyday life.

“We were saying that simply making an endless variation of new forms was too superficial,” Mr. Koolhaas said in an interview. “Instead of making unsober forms, we became interested in making unstable engineering behind sober forms.”

They explored that notion further in Mr. Koolhaas’s 1997 house near Bordeaux for Jean-François Lemoine, a French newspaper executive confined to a wheelchair after a car accident. The house, pierced by an enormous platform elevator the size of a full room, consists of three levels: a massive slablike level at the top; a vast glass-enclosed living area in the middle over which the slab seems to levitate; and a concrete plinth that forms the house’s private core, with a kitchen and wine cellar. Offsetting its symmetry, a deep steel beam spans the flat rooftop as if to keep the slab from tipping over.

“I wanted to give the client a sense of security,” Mr. Koolhaas said. “Strangely, we could do that with this insane amount of mass floating above his incredibly vulnerable head.”

A collaboration with Daniel Libeskind on a spiraling addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London led Mr. Balmond to explore a new thread in his work: a layer of ornamental surface patterns that in themselves spoke to a building’s structural logic. With its elaborate textured tiles, the 1996 addition seems to shimmer and defy gravity, even though it is wedged between two stolid 19th-century structures.

Going a step further, Mr. Balmond and the Japanese architect Toyo Ito played with a pattern of overlapping squares across a delicate lacelike skin for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London (2002). It was not only decorative but also supported the entire structure. And in Mr. Balmond’s first solo show, a project in Artists Space in SoHo last month, he deployed a series of interlocking C-shaped metal panels to create a labyrinth of small rooms. Evoking an Indian rope trick, an elaborate steel chain seems to stand with no visible support.

“I was looking at the layers of orders in Gothic architecture — how simple geometric rules creates an external architecture,” Mr. Balmond said. “The Gothic cathedrals had all these different levels of layering, structural and ornamental. These were all things that Modernists had dropped. I wanted something more.”

But it is Mr. Balmond’s mainstream architecture commissions that preoccupy some of his peers. Just as architects rely on engineers for structural experience, engineers rely on architects for their own area of expertise: an instinctive sense of how material and space convey hierarchies, for example, or of how a building speaks to its surroundings. Such skills may be intuitive, but they are skills nonetheless. It’s what gives architecture its poetic quality, and it cannot be learned overnight.

Mr. Balmond prefers to see this latest career turn as part of a consistent trajectory rather than a blind leap into the unknown. He has reassured his architect friends that he is not in direct competition with them; nor is he turning away from his responsibilities at Arup, he says. The Coimbra project, the symbolic bridge to his solo practice of architecture, could well be viewed as an essentially structural project.

Mr. Balmond began with a simple idea: to create a sense of instability that intensifies as a pedestrian reaches the midpoint. The bridge is actually conceived as two independent structures cantilevered from each side of the river. A concrete beam runs along one edge of each half and tapers as it reaches the midpoint, so that the center suddenly kinks. The sudden shift is as much about engineering bravura as a physical experience.

The weakness lies in the bridge’s decorative flourishes: its jagged side rails, clad in blue, pink and green colored glass, feel slightly overwrought and compete with the sleekness of the supports and spans. Far more audacious is Mr. Balmond’s master plan for an office, hotel and retail development on a 36-acre site on the south bank of the Thames in London. Given the project’s whopping $3.8 billion budget, Mr. Balmond may seem an eccentric — not to say highly risky — choice as its main planner.

But the developer, Victor Hwang, had fallen in love with the algorithmic pattern of the pavilion that Mr. Balmond designed with Mr. Ito for the Serpentine Gallery. “Cecil said this is a very simple theory: You can do it anywhere, any shape, any size,” Mr. Hwang said. “My belief is that architecture in the future will have to be based on something solid rather than something vague. It needs a mathematical foundation.”

The problem is that the master plan never completely coheres. The site, anchored by the towering form of the abandoned Battersea power station, which is being converted into a shopping mall, is organized as a series of buildings that frame a series of internal plazas. Mr. Balmond describes those plazas as a series of shifting planes that slope up toward the Thames, culminating in a formal garden overlooking the city to the north.

But the plazas, which range from small enclaves to vast public squares, feel shapeless and oddly disjointed, like leftover space. A similar problem afflicts a building he has designed in the form of a twisted rectangular box at the site’s southern edge. Its meshlike skin echoes projects in which the exterior surface is both decorative and structural. By twisting the form, he creates a gentle arch beneath the building that offers a natural entry point, intended for a design center, showroom and offices. A series of ramps swirl up through the interior.

Yet the building’s exterior form is less an expression of its interior function than a sculptural study conceived on a massive scale.

Mr. Balmond is obviously grappling with some fundamental architectural lessons, from the complex relationships between interior and exterior forms to those between ornament and structure. A younger, lesser-known talent would be able to work through these struggles in relative privacy and at a more manageable scale. Mr. Balmond does not have that luxury. Already a titan in the engineering profession, he is finally poised to get the public attention he feels he deserves. The paradox is that he may feel less free to make the kind of mistakes that are intrinsic to creative growth.

For now, Mr. Koolhaas suggests, Mr. Balmond should be glad that his fame is so far limited to professional circles. “The role of the architect is so exaggerated today it drives people crazy,” he said.

“Maybe this work is a smart way to take a breather,” he continued. “But from the bottom of my heart, I told him that he doesn’t know how lucky he is not to have to deal with this star thing.”

here his profile at penn:


BSC, University of Southampton
MSc, Imperial College of Science, London

Cecil Balmond is an internationally renowned designer, structural engineer, author and Deputy Chairman of the international, multi-disciplinary engineering firm Arup. One of his most recent projects is the 2006 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, designed with Rem Koolhaas.

He has held several distinguished visiting professorships at leading universities in the United States and Britain: Saarinen Professor at Yale University, Kenzo Tange Visiting Critic at Harvard’s School of Design, visiting professor at the London School of Economics, and most recently the Graham Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He received the Gengo Matsui Prize in 2002, which is the highest recognition for structural engineering given in Japan, and the Charles Jencks Award for Theory in Practice of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2003. This spring he gave the Felix Candela lectures at the Museum of Modern Art and had an exhibition of his work at the arc en rêve centre d’architecture in Bordeaux, France. He is the author of Informal (Prestel, 2002), Number Nine (Prestel, 1998) and co-authored Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 with Toyo Ito (, Japan), and Unfolding with Daniel Liebeskind (NAI, 1997).

Through his provocative designs in collaboration with leading architects and artists and eloquent writings, including Informal (2002) and Number Nine: The Search for the Sigma Code (1998) Balmond has put forward a dynamic and organizational approach to structure that is informed by the sciences of complexity, non-linear organization and emergence. Recognizing that the universe is a constantly changing array of patterns (both random and regular), he also draws on ancient wisdom and non-western mathematical archetypes. Taking structure to be as much a verb as a noun—as structuring, organizing and patterning—Balmond redefines the relationship between structural engineering and architecture beyond the ethos of rationalism, efficiency and optimization, which has characterized not only high-tech design but modern architecture in general. His experimental, constructive and algorithmic methods open a rich territory for design at different scales and in different media and regimes of matter, extending the horizons of both reason and beauty. To test their capabilities he is currently designing an urban master plan for a redevelopment site in London, while at the same time experimenting with rhythmic lighting effects and the generation of music.

June 5, 2011

BALMOND ON THE MOVE (Balmond Studio)

Arup’s key man lights out for new territories

Call it the 40-year itch. At age 67 and after four decades building a global reputation for and at the UK-based engineering firm Arup, Cecil Balmond has announced plans to set up a studio of his own “to make more things.”

Reached by phone as he crisscrossed London in a taxicab, Balmond was happy to discuss his options. After successful art installations in Chicago last year and in Tokyo this year, Balmond said that he felt encouraged to do more installation work exploring “seriality as it relates to forms, ratios, and ideas,” perhaps expanding it to the scale of modular housing.

With more exhibition offers in the pipeline, he has been approached as well about product-design opportunities by a large European manufacturer, who came to him after seeing the 2006 bridge with kaleidoscopic panels that he designed in Coimbra, Portugal. Of this he would only say “it’s under wraps.”

Balmond's Tokyo installation.

Rather than restless, Balmond seems simply eager for the widest range of design work possible, as if working on the Seattle Library and CCTV with Rem Koolhaas and the Imperial War Museum with Daniel Libeskind, among other celebrated buildings, did not offer variety enough. “I’d like to design letterhead,” he exclaimed.

Asked if he had modeled his own career—which has included teaching, writing (his manifesto Informal is now in its fifth printing), and collaborating—after some distinguished figure in engineering history, he said, “No, I don’t follow anyone. There’s a whole collection of wisdom one has gained and absorbed. I get what I can, and move on.” Informal 2 is coming out next spring.

Balmond has garnered co-authorship from architects (Koolhaas at CCTV; Alvaro Siza at the 2005 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion) and artists (Anish Kapoor on the sculpture Temenos and a tower for London’s 2012 Olympics), a feat perhaps unprecedented in contemporary architecture. “I didn’t have to fight for it,” he said. “It just happened as part of the flow.” But he doesn’t see the roles of architect and engineer melding, suggesting it’s a matter of “scale and ambition.” On routine projects, each practitioner naturally and necessarily remains distinct, with one bringing “scientific rigor” and the other an awareness of “program and past references.”

As for his legacy at Arup, Balmond spoke of his role in expanding the firm’s European presence and in pioneering a relationship with the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, now an influential rite of summer in London. Though Arup employees number thousands in over 30 countries, Balmond’s studio will remain small and concentrated, a maximum of 14 to 16 people with different skills; he already has a philosopher from Oxford on board. “Now that I am free from corporate duties, I can concentrate on my agenda,” he said. “It’s a very good place to be.”

Julie V. Iovine
June 5, 2011

no more FOA!

no more instead: FMA ( & AZPA (

June 5, 2011

kauffman center for the performing arts by moshe safdie and associates nearing completion

‘the kauffman center for the performing arts’ by moshe safdie, kansas city, missouri
image © david riffel

the kauffman center for the performing arts by moshe safdie and associates is nearing completion.
set to open on september 16, 2011 in kansas city, missouri, the structure represents a new approach to cultural life,
marking for the first time a project of this scale and program in the city. acting as a catalyst for social, educational
and economic vitality, the 285,000 square-foot center aims to advance the role of arts within the community while
encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration and cross fertilization of audiences.

image © david riffel
the facility will include two stand-alone halls – the 1,800-seat muriel kauffman theater and the 1,600-seat helzberg hall – housed within arched glass and steel volumes enclosed by a glass facade that will provide sweeping views of the city. once operational, the center will be one of the most technically and architecturally advanced facilities of its kind in the nation.

aerial view
image courtesy of moshe safdie

image © david riffel

June 5, 2011

ARoS Aarhus – Your rainbow panorama | Olafur Eliasson

Your rainbow panorama
Olafur Eliasson
A city is a cosmos, a site for social encounters and cohabitation.
A museum is a vision machine that challenges our senses, thoughts, and felt opinions.
The public, you, is a barometer of the world. You mould as much as you receive.
I think of Your rainbow panorama as a mediator that forges relations between these three: you, ARoS,
and the city of Aarhus. It is a vehicle for looking anew, which frames views and frames you as you
proceed through the seamless walkway of subtly transforming colour atmospheres. What you
experience may be of both panoramic scope and introspective quality – you may see yourself seeing.
Sometimes alone, mostly with others.
I see Your rainbow panorama as an orientation tool. Dividing Aarhus into colour zones, it has the
qualities of a lighthouse: it draws attention not only to itself, but also to your physical location in
Aarhus. For people living in the city and moving through the different times of day, the work becomes
a compass in time and space.
Imagine Your rainbow panorama as an instrument that tunes you – its user – so that your body is
transformed into a colour resonator. Enveloped in the rainbow environment, you produce afterimages
in hues complementary to the colours in the glass panes around you. If you look at the city through red
glass, your eyes develop a green afterimage. If you maintain a quick pace, the colours remain vibrant.
But if you pause in one colour zone, the hue around you grows pale while the colours in your
peripheral vision, where the walkway curves, intensify. Colour intensities depend on your speed.
The colour spectrum speaks to the museum collections below – to contemporary art as well as to the
works of, say, Karl Isakson, Olaf Rude, or Oluf Høst. These modernist painters were equally infatuated
with what colours say and do.
Colour intensifies reality at all times.
The circle of Your rainbow panorama complements the museum’s square plan exactly. These basic
geometric forms challenge each other in a friendly dialogue about spatial dimensions, movement, and
the passing of time. The continuous curve limits your view to about twenty meters ahead, revealing
one colour shade after the other. The intimacy created by this short distance is reflected back on the
moving bodies.
Think of Your rainbow panorama as an expectation machine. Even before entering ARoS and
ascending to the work, you may look upon the city as if through coloured glass. Your expected gaze.
What you know from the street then emerges from above as strangely real, in a continuous interplay of colour saturation and desaturation. Suspended between the city and the sky, this viewing platform
insists on your sensory engagement. You feel the view. Perhaps your memory of the art collections
below, through which you just made your way, infiltrate your experience.
Your rainbow panorama sits on top of a house of condensed meanings – contested, defended,
undone, and re-enacted – of cultural intentions, historical realities, visions, and revisions.
Museums will always be vision machines.
Visions for now and forever.



Olafur Eliasson’s Masterpiece

Your rainbow panorama
opens in ARoS, Denmark

On Friday 27 May 2011, a unique work of art, Your rainbow panorama, will officially open on the roof of the ARoS museum of art in Denmark. As from Saturday 28 May at 10am, there will be public access to this work, which is a donation from Realdania.It is the world-famous Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who has created this permanent work of art in the form of a circular walkway 150 metres in extent and three metres wide made in glass in all the colours of the spectrum. The spectacular work of art has a diameter of 52 metres and is mounted on slender columns 3.5 metres above the roof surface of the museum.

Visitors to the museum will have access to this great work of art via stairs and lifts. They can take a stroll such as will delight the senses round this circular pathway, which will provide them with panoramic views of the surrounding city and Århus Bay. Beneath the “floating” work of art, the actual roof area and its c. 1500 square metres has been covered with wood, so the surface constitutes a unique recreational area and viewing platform for visitors to the museum fifty metres above street level.Your rainbow panorama will be visible from a great distance, and as you will see different colours according to where you are in the city, the work acts as a compass. At night, Your rainbow panorama is lit up from inside by spotlights embedded in the floor.

Olafur Eliasson describes the project in the following words:
“Your rainbow panorama enters into a dialogue with the existing architecture and reinforces what is assured beforehand, that is to say the view of the city. I have created a space which virtually erases the boundaries between inside and outside – where people become a little uncertain as to whether they have stepped into a work or into part of the museum. This uncertainty is important to me, as it encourages people to think and sense beyond the limits within which they are accustomed to moving”.Symbol of Aarhus

As a symbol representing art, the many-coloured halo hovers above the cubical building by schmidt/hammer/lassen architects and gives visual expression to the fact that the architectural concept of the ARoS building derives from Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: At the bottom the nine circles of Hell, the journey up from the Mount of Purgatory and finally, at the top, perfection in Paradise.

Subsequent to an international art competition in 2007, the task of transforming the roof of ARoS and completing the concept of the building was given to Olafur Eliasson. Among other things, the judges explained their choice of Your rainbow panorama by saying that this work would become a powerful identity-creating symbol for ARoS and the city of Aarhus and also a unique, artistic and architectonic landmark of international standing. The building of this extensive art project commenced in 2009, and summer 2010 saw the start of the installation of the now completed walkway. The work has cost 60 million kroner and has been financed by Realdania, while the cost of the roof terrace has been borne by Købmand Herman Sallings Fond. Aarhus Municipality is the authority responsible for the project.

Olafur Eliasson

The Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin. In 1995, he established the Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin, from where, with a staff of some 45 architects, craftsmen and technicians, he creates new dialogues between art and its surroundings. Eliasson’s practice is characterised by his constant examinations of the relationship between space, sensing and body, and many of his works start out from natural elements such as air, light, ice or water. He trained in the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in 1995 and achieved his international breakthrough with the exhibition The Weather Project in Tate Modern in 2003. Eliasson has carried out various projects in the public arena, including Green River, 1998, Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007, London, designed together with the Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, and The New York City Waterfalls in 2008. As a professor in the Universität der Künste Berlin, Eliasson founded a school called Institut für Raumexperimente in 2009.


To mark the opening of Your rainbow panorama, and with support from Realdania, ARoS is to publish a richly illustrated book on the project. Among its contents is an interview on the subject of this work with Olafur Eliasson together with a piece on it written by Professor Carsten Thau of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture and photographs recording the building process and the finished work. This book can be bought in the ARoS Shop after the opening ceremony.

Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson
photo © Olafur Eliasson

and from

‘your rainbow panorama’ by olafur eliasson, århus, denmark
image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

olafur eliasson‘s highly anticipated new installation ‘your rainbow panorama’ is now complete. set to open on may 28th,
the permanent elevated structure provides a 360º view of the city of århus, denmark. suspended between the city and the sky,
the viewing platform insists on the sensory engagement of those who enter it.

as designboom previously reported here and here, the continuously circular pathway sits on top of and proportionality
compliments the ARoS museum of art, designed by schmidt hammer lassen in 2007. measuring 150 meters around,
the transparent glass unit is designed to act as a visual compass for the city, its colors marking the physical location of
each visitor.

view from street
image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson

representing every color in the spectrum, the design looks to enter into a cohesive dialogue between the exiting architecture
and the surrounding city. virtually erasing the boundaries between indoors and out, the encompassing environment aims to
question the comfortable limits for which people are accustomed to moving.

image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

enveloped in the rainbow-like atmosphere, the user produces afterimages in hues complimentary to the colors that
surround them, altering and defining the perception of the city that lies below.

workers finish off the final details
image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

warm spectrum
image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

(left) inside viewing platform
(right) overall structure
images courtesy of 
ARoS / © ole hein pedersen

image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

(left) aerial view
(right) view from park

images courtesy of 
aros / © ole hein pedersen

the viewing deck sits above the low-lying structures within the city
image courtesy of studio olafur eliasson 

night view
image © ole hein pedersen

June 5, 2011

Diesel Headquarters | Studio Ricatti

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Aerodata

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

plan 01 plan 01

plan 02 plan 02

plan 03 plan 03

elevations 01 elevations 01

elevations 01 elevations 01

section 01 section 01

section 02 section 02

axiometric axiometric

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Aerodata

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Diesel Headquarters / Studio Ricatti © Daniele Domenicali

Architects: Studio Ricatti – Pierpaolo Ricatti
Collaborators: Marco Chilese (Project Manager), Laura Canazza, Giulia Gallo, Anna Griggio, Paolo Omodei Salè, Diego Rossi, Marco Saterini
Engineering: Jacobs Italia SpA
Project area: 87,000 sqm
Photographs: Daniele Domenicali, Aerodata (aerial views)

The new Diesel Headquarters was built on the grounds of a former industrial site, thereby renovating a 90,000 square-meter plot of land that had been allocated to a local engineering industrial facility. The complex essentially comprises five main building units: corporate offices, warehouse/museum facilities, an auditorium, a nursery, and a central utilities operation/monitoring and security services facility.

The general layout of the entire building complex was influenced by the shape and size of the grounds, the urban and construction official regulatory requirements, as well as input data. The road that extends southwards from the main provincial road that runs along the east perimeter of the property dictated its orientation on the site. Vehicle and pedestrian entrances are located along this axis. The central entrance delineates a north-south directional corridor that divides the two main corporate organizational areas: the west side includes the warehouses and loading bay areas; the east side houses corporate offices, although the second and third floor levels partially extend above the warehouse facilities with two suspension bridges on the north and south ends.

The new headquarters not only successfully reflects functional requirements, but also responds to important environmental considerations, which include precise, rural spatial regulations concerning its surroundings as well as new site-specific provisions and stipulations: warehouses, detached houses, vegetable patches, gardens and infrastructure facilities. The territorial land use design reflects features of both the city and the countryside, two worlds that seemingly contradict, yet attract each other at the same time. This notion motivated the design team to find solutions that expressed the specific nature of a landscape society which, in the case of this project, translated into emphasizing a sense of well-being and creating optimum living/working conditions. The environmental conditions were, therefore, deliberately confronted and incorporated, and the project emphasizes its “urban nature” through a complex articulation of autonomous spaces that are nevertheless interrelated.

The project takes advantage of the existing morphological features. This approach permitted maximum gains in vertical elevation that comply with the maximum uniform heights allowed by existing urban parameters and codes, and the development of varied nuances in the landscape design of exterior areas: interior courtyards that function as community areas, creative meeting points and relaxation areas; defined, ‘soft’ thresholds between indoors and outdoors that ensure panoramic views for employees but restrict the inward view from outside; sports fields and recreational facilities integrated into the layout; a strong emphasis on plant variety that creates specific sensations in different areas; and hanging gardens that offer contemplative views and ecologically sensitive comfort to the buildings.

The volumes are simple, box-like modules that incorporate the “maximum program requirements with a minimum of architecture”.