The Camouflage Look: Pedagogical Centre in Italy

The new building designed by act_romegialli is impressive in its unusual working of the concrete surfaces. The wrinkled texture, developed by artist Velasco Vitali, seems to be a skin made of crumpled metal that has been laid over the gravel-like dividing walls. According to long-proven principles, these narrowly spaced dividers placed at right angles to the edge of the main space carry the weight of the roof construction and thus guarantee support-free interiors and the highest possible degree of versatility. Architects: act_romegialli, Luca Volpatti, in cooperation with Daniele Vanotti
Artist: Velasco Vitali
Location: Cosio Valtellino, Sondrio, Italy
Cosio Valtellino is a community of about 6,000 inhabitants in the extreme north of Lombardy. On the edge of the town, the new pedagogical centre forms a harmonious transition to the surrounding area, which is devoted to agriculture.
The client formulated the following goals: along with an office, classrooms and computer rooms, the new building was to have a small workshop, a large kitchen and a multipurpose space for diverse activities. A simple construction should provide versatile, large and open spaces. Furthermore, the architects were charged both with creating a bright, inviting atmosphere and with keeping costs as low as possible by using modular elements.
These challenges were realized by means of a simple supporting structure. The architects have connected three pavilions of equal size to create a single complex. Dividing walls were erected on a grid measuring 1.2 metres; via the horizontal sheets of concrete, these carry the burden of the roof construction. Placed at the edges of the building, these dividers guarantee support-free interior spaces 13 metres in length and thus provide a high degree of flexibility. The fact that the concrete components were prefabricated was a real time-saver.
The simplicity of the structure calls to mind the venerable architectural element known as the trilith: two vertical posts are connected via a horizontal architrave and thus reinforce each other. It is not necessary to connect these with other building components. In fact, it is the very system that has allowed Stonehenge to stand ever since the Stone Age.
The vertical dividers fulfil more than a static function. Their depth means that they offer sun protection for the adjoining spaces and form a frame for the wide, ceiling-high windows.
In order to give the concrete sheets a special look, the architects consulted their friend, artist Velasco Vitali. He was inspired to cover the concrete with silicone matrices as it was being poured. The result is a surface covered in wrinkles. From a distance, this creates the impression of crumpled metal. Only a second look solves the riddle of this material: concrete that looks like metal- a new creation.
The few materials used here were selected both consciously and carefully: concrete and wood are marvellously harmonious and form a close connection to the surrounding landscape. Larchwood, used for the flooring, doorways, window frames and fittings, warms the interior spaces. The ceilings are clad with sheets of composite wood shavings and cement. They contribute to soundproofing and conceal the electrical installations of the building.
With its simplicity of construction and sleek palette of materials, the pedagogical centre is a credible example of refined work with details.
Client: private
Period of construction: 2012-2013 More projects on this topic in DETAIL 6/2014 Concrete Construction.
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