Sit-down with DAP Studio
interview Alessandro Calabrese, photo Barbara Corsico
DAP Studio is the architectural firm that was involved in
the regeneration of urban areas, now housing the Uffici Sempla. In the process of the transformation of the areas which have become part of the underground culture, at which time does the role of the architect come into play in this re-evaluation process? Do you recognize the underground culture that’s credited with having given rise to this process?
The underground culture is undoubtedly an important cog in the process of gentrification, which is the transformation of the historical real estate that has either been decommissioned or abandoned. The moment these areas are subjected to restoration and urban improvement, new inhabitants tend to pour in. Before this process can even begin, the “urban ruins” always offer subcultures space and stimulation, precisely because they are emblematic places, now outside the economic life of the city, free from programs. Here they can express themselves by producing added value and making it circulate through the city. The underground culture should then definitely be recognized, or perhaps more properly the work of the individuals that arise from this culture, giving them credit for the appropriation of the depressed areas of the city, often triggering regeneration phenomena.
The architect’s role in this process can be decisive in the establishment and maintenance of the place’s identity. But the fate of an area is the result of many factors: the role of those that direct the transformation is fundamental. In order for this transformation to occur it’s not a simple operation for the benefit of only the real estate market. It needs a “visionary”, a figure who understands the importance of this identity, and allows designers the possibility to express it.
How much do the the Uffici Sempla represent Turin and its urban planning?
The Uffici Sempla (currently known as GFT Italy) occupy some abandoned industrial spaces that once were home to the CEAT (acronym for Cavi Elettrici e Affini Torino), a company specializing in the production of telephone and electric cables, founded in Turin in 1925 by Virginio Bruni Tedeschi. Then the CEAT specialized in the manufacturing of tires, which became the hallmark of the company’s production. The factories in Turin closed their doors between 1981 and 1982. The headquarters of the CEAT is a significant example of an urban production building, a complex of buildings built at different times, three and four floors above ground. The settlement is located in a strategic position: near the center of Turin, but in an already outside area, where the peculiarities of the center fade in favor of a renewed dynamism. The historical axis of Corso Regio Parco winds along the working- class neighborhood of Borgo Rossini offering a rich testimony of a productive past and a city linked to small industry. The building material is strongly characterized by the alternation of residential buildings and the now artifacts that were originally destined to be used for many various production activities. Some of them are abandoned and are currently in poor conditions but some timely recovery and reuse measures have already been undertaken by private entrepreneurs or public entities.
Regio Parco is a neighborhood that has seen the light in recent years, thanks to projects like yours, but what was it like the first time you saw it and inspected it?
It should be specified that our project was all about the interior, we were part of a larger renovation that affected the whole factory and had previously been given to other designers. So, during the first inspection, we found an industrial complex where the exterior had already been restored, and internally it had been divided into spaces to be allocated for the tertiary sector. The recovery of which was then subsequently managed independently and often by those who have settled into the space. We also visited some already renovated spaces, characterized by interventions that have often seemed indifferent to the buildings pre-existence. A lot of time these spaces for offices overlapped the old factory without establishing a dialogue with its past. The Sempla headquarters in Turin occupy about 700 square meters of an industrial space, ceilings which are 6 meters tall, large windows, beams and concrete pillars which visibly divide the space into three naves. What struck us was the space and the strength of this great empty container, which still had a resounding echo of a not so distant industrial past, readable even in plaster layers, the marks left on the walls, traces of past work done or marks left by time and neglect.
There is a great sense of respect for what is existing, how did you decide what parts to enhance and which to “hide”? Also, is there a way in which architecture can enhance what is hidden?
The design intent was to maintain the memory of the place, recovering the traces of the factory and it’s degradation in time, like the elements that give distinctiveness and uniqueness to space. The project has, therefore, kept those primary original characteristics that make the place recognizable as industrial archeology. The project plays on the relationship between industrial shell and the indications of something new, and this dialectic which directed the main design choices. The new features are contained in spaces which are freely arranged within the perimeter of the factory. The elements are white, in its pure form and with different heights, which organize the flow in a fluid and circular way. Just like in an urban setting the spaces are equipped with large windows, real windows that open up to the main factory space, bringing light into the rooms. The furnishings are characterized by simple lines and a uniformity of color and materials. White, on the ocher background of the factory, is the dominant color that identifies the newest interventions. The same goes for the lighting elements that are suspended white lines that overlap the rhythm of the ceiling beams. In this industrial setting, the building’s strength is alway perceivable: above all the new spaces, in fact, show the continuity of the factory structure without interruption and the spatiality of the building is not altered. The choice not to intervene on pre-existing surfaces, keeping the old plaster and the irregularity of the old paint, confirms the desire to emphasize the architectural identity of the original building. This contrast, within the space, is constant, silent, and marks the transition from the industrial world to the its now advanced services.
Do design, fashion, and more generally the visual arts in some way influence your projects?
Architecture can not compete with other disciplines that interpret the spirit of the time and that others know deal directly with the needs of man. The observation of creative products is certainly not aimed at the realization of a “fashionable product”, which responds in a epithelial manner to concrete needs. Look at a work by Castiglioni, or one by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, either one could tell an architect how to orient their design choices in a more profound and conscious way. In general we are interested
in a certain sensitivity to what Bourriaud calls relational aesthetics, which is the underlying theme in different disciplines and that certainly affects our way of making architecture.
A creative, like a composer, combines multiple languages, eg from fashion, design and music. How and when do you begin to realize that what your putting together starts to “sound good” together?
Going back to what I said before about how the sense of architecture lies in its relationship with its inhabitants and the environment that surrounds it. In the Uffici Sempla, for example, you feel the sensation of being in a miniature urban landscape, with open and closed spaces, social settings and private areas, where the organization is driven by more logical barriers than physical ones: this allows people to fuse with the place. while promoting integration and exchange. The dialectic between “old and new” is the constant element that becomes a visual reference. It builds the identity of the space and generates a sense of belonging. We can say that architecture begins to “sound good” when it itself becomes a place and it is as it should be perceived by those who benefit from it.