A newly designed Rinascente department store in Palermo
In Via Roma on the corner with Piazza San Domenico, just a short way from the Vucciria market, a completely renovated historic building recently became the new home of the ultra-modern La Rinascente department store. This development marks a return to Palermo in grand style for the brand, which had been absent since March 2009 when the old and now obsolete store in Via Ruggero Settimo was closed down. The overall renovation project was assigned to Flavio Albanese’s practice Studio Asa. As regards the external structure, two different approaches were adopted, both of which showed respect for the historical fabric. One involved the conservative restoration of the eighteenth century Baroque facade of Palazzo Montalbano facing onto Piazza San Domenico. The other concerned the cladding of the less prestigious part of the building overlooking Via Roma (built in the 1960s), which uses LEDs and opalescent glass to allow a glimpse of the underlying pre-existing structure. It is a kind of general make-over aimed at painlessly bringing together past and present. But it also represents a further successful attempt to distance itself from the surrounding architectural landscape. In the night view, the illuminated new structure takes on the appearance of an alien beacon. Inside, the 4,065 square metres of retail space are spread over five floors with a similar layout to that of the Rinascente in Piazza Duomo in Milan. And here too, the organisation of the interiors is the result of a joint project conducted by a group of well-established architectural practices. Flavio Albanese was also commissioned to design the ground floor, devoted to beauty. It features grey porcelain on the floor, black and white gloss and semi gloss lacquered wood for the furnishings and a myriad of LEDs on the ceiling. On the first floor where the menswear collections are located, the practice Dordoni Architetti drew inspiration from the “public square” concept already adopted in the store in Piazza Duomo in Milan, featuring full-height natural laminate portals and brand stores around the perimeter. A further key feature is the floor, consisting of porcelain tile from Ceramica Sant’Agostino’s “I Basalti” series. On the second floor, devoted to women’s fashion, Vincent Van Duysen has opted for rigour and simplicity while exploiting the contrasts between Carrara marble finishings, rough wood floors and a metallic fabric ceiling. The third floor (home, design and lifestyle) is the work of the practice Cibic & Partners. Neutral colours are used to highlight objects, benches and tables made of polished and brushed steel. The lime green shelves around the walls provide a hint of movement. The fourth and fifth floors devoted to relaxation and catering were also designed by Flavio Albanese. Instead of escalators, access to the floors is provided by an unexpected and almost baroque spiral staircase, white on the outside and bright red on the inside, that invites customers to climb up to a series of terraces built at different heights.