Communion, Sharing, Contemporaneity
Giulio Barazzetta - SBG Architetti
When embarking on the project to restore the architectural complex of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, better known as the “Church of Glass”, in Baranzate (Milan), the architects commissioned to carry out the renovation project faced a tough intellectual and architectural challenge. This was in part facilitated by the fact that the work was to be based on a restoration project proposed by the original architects, an unusual situation that revolutionised the concept of “restoration”.
Originally designed by Angelo Mangiarotti, Bruno Morassutti and Aldo Favini and completed in 1958, the church was a major achievement of industrial architecture that made pioneering use of prefabricated structures and iron and glass facades, and was recently granted listed monument status. “This vision of restoration explores the difference between real and realistic, but at the same time relates to the materials used and the construction itself,” explained Giulio Barazzetta from SBG Architetti, the practice commissioned to carry out the renovation project. “What was left of the materials of the original building marked the starting point for this work. Although new materials were used to restore the building, every effort was made to maintain its original appearance and image. We looked for qualities that would be as close as possible to those sought right from the start of the project back in 1956.”
Honoured with a special mention in the “institutional urban design” category in the competition “Ceramics and Design” and garnering second prize in the category “Public buildings and services” in the Casalgrande Padana Grand Prix 2013-2015 competition, the project is discussed in a book in the Electa Architettura series, in the preface of which Rafael Moneo argues that the Church of Glass “comes close, at least in its intention, to a Greek temple”, perfect in its forms and in the use of technical knowledge.
In keeping with strict conservation principles, the restoration project focused above all on replacing parts and elements while integrating the existing structure with new-generation plant and utilities, which were routed through the newly consolidated and insulated attic and crawl space. Maximum attention was given to environmental aspects and the use of energy-efficient technologies, including geothermal power and triple-glazed windows. The lighting is controlled by automated, wireless systems, while new spaces were created in the previously unused basement crypt. Every effort was made to find materials that would entirely recreate the appearance of the original building. In particular, the steel and glass façade was completely rebuilt with internal layers that reproduce the external appearance, transparency and plays of light of the original façades containing insulating polystyrene.
The Casalgrande Padana porcelain tiles (Gres Plus, Cotto Ramato) chosen for the floor covering reproduce the original brick red terracotta tiles in terms of their size (14×28 cm), morphology, surface texture and above all colour, their heterogeneous tones balancing the dominant blue-green hue of the light filtering in through the facade. As Giulio Barazzetta explained, this choice reflected the “philological” restoration approach adopted for the entire project: “The use of a contemporary material is particularly suited to the exemplary concision of the building and the spirit of innovation of its original creators.”
Casalgrande padana, Gresplus line, Cotto Cerato
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): < 0,10%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): 50÷60 N/mm2
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant