Living in the Blu
Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia AF517
“Dialogue as a design tool” is the mantra guiding the work of architect Alfonso Femia, who has been present on the international design scene for 25 years and has always been convinced that it is only participatory, relational architecture that can truly improve quality of life and generate new ideas.
The 12,000 square metres of residential buildings in the Lambrate former industrial area in the east of Milan, perfectly sum up Femia’s objective: to combine the collective aspects of an urban space – complete with services and infrastructures – with the personal dimension of its inhabitants. At the same time, the context shapes the project and gives the area a new but still coherent identity.
?Living in the Blu, the name of the residential complex that combines owner-occupied housing with forms of co-housing, started out from the redevelopment of a section of the city. The location is the Lambrate district, an important Milanese manufacturing area (home to the Innocenti and De Tomaso factories where the iconic Lambretta scooters and Mini cars were produced) which over time has lost its economic vigour and become a symbol of social and environmental decay.
“We started out here with the aim of transforming an abandoned site into a living space,” explains the architect, who together with the Atelier’s Femia team (the firm has three branches in Genoa, Milan and Paris) focused on creating architecture with simple volumes capable of interacting with the neighbourhood, the city and the urban landscape.
The development consists of two buildings, each nine storeys in height, with an L-shaped layout embracing an open plaza facing onto the city. The concept of shared spaces is further emphasised by the fact that the central volumes of the residential complex stand on stilts, creating a wider visual perspective while at the same time allowing pedestrians and bicycles to circulate freely. At the same time, this permeability of flows allows the square to be connected directly to the park running along two sides of the buildings and encourages residents to make use the green areas. The ground floor also houses spaces for shared activities and amenities, including a multifunctional room, a laundry room and a hobby area. Last but not least, the underground car park frees the communal areas and the plaza from cars and converts the neighbourhood into a green mobility zone for bicycles and pedestrians.
The massing and typology of the individual apartments also facilitate interaction with the outside world. Large terraces and loggias allow green spaces to penetrate into the interiors, while full-height windows further accentuate the sense of permeability between inside and out.
But the truly unique aspect of the project by Atelier’s Femia lies in the choice of façade cladding materials. The two buildings are composed and decomposed in a continuous dialogue with the materials (an alternation of wood, ceramics and plaster), creating a sequence of colours with exceptional visual appeal. Porcelain stoneware plays a particularly strategic role. Large butt-jointed slabs cover the inward-facing façade of the two buildings, transforming the central plaza into a kind of iridescent blue space (hence the name of the residential complex). The chosen collection, Diamant R20 Boa from Casalgrande Padana, stands out for its bright colour, further enhanced by the “diamond cut” effect of the ceramic surface. The façades acquire a unique sense of three-dimensionality in which the light reverberates in myriad reflections according to the season and the time of day.
Casalgrande Padana, Diamante Boa
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): < 0,1%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): UA
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): ≤ 150 mm3
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): conforme
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): conforme
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): > 45 N/mm2
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): garantita
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): conforme
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): conforme
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): conforme