Carlo Margini e Francesca Fava (Lapis Architetture)
The province of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy can boast a long tradition of social planning projects, some of which have unusual stories to tell. One example is that of Albinea, a small town with just over 8,000 inhabitants that decided to build a multifunctional facility for the elderly called Albinea Casa Insieme. Officially opened in October 2014, this community-based project stemmed from the need to offer the elderly a service that was previously unavailable within the municipal area, an assisted care facility that would enable users to maintain their ties with their roots and family. In an impressive show of solidarity, the entire local community – together with businesses and the voluntary sector – rallied to complete the work by contributing to its funding in various ways. One initiative involved purchasing ownership shares (100 euros for a symbolic brick) in Albinea Casa Insieme, the special-purpose company set up jointly by the town council and parish of Albinea – a modern-day partnership that brings to mind Giovannino Guareschi’s tales of Don Camillo and Peppone! The new complex, consisting of a nursing home and apartments, was designed by Carlo Margini and Francesca Fava from Lapis Architetture, the Reggio Emilia-based practice which also directed the work. The structure is integrated with the adjacent Cervi Day Care Centre, which has been running for more than ten years, and extends over a total area of about 2,300 square metres, consisting of two above-ground floors plus a basement for services.
The nursing home, which can accommodate 30 residents in 10 single and 10 double rooms, is located on the ground floor, while the upper floor is occupied by apartments of various types and sizes (mini apartments with single beds, apartments with double rooms and apartments with one double and one single room to accommodate a total of 23 people). The spatial layout assigns equal value to the various areas, each of which has an independent entrance and is served by a staircase, lift and stretcher lift to facilitate socialisation and foster interpersonal relationships. All the areas are connected by horizontal routes to a central common space, the hub of activities and meeting place which overlooks the garden, either directly or from a large first-floor balcony.
Neutral coloured ceramic tiles have been chosen for the interior floor and wall coverings.
The porcelain and white body tiles supplied by Arpa Ceramiche, a Reggio Emilia-based company that wanted to contribute to this participatory project, fully satisfied the functional requirements and enhance the sense of aesthetic continuity. Large format tiles from the Glow series are used predominantly in the common areas, the stairways, the corridors and the mini spa, while the Storm line is adopted in the large kitchen where guests’ meals are prepared, Mint in the bedrooms, Cortina and Desiré in the bathrooms, and Canyon for the outdoor paving.
One original feature of the project is the use of aromatherapy to diffuse perfumed scents in the common areas. “It’s like introducing an external green space into the interiors,” explained the architects. A focus on microclimate was one of the key architectural principles adhered to in the project, as a result of which the building boasts class A+ energy certification.
The layout of the spaces and the direction of orientation of the structure, together with the use of glazed façades and double-volume external solar shading on the eastern elevation, ensure optimal use of light and natural ventilation. The building is also designed to adapt to climatic conditions by managing temperature and humidity control in the interiors. The goal of energy saving is further promoted through the use of heating and air conditioning systems with a low environmental footprint. The complex is connected to the Cervi Day Care Centre by a covered walkway, and the two facilities share a large garden with plenty of paths and furniture.