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“Lightweight” Industrial Architecture: Bicocca Yesterday and Today

“A comfortable, pleasant, welcoming, and beautiful setting”, capable of seating 800 diners at a time, and serving up to six thousand meals a day. This is what was required of the architect Giulio Minoletti and the engineer Cesare Chiodi in 1955 for the new staff canteen at the Pirelli factory in Milan Bicocca, as we read in the Pirelli magazine article entitled Una mensa di fabbrica – “A Factory Canteen”. The designers got it absolutely right and the setting they created in 1957 was a perfect combination of beauty, functionality and comfort. The building is a sort of transparent box, with the inside divided into two bays. The lower one is for the kitchens and the distribution counter – with a self-service system introduced for the first time in Italy – and the higher, broader space is that of the large dining room, flooded with light from a glass wall that takes up the entire facade: “There is nothing but air and light, and almost no noise, between the ceiling and the hundreds of people walking around on the rubber floor between the red tables and the yellow chairs”, says Giuseppe Trevisani in the article.

It was around this time that a cooling tower, standing over forty metres tall, came into operation in the neighbourhood. By cooling the water, it supplied steam to the thermoelectric power plant, which was built after the war to make the Pirelli factory autonomous in terms of its energy supply. Over thirty years later, the tower that since 1950 had soared into the sky above Bicocca was completely re-imagined by the architect Vittorio Gregotti, who won the competition for the redevelopment of the area. The tower thus became the centre of the Group’s headquarters building, which now encloses it like a precious artefact in a display case. A ten-floor, 50 x 50 metre cube completely incorporates the tower, with offices on three sides and the fourth, as in the case of the canteen by Minoletti and Chiodi, closed by an enormous wall of glass that opens the building towards Bicocca and the city, from where the tower can be admired from the outside. The facade is the most prestigious and complex feature of the building, unlike anything in Italy: a 1,700-square-metre window, hooked to a steel beam at the top. Also the north and south sides, which contain most of the offices, are entirely glazed on the side that gives onto the internal courtyard and the tower, which is left free inside its “showcase” and which is accessed via overhead gangways.

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“A comfortable, pleasant, welcoming, and beautiful setting”, capable of seating 800 diners at a time, and serving up to six thousand meals a day. This is what was required of the architect Giulio Minoletti and the engineer Cesare Chiodi in 1955 for the new staff canteen at the Pirelli factory in Milan Bicocca, as we read in the Pirelli magazine article entitled Una mensa di fabbrica – “A Factory Canteen”. The designers got it absolutely right and the setting they created in 1957 was a perfect combination of beauty, functionality and comfort. The building is a sort of transparent box, with the inside divided into two bays. The lower one is for the kitchens and the distribution counter – with a self-service system introduced for the first time in Italy – and the higher, broader space is that of the large dining room, flooded with light from a glass wall that takes up the entire facade: “There is nothing but air and light, and almost no noise, between the ceiling and the hundreds of people walking around on the rubber floor between the red tables and the yellow chairs”, says Giuseppe Trevisani in the article.

It was around this time that a cooling tower, standing over forty metres tall, came into operation in the neighbourhood. By cooling the water, it supplied steam to the thermoelectric power plant, which was built after the war to make the Pirelli factory autonomous in terms of its energy supply. Over thirty years later, the tower that since 1950 had soared into the sky above Bicocca was completely re-imagined by the architect Vittorio Gregotti, who won the competition for the redevelopment of the area. The tower thus became the centre of the Group’s headquarters building, which now encloses it like a precious artefact in a display case. A ten-floor, 50 x 50 metre cube completely incorporates the tower, with offices on three sides and the fourth, as in the case of the canteen by Minoletti and Chiodi, closed by an enormous wall of glass that opens the building towards Bicocca and the city, from where the tower can be admired from the outside. The facade is the most prestigious and complex feature of the building, unlike anything in Italy: a 1,700-square-metre window, hooked to a steel beam at the top. Also the north and south sides, which contain most of the offices, are entirely glazed on the side that gives onto the internal courtyard and the tower, which is left free inside its “showcase” and which is accessed via overhead gangways.

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