When it comes to the design of manufacturing warehouses, function often trumps form. In order to accommodate the equipment inside, the barn-like structures, typically steel and concrete, are hulking and Herculean, devoid of much (if any) charm. But a recently completed facility headquarters in Turin, Italy, bucks the expected vernacular by revealing that a softer side is possible for industrial architecture.
Designed by architecture firm ElasticoFarm on the campus of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, S-LAB is the new production complex for the machinery and precision instruments required by the research agency. “It’s an important building in an important location,” says studio co-founder Stefano Pujatti of the approximately 2,000-square-metre complex.
To express this significance in built form, the Italian architect and his team revisited a material they had used for a 2019 two-house project — reinforced concrete infill panels — which was itself informed by previous explorations. “Every project influences the next,” says Pujatti, whose firm focuses on finding new uses for familiar materials. Applying “known technology in a way that was interesting and unexpected” also allowed them to stay within the strict budget.
With the houses, monolithic volumes of concrete and granite were connected using a series of cuts (somewhat similar to tab and slot construction), which allowed them to carry some of the overall structural load.
Here, the panels are stacked in a more orderly fashion, with some extending beyond the perimeter to contribute to the vertical support; a structure behind the panels holds up the roof and provides additional reinforcement.
Manufactured by a local producer, the 69 panels share the same height (2.2 metres) and thickness (20 centimetres), but have lengths that vary from six to 10 metres. To give the rugged material a surprising elegance, the modules were each coloured using differing amounts of iron oxide (achieving consistent colouring with concrete was another technique the firm perfected with the aforementioned houses), resulting in five shades of pink that range from pastel to deep, rusty red.
To determine the slabs’ layout, the firm considered the positioning of the building on its landscape, which includes a nearby golf course and green park, and the interaction of natural light with the facade; the only restriction was that no two neighbouring panels could have the same colour. The subtle tonal shifts create a pleasing contrast to the other, more conventional grey buildings on the campus. “We wanted the building to complement rather than impose, to make a welcoming statement, not push people away,” says Pujatti.
Interspersed with translucent polycarbonate panels that let light inside, the end effect has a certain duality: It gives the building delicacy and helps communicate that it is not a public-access facility without appearing fortress-like. In short, the warehouse has become wonderful.