In Italy – the land of fashion, glamour and general stylish living – the processing of durum wheat might not seem the most auspicious of starting points. But food is the Italian passion above all others, and it’s the reason these offices were built. Casillo, the client here, is one of the big players in producing carbs, and it needed a new headquarters. The result, which sits in the shadow of a giant grain silo, sure packs an architectural punch. The view of the entrance, from the bottom of a gently inclined, flagpole-lined slope, is more like that of a modern art gallery or library, giving emphasis to the cultural significance in Italy of Casillo’s product.
This confidence may in part lie with the experience of its creators, Rome-based architectural practice Alvisi Kirimoto and Partners. It was founded by Massimo Alvisi and Junko Kirimoto, who both have a decade’s worth of experience, working with the likes of Renzo Piano, Massimiliano Fuksas and Oscar Niemeyer.
Located in Corato near Bari, this site expands the production facilities for Casillo, and the offices beef up its image at the same time, courtesy of some seriously sleek interior design. The 4,500sq m building’s box-shaped volume has a simple exterior and a distinct vibrancy inside, featuring a colour palette of mainly orange and white. Alvisi Kirimoto and Partners came to the attention of the powers that be at Casillo after it had worked on Corato’s local theatre; this project, however, is less to do with the smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd than the sights, sounds and needs associated with a more industrial type of production. This project is as much about roadways for trucks and a control room for checking goods as it is about breakout areas and other concessions to the white-collar worker.
One of the building’s most striking features is the series of orange micro-perforated window-screening panels that stand out from the white external finish. Windows are pretty thin on the ground here and can mainly be found in the control room, where technicians can keep an eye on goods coming in and out. The orange panels are a source of extra ventilation and connection to the outside world. “Orange is going to become the corporate colour of Casillo, but I really used it to simulate the light at sunset in Puglia, and in particular cornfields at dusk,” says Massimo Alvisi. Aside from the pivoting panels, the interior design of this, large open-plan floorplate is deliberately calm with clear lines of sight, horizontally and vertically.
The building has three levels, with two floors resting above ground on a plinth, plus an underground parking level. The reception is a key part of this project, as Alvisi explains: “I wanted to give the impression of seeing the entire project, the activities that take place and the space – hence everything is transparent. From the reception, you can see the conference room, the main staircase, the workshop above and the meeting room.” Interestingly, Alvisi has not used colour, graphics or signage to differentiate the various areas of the space. Instead he explains how staff just need to look up to know where they are: “The workshops, the directors’ offices and the workstations are immediately recognisable by simply changing the ceiling solution.” The oak found on the suspended ceiling of the main office area and the conference room, along with certain areas of flooring, are the few parts of the project where the orange and white colour scheme is deviated from and gives the interiors some much-needed warmth.
One of the advantages of a location on the outskirts of the city, aside from the good communications to the main highway, is the luxury of space. There is 1,500sq m of landscaping surrounding the building, giving some pastoral relief to the industry going on all around. There is yet more greenery within the office itself. A large tree-studded internal courtyard lets light into even the darkest recesses of the workplace, thanks a profusion of glass. Alvisi says the courtyard acts a pivot, around which the rest of the building revolves.
Further illumination comes from the skylights of the lifts that serve the space. If all this was beginning to sound a bit linear, fear not, there’s a nice curvy contrast to be found. The stairs to the control room, which are mainly used by the truck drivers, plus a couple of access ramps, are carved out of the monolithic block of the building. The control room and the conference room are both conceived as glass containers that plug into the body of the rest of the building.
The office workers here have many different needs, says Alvisi: “They are often brainstorming, in a very open, team-based way. They do a lot of informatics research as well as meeting clients from all over Europe.” The conference room is well-used too: “They have a lot of communication regarding the production of flour and Casillo is also investing a lot in training.” In the underground section of the building, there is a canteen and rest area with another smaller courtyard, complete with olive trees.
“Extraordinary actions engender even more astonishing results,” says Alvisi on Casillo’s decision to go with something a little out of the ordinary. “This proposal is discreet yet capable of broadcasting its confidence to the industrial landscape.” Lexical flourish aside, he has a point: why opt for functionality when you can really go for it, architecturally speaking, especially when you have such a brilliantly blank canvas and a hulking great grain silo with which to establish a dialogue? This building might not stand out as much were it located in a metropolis where’s there’s far more competition for the visitor’s attention. But here, it stands alone, an architectural homage celebrating the milling of flour and semolina: the Italian “staff of life”.