New IT Hub, University of Milan

Ceramic as the face of science

Milan University's New IT Hub and Service Centre, designed by Isolarchitetti, was the institutional category winner of the 2020 Ceramics and Design competition
Virginio Briatore
Bruno Cattani
Année de réalisation

In his award acceptance speech, Aimaro Isola – the distinguished architect born in 1928 – described the values and the material used in the project in a simple yet profound way. « Ceramic is not just the skin of the building, it is its face, » he said. « It is the face that expresses a person’s character, their mood, their intelligence. The exterior expresses what resides within: the soul. The ceramic face of the building not only announces what lies behind it, like a mask in a theatrical performance, but also creates an atmosphere. Those who enter not only look at a building but in turn feel observed by it. They forge a dialogue with its contents and become participants in the work that is done there. »
Professor Isola also noted that ceramic is an age-old material, born of earth and fire and widely used by populations all over the planet. It is a legendary material that has also become hyper-technological, durable and sustainable and is therefore ideal for use in a place devoted to research and science.
The area is part of the historic campus of Milan’s University and Polytechnic and consists of a collection of buildings whose style, form and layout bear witness to the passage of time, to construction techniques and to the changing needs of science and students. Behind these stratifications lie the beauty and uniqueness of a scattered university campus devoid of clearly defined perimeters and fences and considered a kind of neighbourhood. Commonly referred to as « Città Studi » (Study City), it is an outstanding example of the Italian tradition of universities coexisting with a living and ever-changing urban fabric.
The triangular shaped access area is crucial to the relationship between the entire Scientific Area complex and connects the three external roads that lead there, together with the various internal routes connecting the IT Hub with the Science Campus.
The project opens up a residual space that had been neglected for many years, creating a wedge-shaped plaza delineated by large metal screens that divide up the open spaces and alternate with the built volumes. The striking visual effect is achieved by the use of white painted expanded sheet metal cladding.
Entering the plaza one feels a sense of perspective and warmth, as though embraced by the bright, transparent library on the left and the tower-shaped building emerging from a paler coloured base. As architect Flavio Bruna explains: « The ceramic tiles are arranged in a chequerboard pattern and are fixed to the façade using micro-ventilation technology. The roofs of the base building are landscaped so that as you go up the tower from one floor to the next, you look out onto a surface that is not left to chance but instead is a green, living space. »
The building consists of a base section housing classrooms, study rooms and service areas on two levels and an eight-storey tower with offices and research laboratories. The ceramic tiles play a vital role in the project and consist of two collections from Casalgrande Padana: Pietre di Sardegna (in colours Porto Rotondo and Porto Cervo) and Pietre Etrusche (colour Tuscania), in 30×60 cm and 60×120 cm sizes.
Last but not least, the building is topped by a functional and aesthetically appealing roof reminiscent of a « flying carpet » which accommodates the technical spaces and photovoltaic panels.

Casalgrande Padana, Pietre di Sardegna e Pietre Etrusche
porcelain stoneware
30x60, 60x120 cm
Pietre di Sardegna: PortoRotondo and PortoCervo; Pietre Etrusche: Tuscania
Caractéristiques techniques
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): conforme
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): conforme
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): conforme
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): conforme
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): conforme
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): conforme
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