Architecture and morphogenesis
Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena
In his latest book Où est passé l’avenir? (What has become of the future?), French anthropologist Marc Augé, best known for his essays on non-places, argues that today’s great artists are architects, because more than any others their creations leave a lasting legacy. «It is they who shape the landscape that would be discovered by extraterrestrial tourists visiting our planet,» he commented in a recent interview with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. And amongst so many anonymous buildings, extraterrestrials would certainly feel curious when faced by the strange polychromatic volume of the «Stefano Ferrari» Regenerative Medicine Centre. This complex, promoted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia together with Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena, hosts a centre of world excellence in cultivation of stem cells for human tissue transplants.
In creating the project, the firm ZPZ Partners chose to convey an image of innovation and research through an external envelope that breaks away from the traditional mechanistic concept of technology and creates a friendlier but no less sophisticated interface, in short more «iPod» than «hi-tech». The end result may be reminiscent of the Jetsons of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, but in reality it is inspired by the mathematical formula for tissue morphogenesis, the arrangement of cells that determines the appearance of living beings.
The three floors of the building with a total surface area of around three thousand square metres are inspired by an almost obsessive sense of hygiene. Suffice it to think that the spatial layout was specifically designed to facilitate the sterilisation processes. In this respect, the choice of building and finishing materials had to meet strict acceptability requirements and ceramic tiles played a major role.
The curved walls underpinning the Centre’s iconic morphogenetic prism were covered using large-format Lam’Slab sheets in a snow white colour produced by Laminam, installed with precision thanks to the custom cutting service provided by the company. These monolithic elements measure three metres by one metre and have a nominal thickness of just 3.5 mm, including the glass fibre mat structural reinforcement applied to the back of the sheet. They are so flexible that they adapt perfectly to the curved surfaces, creating a continuous ceramic covering with a high-quality architectural finish while offering an excellent response to mechanical stresses.
Innovative Bios fully-vitrified through-bodied porcelain tiles with antibacterial properties produced by Casalgrande Padana were chosen for the coverings of the ground floor interior spaces and the service areas. This new generation of floor and wall coverings is the result of an exclusive production process in which mineral particles are added to the ceramic material to create a highly effective antibacterial action. The action persists over time and does not require light for activation. Furthermore, its beneficial effects are amplified in the presence of moisture which is normally conducive to the growth of bacteria. The patented product underwent stringent laboratory tests, documented and certified by the Department of Microbiology of the University of Modena, and proved highly effective in that it reduced the main bacterial strains present in the enclosed spaces by 99.9%.
The «Stefano Ferrari» Regenerative Medicine Centre was a sophisticated, difficult and highly demanding project, as well as a test bed and an outstanding credit for Italian ceramic materials.