The new headquarters of iGuzzini Illuminazione in Sant Cugat del Vallès, near Barcelona, emerges from the
ground like a balloon seeking the sky. The project is a radical intervention sandwiched between the
Montserrat highway and Avenida de la Generalitat. In a place where traffic surrounds everything, the building
is characterized by its lightness, which is a perfect metaphor for a company that produces one of the world's
most innovative lightning systems.
Sant Cugat is a very important city nearby Barcelona, its pedestrian streets, historic heritage and natural landscape makes it a quite visited city and also a good location for industrial parks in the surroundings. The building has been finished in a difficult sociopolitical and economical moment in Barcelona and because of that, it has the responsibility of creating a dialogue that represents the need of new and innovative architectural projects, far away of the simple spectacle of unnecessary developments, but to urge the need of keep working and investing to revitalize this peripheral areas, reinforcing the idea that architecture is helpful to create new healthy urban landscapes.
iGuzzini has dedicated part of its research to issues related to architecture and construction, creating a global network of buildings with a sustainable approach, of which this headquarters is the latest example. The glass sphere designed by Josep Miàs is a structural challenge inspired by the architecture of Ivan Leonidov, as the architect points out. But one is also reminded of the work of Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto. It is worth pointing out that a buildings like this is in conflict with our concept of temporality, as it represents a reinterpretation of old ideas developed with new technologies. The immanent presence of Leonidov's projects such as the Palace Proletarian Cultural District (1930) or the widely known Lenin Institute and Library (1927) has been revisited by Miàs using highly advanced structural systems to create a powerful visual presence in the site, while at the same time it integrates the architectural concept of iGuzzini's approach, regarding research and innovation.
In this context, the building was designed with two main bodies. The first is a traditional space for storage, parking, a showroom and an auditorium, all housed inside a dark underground floor surrounded by concrete structures. The second body, on the other hand, is a spherical shell designed with a specific technical focus on energy-saving systems. Solar protection is provided by fabric cloak stretched across a three-dimensional metallic structure that envelops the glass façade. The sphere's structural design is based on a central pillar with a trestle formation that supports the whole building. Radical architecture for radical times?
The inner spaces are mostly white, creating the perfect scenario for the potential of light, where selected materials become transfigured into canvas to be painted with light on the showrooms located underground. The building has a total of 9,000 square metres and the external atrium above the parking and auditorium can be used during summer as an outdoor showroom, with great views of the exoskeleton and the fabric façade, creating a microenvironment where visitors can easily forget the noise and traffic that surrounds the site.
This kind of spherical shape has found rather different representations in science fiction, from Star Wars to
Buckminster Fuller's pavilion for the Montreal Expo in 1967 and some other recent architectural projects as
OMA's proposal for Waterfront City in Dubai. But Miàs's approach to the spherical form goes further.
It has an structural and architectural motivation: not only does form follow function in this building, but it also follows dreams. It is a readjustment of the crisis that the architectural scene is going through, a manifesto to communicate the importance of human aspirations.
Due to the building's location, we can even talk about an "utopian enclave", a scenario of potentiality for this area, where spaces full of voids between roads used to be "wasteland", and now can find new meanings. That's why Josep Miàs refers to his building as "il cielo iGuzzini". People who work there remark the quality of indoor spaces. Far away from the cult of the form, the structure allows a big atrium around a shared central court, with offices and research facilities that have natural light coming simultaneously from the central void and from the façade, in their own words, "describing the conditions of light, natural and artificial."
Paraphrasing Hardt and Negri in their book Commonwealth, the issue is not what the building is, but rather what the building is in the process of becoming. It could be a catalyst for a new kind of architecture on the urban landscape of Sant Cugat, or simply the node that every industrial park needs to abandon the idea of peripheral architecture as a form of territorial colonization and once more become part of the city. Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona)