Kengo Kuma: “In Milan we’ll show a new post-pandemic way of working”

Together with Yuki Ikeguchi and Stefano Mancuso, the Japanese architect has outlined a portrait of the new biophilic office currently rising from the ashes of the former Rizzoli buildings in Crescenzago.

A response to a dimension of work confined to closed spaces, in no way comfortable or healthy, “an integration with nature that seeks, in Milan, to give a of a sense of harmony and peacefulness”.

Kengo Kuma is adding new details to the portrait of Welcome.Feeling at work, the biophilic office project we announced in the past months, which will transform the former Rizzoli buildings in Crescenzago, near Parco Lambro. New lifestyles, the reform of a working life that can remain urban and become creative again, as Yuki Ikeguchi of Kengo Kuma and Associates, the Welcome project manager, has chosen to describe it: a great exercise in that “learning from the pandemic” new lessons on the needs of contemporary work, something that has been as largely invoked as it has been disregarded so far.

As of now, the project looms as an opportunity for study as well as experimentation. Europa Risorse SGR – the company promoting Welcome – has in fact taken this opportunity to contextualise it in the data landscape collected by “I nuovi luoghi di lavoro”, the Nomisma observatory focusing on the new requirements for the psychophysical well-being of working environments. The research, conducted on the Milan area, has confirmed how a very high desirability is attributed by workers and companies to the capacity of spaces to promote the physical and mental health of the occupants, while ensuring a connection with the other spheres of the living realm.

Welcome aims to give a concrete answer to this demand by investing in biophilic design – an integration of the human and environmental dimensions – creating positive effects both for the work – labour and profit – and for the environment: an approach encompassing both physical components and others that are less tangible, more linked to than experiential dimension.

Hardware first and foremost: spaces and materials, on which KKAA’s work has expressed the most of its potential: The structure is redesigned in such a way as to characterise the work spaces as much as possible with a dynamic of interior-exterior/exterior-interior exchange, connecting such spaces with nature at the architectural scale – of volumes studded with vegetation in terraces and hanging gardens accessible from the offices – the urban scale – where the building slopes down from the surrounding vertical masses towards a green square leading to the nature of Parco Lambro – and a territorial scale, with the creation of elevated observation points opening towards the widest views. The pervasive presence of wood and the openness to natural light uniformly flooding the rooms will combine to enhance such effect of unity with nature. 

It is not just about perception, however: vegetation plays an active, material role in this biophilic design framework, and the contribution of botanist Stefano Mancuso was crucial in integrating it into the architecture, in the form of aerial phyto-purification devices such as the Fabbrica dell’Aria (the Air Factory), and the ubiquitous arrangement of plants in the building: as Mancuso himself has stated, “great results can be achieved simply by using and introducing plants into the very places of urban life. My idea of the city of the future is this: a city in which every surface is covered with plants”.

Moreover, this is an approach whose performance, both environmental and general, is to be quantified and communicated from the very outset: for Welcome, an annual saving of 2.5 million euros on the total 10,000 square metres (over a 10-year horizon) is to be envisioned, more specifically 14 euros per square metre per year in terms of energy savings. On a base rent of 350 eu/sqm per year, it was calculated that the general annual savings would then amount to 35 euro per square metre.

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