Antonio Citterio and Partners establish new headquarters in the heart of Milan.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Who needs introduction to Antonio Citterio? This Milanese maestro has created buildings and interiors across three continents, and designed enough first-rate furnishings, lighting, and industrial products to constitute his own mini-Salone del Mobile. Citterio's name is linked with international industry leaders—B&B Italia, Vitra, Kartell, Flexform, Flos, Cerruti, Zegna, and Ungaro, among others—as well as numerous commercial and art-world clients. Established in 1972, his studio has seen several locations throughout Milan prior to its present site at Via Cerva 4. The five-story structure, including basement, is conveniently located in Centro Città on a narrow street just behind the Piazza San Babila. Although the building met Citterio's basic criteria, it still required comprehensive renovation.
"I started to search for something with a façade on the street, our own door, really our own place," Citterio says of the project's inception. "The location was not important but I was trying to stay close to my apartment. I like to walk to work, and the nearness gives me the opportunity to go home and have lunch from time to time." Through luck and persistence, Citterio found a suitable building. Unfortunately, it was in terrible condition. It also lacked sufficient space to accommodate the architect's various endeavors. For his staff of 35, he needed a separate open floor to house each of the firm's architecture, interior design, and industrial design components. He also needed an enclosed office conducive to private client meetings. And the studio required space for reception, administrative areas, meeting rooms, library, model lab, and archives. To make the building viable, Citterio realized that he would have to supplement the existing basement with two additional levels below grade. Completed, the eight-level structure would encompass 13,000 sq. ft.
Subsequent activity concerned creating a new façade, rebuilding each floor (within the confines of slab-to-slab configurations), devising a suitably dramatic entry sequence, and developing a cohesive design vocabulary to pervade the interior. Through it all, Citterio adhered to long-held principles of eminently rational and restrained architecture. He has practiced in this mode from his earliest days. "I do simple architecture because I've always done it," he says. "I can't change now because it's become commonplace."
Announcing the studio's presence to the street while allowing light to infiltrate the interior, the public face of Citterio's solution consists of a transparent metal-and-glass storefront seemingly carved away from a surrounding stone framework that is also part of the renovation. The expansive fenestration was created on a grid independent of the building's internal structure. "It plays a role on the street scene," Citterio comments.
Entry is marked by a ramp leading from the front portal to the reception desk, positioned about two-thirds of the way into the ground-floor space that also houses administrative areas. For the successive trio of floors designated as architecture and design workplaces, the program was driven by the need to maximize storage and flexibility as well as accommodate semi-private spaces for senior-level personnel. Most architects and designers, therefore, work face to face at ten-ft.-long tables (from Citterio's Ad-hoc system for Vitra) aligned on the building's axis. Semi-private enclosures for project managers, meeting spaces, and archives are articulated with poplar panels and aluminum supports. They run parallel to the hub along one elevation, while support services and built-in cabinetry, fronted by sliding wood panels, are arrayed along the opposite face.
"We decided to stay in a very quiet gamma of colors and natural woods," Citterio says of the consistent scheme. In addition to the pale poplar, which is used also for cabinetry, the materials palette consists of light oak and cream-colored Aurisina Roman stone for flooring, white-painted drywall, and sandblasted glass for meeting rooms. Citterio's own office, a far cry from the original attic, continues in a similar subdued vein, but "it is more like a room in a house than a manager's office," adds the architect. The presence of a small kitchen and a terrace enhance the residential quality of the office. "This project is realized with simplicity," Citterio comments. "I rely on good traditional materials without strange and magical effects, and I use space as a resource to exploit rather than as a demonstration of power."
Citterio shares credit with Gianluca Tronconi and Patricia Viel.