The impressive 4-storey Fornace Morandi, lying on the northern outskirts of Padua, extends lengthwise to accommodate the brick kiln. The basic late 19th-century structure is an outstanding example of industrial architecture. However, the end of production brought with it the inevitable deterioration of the some of the façades, especially the northern one, and a number of other elements. Yet, overall, the main façades remained in remarkably good shape, notably the clearly visible pitches on the western wing and the chamfer edge that defines the southern wing. On the southern side, the rhythmic partitions created by the brick pilasters, the neatly aligned windows, the ground-floor barrel vaults and the high-rise smokestack are all original elements, with the latter an essential aspect for preserving the image and structure of the old kiln.
The regeneration project was largely conservative in outlook, seeking to fill in gaps with old bricks and carefully blending in new elements of contemporary architecture. The great success of the project is how the building fits together as a whole, both on a symbolic level and in terms of the materials. The delicate way new functions have been introduced links perfectly with the plant's history and transforms it into a monument to architectural and industrial production skills. The way the architectural and historical values have been maintained renders the decision to keep the name - Fornace Morandi - fitting, despite the functional regeneration. Indeed, this choice seems to be deliberately underscored by the building's sign, where a metal board is the backdrop for seemingly cut-out letters that one can re-organise and re-place, mentally.
Visually, one is so drawn into looking closely at the old technical elements - the production site, the smokestack and the kiln - that it becomes almost a tactile sensation. Internally, the addition of architectural elements that add quality - notably the complex formation of the stairs - along with a carefully chosen selection of materials - steel, zinc-titanium sheets, wood, glass - help create links between the old brickwork and the new additions. The space outside the southern section of the building not only acts as an area to rest and an entrance, but also as a zone for highlighting various elements, notably the Lessinia stone tiles, with their delicate colour variations. Here, the placement of a pedestal, with three steps, doubles as a bench and, combined with the flow of the water alongside and the sections of lawn, almost guides one into the building. The transport links - including the motorways and a high-speed tram connection - help make Fornace Morandi a good spot for locating businesses, services and restaurants. The various functional units are split across the different levels of the building and form a cultural and restaurant hub around the old kiln.
Some of the choices arose from sections of the building having fallen down. For example, on the northern side, a two-storey structure with a terrace roof and a glass façade were added and is now overlaid with zinc-titanium slats. A rather irregular structure on the eastern side houses offices and leads to the main entrance with a low portico. Here, the existing industrial structures have been elaborated on, recreating a double-pitched roof with tiles and brickwork pillars as well as large glass sections, with coated aluminium doors and windows. At the height of the central roof, the design has included a long, straight open gap, allowing space for a second-floor area with an internal garden. There is also a practical side to this structure, creating walkways allowing access to various points of the building. This "garden of the past" enables one to see the old brickwork pillars close up, while also framing the smokestack, the true monumental element. The gap in the roof also provides better air circulation and lighting for the offices that would otherwise be penalised by the depth of the building.
The regeneration work also added an internal area, rising the height of two floors on the northern side, that can be used to display sculptures. This addition also provides space for the staircase near the eastern entrance and helps one take in the vertical component of the building. The steel staircase, with its hefty structural elements and glass parapet, rises the full height of the structure, almost up to the ceiling, and is flanked by two lifts. All in all, this is a complex and elegant building to explore and understand. It is highly expressive and genuinely conserves the real strength of the regenerated plant.
Text written by Francesco Pagliari architect