In 2007, Microsoft Italia chose to establish its headquarters in a rural landscape characterized by the seasonally shifting patterns of agricultural production. This would be setting for a new way of working.
We focused on this condition of agricultural fringe, recognizing it as an opportunity to create a transition. Our interest in designing the project was to create a meeting point between two technologies: that associated with working the fields, and that relating to working with computers. They are two realms of technology that develop in parallel and in a compatible manner, with neither prevailing over the other. The project is located on the flat terrain of the Padana plain south of Milan. The area is characterized by a broad horizon and patterns of fields, tree rows, canals, and spring-field irrigation channels. Tree rows create broad agricultural "chambers" that extend beyond the limits of individual landholdings and encompass spaces larger than those traced out by the road network.
The new Microsoft Italia Campus is located in one of these chambers. Our proposal starts from the existing structures and comprises a process of stitching together two fabrics, joining the purity of the architectural volumes to the broad landscape extending outward from them. The project responds, on the one hand, to the client's need to provide a new means of access to buildings that have already been planned, and on the other, to the features of the broader agricultural landscape. The lines of the project are drawn from the characteristic lines of the cultivated land. The project site is sort of no-man's land, a place where we have full liberty to work. The lines in the landscape reflect the work in the fields. Their parallel rhythm seems repeated ad infinitum while also deforming in characteristic ways as it approaches and surrounds farm buildings and isolated trees, creating an intermediate landscape.
The project extends this agricultural landscape in among the buildings on the Campus, bringing these two realms together in relationship, filling the gap between two realities that were previously completely unconnected.
There is no hierarchy among the lines, they are all interchangeable, new ones can always be added, others can be removed. The project moves in a field that is both ambiguous and clearly defined at the same time. This idea not only allowed the fortuitous to be conceptually incorporated into the structures, but also opened up the possibility of enacting continual surface modifications. The lines, which in principle are not relevant figures, guide a transition from the geometry of the modules composing the existing buildings. Extending in a more or less parallel manner, the lines offer the possibility of shifting the surface of reality. The furrows in the fields approach the built environment and rise up in all their power and intensity into a landscape suspended over the entry path. They stretch out to embrace the building volumes, inventing a vertical landscape that climbs up the glass façades. People entering or leaving the buildings are sheltered from the sun or rain by a series of pergolas: "shade pergolas" composed of metal lines and parallel tubes at different heights, and a single "rain pergola" made of glass and metal and running at a lower height closer to pedestrians. A sort of promenade, this structure seeks to bring the parallel façades closer to one another. The origin of this light and airy structure is not clear. Does it grow out of the tree rows or from de building façades? The expanse of the brise-soleil, which detach from the vertical plane to convert into a horizontal one, is an invitation to leave the building and take a stroll on the campus. Aeration and illumination cones for the underground parking structure punctuate the intermediate, creased landscape between the agricultural plain and the glass volumes. Like the lines of furrow-combed field, the paths through the dunes above the parking structure guide secluded strolls and etch out spaces to sit and work. The new green volumes of the daycare centre for 60 children project themselves against the stand of trees announcing the Gambarone spring. they mediate the transition to the irregular landscape of the fields. The two new buildings enclose a courtyard where children can play, like a fragment of a field connected to the endless tree rows of the agricultural chambers.
The swath between the offices and the fields is now filled with activity and a new intensity. The activity on either side of this band is projected out of the buildings and into the landscape. Working with your computer in the gardens or under the pergolas, or playing under the trees in the woods is now the same as working on a tractor in a field. The two realms, parts of the same landscape, share and cohabitate the swath. when we are under that transitional space of the pergola, we will ask ourselves once again: to which world does it belong? The shadows of the metal lines are like a plowed field in winter, where different situations come into being and the important thing is to design a dialogue.