Design: the other face of engineering

In the context of the Milan Fair “Lift 2010”, was held the first congress dedicated to the dialogue between the technological aspect and the esthetical aspect of the elevators. Elevators have acquired a primary importance in new architectural projects, while in Italy is starting also a debate on how to add elevators in ancient monuments…

«In the middle of such a square, will be a tower, built in my way»: thus wrote, in the middle of the 15th century, Filarete, the first great city planner of the Italian Renaissance. He referred to the tower whose reproduction (it has been re-built by Luca Beltrami at the end of the XIX century, based on the original plans by Filarete) today stands in the middle of the main front of the Sforza castle, the building which, together with the Cathedral, marks the gravitational centre of the city of Milan. Both the tower and the plan that organizes all the historical part of the city, have been designed precisely by Filarete. The quest for the vertical tension towards the sky is implicit in any architecture, ever since the time of the prehistoric piling, and always the most important buildings have been characterized – till our days – for being taller than the others. This is what architect Alberto Salvati recalled in his opening remarks at the congress “L’Ascensore… come?” (The Elevator…. how?), which took place at the Lift Fair (Milan, Nov. 17 to 20, 2010), while showing the Sforza castle tower displayed on the cover of the book “Trattato di Architettura” (Architecture Treaty) by Filarete, just re-published with a significant critical apparatus by Di Baio Editore.
When tall buildings started to be built, immediately arose the necessity of an instrument to overcome the rise, noted the President of the congress, engineer Matteo Volpe, Vice-president of IGV elevators and publisher of the magazine “Elevatori”, which sponsored the congress together with the magazine “L’Ascenore” (The Lift) published by Di Baio Editore.
«But today we are here met – said Volpe – because elevators were born as technical instruments, yet now it is increasingly evident the need to add to them a new aesthetical aspect. The aim of this congress is to find a way of harmony and continuity between the technical and aesthetic aspects».
Precisely for this reason Salvati held the first presentation: Salvati has been collaborating with IGV, with the aim of bringing the unlimited realm of art, within the limited space of the elevator car. At the Milan furniture fair held in April 2010, Salvati and IGV presented a new series of Domuslift elevators with polychrome art works, drawn from the experience of children’s drawings and labelled “a trip in a magical garden”.
The usage of polychromic drawings on the internal surfaces is one of the possible resorts aiming at transforming the car into an occasions for beauty: the key, explained Salvati «lays not in the search for market oriented answers, but in looking for a solution that harmonizes human the soul and sensitivity with technical functionality…. Colours cannot be separated from matter. They are matter: as we see the matter “stone” or the matter “wood”, I think of the matter “red” or the matter “yellow”. And, through these matters, the elevator car can become  magic box».
Architect Marzorati followed with a presentation of several projects of his, where the spatial relation between elevator and building appeared in the clearest way: this goes for shopping centres as well as for multiple cinemas, where the elevator has become the central axis of the design: «Once the elevators it were hidden, close to the pillars: now, in the newest plans, the elevators have become themselves the pillars of the projects. In places like the Multicinema Arcadia in Melzo (the first mega cinema-centre built in Italy) or in the commercial centres Le Porte Franche in Erbusco (Brescia) or Sarca, between Milan and Sesto S. Giovanni, the elevator structure is something like a transparent pillar that raises in the middle of the space, mediating the different levels and permitting those who enter, to immediately appreciate the verticality of the building, and allowing those who use the elevators to have a panoramic view all around».
This is a new concept of the elevator: not only a means to overcome the difference in height, but also an instrument that permits a new “knowledge” and a new “experience” of the building.
This concept was elaborated also by Leonardo Servadio, of the magazine “LAscensore”, who, in showing the most outstanding elevators published so far, pinpointed in particular the elevator placed in the year 2000 in the middle of the “Mole Antonelliana”, the huge dome built in Turin in 1863 by architect Antonelli. The “Mole”, with its 167 meters of height at the top of the mast, still remains the highest building in Italy. The new elevator is totally transparent and raises right in the middle of its internal volume, running along four steel cables till 88 meters, allowing a panoramic view of the vaults of the dome, which now is a museum.
The issue of adding new elevators in historic buildings has been discussed by architect Francesco P. Chieca, of the Milan Board for the Cultural Heritage Conservation, who underlined the problems in putting elevators into historic buildings like ancient churches of castles or museums, in order to allow for handicapped persons to visit them. «The current laws –said Chieca – impose that elevators be placed in such a way that they be totally removable, like provisional works… but it would be important to discuss thoroughly how to find a way to build newly planned, permanent structures that are really compatible with the existing ancient buildings»
Architect Giuseppe Maria Jonghi Lavarini, the editor of “L’Ascensore”, sent a message relayed by Caterina Parrello at the conclusion of the congress, referring to the futurist Sant’Elia, whose projects have been recently published in “L’Ascensore”. Sant’Elia in 1914 published in his “Manifesto dell’archtiettura futurista”  (Statement for a Futuristic Architecture) a series of drawings of a “futuristic city” where the elevators were always included in ad hoc external structures, thus becoming one of the most evident characteristic of the multiple storeys buildings, which included gardens in the higher terraces: a concept of “vertical city” that was to be actually developed in the second half of that century and that now can be brought to full fruition.
The elevator is ever more an occasion that gives an added value to the new projects, non only in terms of comfort but in terms of design quality – this is the conclusion of the congress, which is meant to be but the first step in the search for a new aesthetics of the vertical city spaces.


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