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Old building turned into “smog-eating” architectural masterpiece

by Ofentse Sefolo
Old building turned into “smog-eating” architectural masterpiece

Turning a derelict building that stood untouched for the past 15 years into a modern, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly architectural masterpiece is no easy feat. For some, simply demolishing the entire building block, starting with the proverbial clean slate, would have been the preferred route.

This was not the case for the team of visionary designers and architects from Progetto CMR, an integrated design studio based in Milan, Italy.

The team’s intimate knowledge and understanding of the Garibaldi-Repubblica neighbourhood’s history, coupled with the owners vision, Gruppo Unipol’s, affinity for the De Castillia 23, not only delivered on their client’s vision, but created what is considered a shining beacon of the exemplary, sustainable architecture and unique style, which have become synonymous with Italian architecture.

For the past 30 years, the Garibaldi-Repubblica neighbourhood in Milan, Italy, was isolated from the city and devoid of any major redevelopment. However, with the construction of a railway network linking the forgotten neighbourhood to the city, the last ten years have seen major developments in the area, with the latest innovation being De Castillia 23.

Challenging green convention
The most striking aspect of the renovation must be its prismatic facade with triangular-shaped glass, creating dynamic movement through its checkerboard effect. Depending on where the light hits the building, diverse light effects are produced from each angle.

“This design feature gives the building greater dynamism, with an interplay of solids and voids that also provide ventilation to the structure,” says Massimo Roj, Progetto CMR’s chief executive officer and lead architect on the project.


Eco-active ceramic tiles
What makes this building unique beyond its prismatic facade, is the most remarkable innovation of the specially engineered ceramic tiles which were chosen for the facades, balcony flooring and outdoor areas, to deliver what is known as an “eco-active” tile.

This utterly unique innovation is designed and patented by Fiandre Architectural Surfaces, a subsidiary of Iris Ceramica Holdings, a world leader in the design, production and distribution of high-quality porcelain products for residential, commercial and industrial architecture. Fiandre’s Core Active range in Cloudy Core Active and Sharp Core Active ceramic surfaces, which contain Active Clean Air and Antibacterial Ceramic™, delivers what is known as the “eco-active” effect of the exterior of De Castillia 23’s ceramic tiled facade.

The science behind the tile
The Fiandre Core Active tiles are photocatalytic, self-cleaning, antibacterial, anti-polluting and anti-odour, as each Active tile is treated with titanium dioxide (TiO2) and silver to enhance and improve its bactericidal performance, 24 hours a day, even in the dark. In the presence of air, humidity and light (natural or artificial), the surface of the tiles oxidises, causing any organic and inorganic contaminants that it meets to degrade.

In addition, the external coating can convert volatile molecules of hazardous pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into harmless substances, with huge benefits for human well-being.

The eco-active tiles mean that the building’s surfaces are dirt-repellent and can therefore be cleaned simply and effectively using only water and a mild detergent, with no need for toxic or expensive chemicals.

Smog-eating abilities chemically tested
According to the University of Milan’s Department of Chemistry, the 16 088m² of special Active tiles installed on the project counteract 59kg/year of nitrogen oxide, equivalent to over 200 000m² of green space, bringing huge benefits for those who live in the neighbourhood.

Progetto CMR’s research and development team confirms that a further 2 000m² of actual green space will absorb approximately 12 tons of carbon dioxide each year and release 9 tons of oxygen, turning De Castillia 23 into a “smog-eating” building.

With attention to detail being at the forefront of the installing, Fiandre ceramics, with its 45 degrees shaped corners for edge pieces and different finishes, smoother or rougher depending on function, was the obvious choice for cladding the facade of the building.

For a waste-free, yet beautiful aesthetic appearance, after examining various installation patterns for the facade to optimise the cutting of ceramic tiles and ensuring the whole tile is utilised without any waste, a 120 x 60cm size format was decided upon. The facade’s clean lines were further enhanced by concealing all downpipes behind the building’s various columns.

Granitech’s ventilated facade system®, with visible anchoring brackets, was used to further optimise the building’s environmental focus. The air chamber between the wall and cladding creates natural ventilation, which offers substantial benefits in removing heat and moisture, with excellent interior comfort.

Eliminating thermal bridges, the system maintains the efficiency of the external insulation, with the ventilation keeping it perfectly dry, increasing the wall durability and energy efficiency, essential in sustaining the life of high-rise buildings.

Other advantages of the Granitech® ventilated facade system include:
• Eliminating the risk of cladding cracking or detaching from walls due to delamination.
• Protecting the wall structure from the weather.
• Ease of installation.
• The ability to carry out maintenance on an individual tile, saving time and costs.

Light and bright interiors extend environmentally conscious approach
Progetto CMR architects’ integrated design resulted in brightened office interiors, with natural light from large balconies that offer shade in summer and light in winter. The result is a 30% increase in diffused light and a 36% increase in global light (direct and diffused), compared to a standard building, which translates into a significant reduction in the use of artificial light and the subsequent energy consumption.

With hygiene paramount, Fiandre tiles were also chosen for the interiors. The Fjord porcelain tile collection in Dusty was the ideal choice for use in the building’s washrooms and toilets, thanks to its anti-slip and easy-cleaning properties.

The restoration of De Castillia 23 resulted in a state-of-the-art, sustainable complex, where the client’s vision of giving the building a new face has more importantly finally been returned to the community not only as a new and modern focal point, but as a shining example of the integrated design approach of Progetto CMR’s team.

They have shown that by working closely with the client and using foresight, they were able to exceed expectations and have delivered a look into the bright future of the Garibaldi-Repubblica neighbourhood and Milan architecture.

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to Gruppo Unipol for the information used in this article.

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