Activating the Periphery


The site for the new Aquatic Center complex is located at the edge of the Milan Metropolitan City, in Porta di Mare where existing sports facilities have been placed amongst lots of industrial warehouses with agriculture fields found further out. With Rorgoredo train station and the metro station close by, the location seems fitting for a gateway into the city and allows for an opportunity to mark the beginning of the city with a public building, celebrating various sports specifically aquatic sports. The design proposes a building positioned along the street, adjacent to existing social housing complexes.

Our proposal includes the demolition of all the industrial buildings on site, thus introducing an urban front to the edge facing the city and will allow for a threshold into the landscape to the south. This starting point gave the basis for a series of volumes organized along the street all connected by a linear service volume. The volumes have been spaced apart in order to allow for pockets of public open spaces to be formed in between as well as providing sunlight to enter into each volume. These open spaces are then allowed to continue through to the landscape in the south through the permeable linear volume. The volumes are envisioned as monolithic blocks that seem to hover above the ground. The ground floor walls and glazing has then been more adapted to the public space by setting it and providing an overhang into the space.


Who influences you graphically?

As architecture students, we are constantly looking at numerous references on how one represents an idea through drawings. As we believe that the way a project is represented can have a huge impact on the way one perceives it. This can take a lot of trial and error and we often find that an opinion from someone without an architectural background can be valuable.

Studying at Politecnico di Milano and being surrounded by many students of strong and varying graphic styles, I suppose we were subconsciously influenced by these students and being in this environment has really pushed us to be more aware of the small things such as which line weight, which font and which AutoCAD block to use, and choosing a complimentary colour palette for each project.

In this project specifically, we were inspired by the works of Junya Ishigami; a Japanese architect who shows us that something as small as the way you represent a tree in a drawing can give a particular feeling to the drawing. How he gives beauty to a simple line drawing of a tree. James Stirling for how he manages to capture the essence of a project with diagrammatic clarity. Jo Noero, a South African architect who uses contrast in his drawings to effectively portray a specific quality. And then there is Henri Rousseau with his beautiful botanical paintings and architectural studios of the likes of Superstudio, OFFICE and OMMX who manage to use collage in a way that gives life to a project as well as being a beautiful piece within itself.

What defined the language of representation for the project?

A coherent graphical representation of a project becomes a challenge when working in a team of 2 or more people. If this is not successful, the drawings can become a distraction to a viewer. This being said, we made a special effort in the representation of our project to ensure that the graphical language is unified.

As it was a Building Technology Studio, a more realistic representation was required, however, we tried to find a balance between a realistic yet artistic collage effect. We felt that the use of classic simple and clear plans, sections and elevations really helped us understand the project especially with the complex roof structure. These 2D drawings are then enhanced with the collages and axonometric drawings to give an idea of the spaces created inside and around the building.

What role do the classic plans and sections play in relation to the views?

We strongly value the necessity of classic plans and sections as these drawings help one understand the spatial relationships that the building creates as well as the proportion of these spaces. When this project was presented, we decided to place the plans and sections adjacent to the relevant views enabling the viewers to visualize the spaces and read the two drawings as one piece. The contrast created between these drawings also created an interesting composition.

What prompted the approach of demolition of the existing buildings rather than retrofitting and repurposing these?

To answer this question, one first needs to understand the context and access to the site; the most convenient way to arrive to the project area using public transport is by taking the metro. As you exit the metro station, there is a wall blocking off the view of what is behind. There is no sense of identity as there is no evidence of this neighborhood being an industrial /sports area. The brief was to rehabilitate the environment and landscape of this low density tissue on the city’s edge and thus introducing a sports center hosting aquatic facilities. With the existing buildings having no specific architectural value, it seemed reasonable to demolish and introduce a series of buildings that would add an identity to this area.

Due to specific requirements on the large surface area of an aquatic center and in order to save energy, it was necessary to have one unique building that would share services rather than distribute the facilities amongst many separate buildings. This then reinforced the idea to demolish the existing warehouses. Attempts at a more sustainable demolition can also be made; such as recycling and reusing the bricks and other materials from the existing structures.

Could you talk us through your design decisions and the development of the project?

Our site sits between the urban and the natural tissue, therefore we decided to define an edge by introducing an urban front facing the city. This building consists of a series of volumes that has been pushed and pulled to create various open urban pockets forming thresholds into the landscape.

With regards to the public space that surrounds the building, we drew influence from Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese American artist and landscape architect; who sparks a sense of play though his landscape interventions. In our project, the pavement is interrupted in several places by a different texture in the shape of a circle. These circles host various ‘play’ activities.

With the requirement being an Olympic sized swimming pool, we quickly realized that the roof would need to span a very long distance. After multiple studies on the roof structure, we came to the conclusion that a segmented, repetitive shape would provide the best result structurally. With this knowledge, we then began to play with how this repetitive shape could be formed as well as drawing on Milan’s industrial past.

To what extent and how is the environment at the Politecnico shaping you as architects?

We have both completed our Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Studies at the University of Cape Town, where the school system is very different to Politecnico di Milano. Our bachelor degree consisted of one class with around 80 students and the majority of the work is done individually. Politecnico di Milano on the other hand consist of a far greater number of students with 4 design studios of around 80 students per class. Students are encouraged to engage in group work. While this, for us, does not fully allow one to explore their very own design language, it does force one to work with other students and develop specific collaborative skills that will most likely be valuable in future careers.

Other than this, and as mentioned before, we find the graphical representation to be an integral part of the project here at the university, which we both really appreciate and have enjoyed learning.