The genetic revolution is upon us. The genome is being explored. Failing organisms will be the beneficiaries. Our bodies are going to acquire an array of positive features they’ve never managed to assemble themselves. For that purpose, they’ll be tested, weaknesses and imperfections will be catalogued, and Darwinian evolution will be sped up. Mutation will be immediate. This is how we will come into the 21st century.
What is about to happen in biology can happen right now in architecture. Huge numbers of architectural structures are defective or sick. But they have a personality, they’re places that have a memory. Taking the materials used and the original spaces, we can induce rapid mutation. By endowing these buildings with positive features that belong to later more evolved species. It all begins with a very serious check-up, testing the state of their health and the performance of their organs – but also with consideration of the esthetic features, or purposes, of the new behaviours.
It’s in this spirit that I ran tests on the ENI head office in Rome, examining it for its weaknesses, and then imagined new features it could acquire: a mutant needs to keep essential character traits but substantially improve its powers of attraction and seduction, and boost its welcoming features. This test – which strove to be as objective as possible – detected great identifying features but overall weakness in organisation and the detail of the fit-outs, and it revealed the obsolescence of numerous technical parts.
The building is an exceptionally powerful landmark. It’s perfectly readable. To the west, from Colombo Bridge, the building is reflected in the water, and its scale stands out. To the east, from the avenue Dell’Arte, a very ordinary car park and a fairly low-lying triangular building detract from the building’s power and sharpness – qualities that distinguish it when seen from a distance. The views of the side façades reveal an even greater weakness, being opaque and blocked off by staircases that are obviously add-ons… The effect produced is a bit dismal. But the building on the whole has a dignity to match its scale and its exceptional position – and the reaffirmation, though façades with very simple curtain walls, of the character of an era. Further diagnosis followed on from a visit. The façade joinery is black and has lost most of its colour. The reception area lacks nobility and scale: you don’t know where you are. You can’t see the view over the water… The row of lifts neutralises the main part of the eastern face. The main corridor has no natural light, no view, no point of reference, and is narrow… Everything is same-scale. You might think the building’s layout is clear, in keeping with its external simplicity, but that is not the case… The presidential and managerial floors, despite having small patios, also lack room and spatial logic…
It’s easy to criticise from a distance… but making art is as hard as ever.
What we will do, then, is employ all the means at our disposal to make use of the original positive features and ‘inject’ new genes so as to create this 21st-century mutant we’ve heralded.
In the 21st century, a building of this standing is duty-bound to have perfect thermal comfort. Comfort and transparency will now be combined thanks to the wizardry of a ventilated double skin. On the water, a new façade that’s sumptuous in its proportions will stand two metres in front of the plane of the existing façade. To magnify the landmark effect, we’ll endow this façade with an ideal proportion – the golden mean – by making it longer at both ends. The building will thereby be extended by 28 metres. The north and south façades will be turned into terraces and winter gardens. From the north façade, you will then be able to make out the rooftops of old Rome in the distance. The double western façade will enable people in all the offices to open their windows at will on to a microclimate with a temperature halfway between the inside and outside temperatures.
Blinds located behind the first skin – either mylar or printed solar screen – will ensure sun protection. They will have progressive densities and different degrees of reflectiveness. This means they’ll change the face of the building, day and night, revealing the company acronym in a very subtle – almost subliminal – way, through different degrees of brightness, opalescence or light, depending on whether the blinds are full sun, cloudy sky, or night blinds. The eastern façade features a compact double skin (15 to 20 cm thick) with integrated electric blinds. The top three floors (CEO, managerial staff, managerial restaurant) will be reimagined to clear the space for the terraces on the western side. These terraces will be protected from the wind by the façade and planted randomly with vegetation. The new vessel will establish a new relationship with the water and the landscape. Once the triangular building has been demolished and the car parks buried underground, a new contoured green landscape will be created. In the undulating waterside vegetation the mutant will take on a new dimension.
But the mutation is also intense and it’s profound: the very essence of the architecture will change. Nothing here is cosmetic. Everything is structural, inscribed in the depths of the mutant’s new identity. This is about structuring the building in terms of new criteria: nobility, clear and balanced layout, the creation of points of reference (promoting constant awareness of being in an exceptional place) and using the relationship with the water and with nature.
So the entrance will be a void four floors high with elements that frame the perspective. The relocation of facilities (exhibitions, restaurants…) integrated into the building will bear witness to this new relationship. Access points will be redefined, with two banks of lifts that open on to the view, the corridor thereby being punctuated by these openings… This in-depth restructuring will also renew the nature of the office, its storage units, furniture, ceilings and openings. The flexibility that flows on from this will be amazing.
To cut a long story short, the mutation will be real and profound. The genetic manipulation producing it is characteristic of the cultural values of the early 2000s. It’s a sign of a new threshold: after the era of urban build-up, this is the age of transformation.