We are in Valle del Chienti the region of Marche, in the heart of the men’s footwear manufacturing district, one of the most well known in Italy. In the 1990s Prada commissioned architect Guido Canali with the design of a complete and independent production plant, a sort of ideal factory including a welcome area, creative and administrative offices, pattern making, a workshop for shoe assembly and warehouses for raw materials and finished products.
The selected plot is on a hill slope, the available budget is slightly greater than that for an industrial building, the architect is requested to build a factory and make it look appealing. According to Prada and Canali, ‘beautiful’ means without frills and decorations designed to hide the real essence of what the factory is meant to be, and at the same time precise in every detail and focused on places.
The trained eye of the architect looks at the breath-taking hills on the opposite side of the valley and starts thinking about Marche’s Renaissance paintings, about the delicate harmony of historical hamlets. He notes the hastily and badly constructed neighboring factories and buildings and sighs at the lost harmony. He looks at all this and then proceeds to act. The design is entirely based on a near-far relationship, the one between the soul of the place and the often casual human intervention. The building’s architecture aims to be a repairing action as well as a search for spatial harmony.
The strong repairing action is a concrete wall running along the main access to the factory, hiding it from view and focusing internal gazes on the contemplation of a green courtyard suggesting infinite worlds beyond, as Giacomo Leopardi, a famous Italian poet, used to imagine. The architect was able to show and hide the horizon by adjusting the various perspectives and sculpting the ground with a wing fencing the area, finding a balance between private spaces and panoramic views.
The building is marked by a repeated series of blades. Two of these extend the office building, completely covered in glass walls on the open sides, while guiding the eye towards the horizon traced by the hill’s soft slope. The third is even longer and conceals the production plant as well as forming a telescopic view that draws the gaze of those walking through the main nave towards the infinite.
The project rests on landscape observation, in the blades marking the space with their regular pace, in the slope of the “hill” that permits the placement of the big yet low and basement-level industrial plant. The building’s height, a scant 5 meters above ground, outlines a horizontal, low-slung and humble structure. The two-floor office building is all in glass, and employees are meant to feel as if they were working on a patio. The main body, somewhere between an urban galleria and a winter garden, joins the two areas and develops vertically, with suspended walkways: lightweight connections joining two different worlds.
The inspiring principle is to build in harmony, bridge the gap between human work and nature, re-build a virtuous relationship contributing to moulding the landscape and staying in touch with the past, but with contemporary tools. An objective that is consistent with Prada’s approach towards the future, expressed through architecture.
At the end of the 1990s Prada became a prestigious and internationally known brand and started making significant investments not only in the business, but also in the industrial sector.
In those years the company designed and built unique and iconic stores such as the ones in New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles, collaborating with internationally known architects. At the same time, Prada commissioned important architects to design their factories step by step, applying the farsighted approach that distinguishes the company.
Many important and well-known professionals were involved: Pierluigi Cerri, who designed a plant in Piancastagnaio on Mount Amiata, a one-of-a-kind building around a central court, a sort of pillbox with a huge space for Prada and many smaller ones for the brand’s manufacturing suppliers; Guido Canali, actively involved in the promotion of the country’s architectural legacy and famous for his ability to conjugate reuse and technology, history of place and unusual experiments. The latter was also commissioned with the design of a footwear production plant in Montegranaro.