In the same years in which the Montegranaro plant was being built, Prada entrusted Guido Canali with a second architectural project, another “total factory”, this time producing shoes. The place was in Tuscany, in the Aretium Valdarno, squeezed between the provincial road and the railway line behind it, a few hundred meters away from one of the company’s long-standing locations.

The landscape was the main focus in this project as well. The situation is even more challenging than in Montegranaro, where the antique charm of the hills on the horizon is clearly visible. Montevarchi’s territory is flat, with an irregular built environment, and there seem to be no salient features to emphasize.

As usual, the solution is non-conventional: the key to understanding comes from the inside, because architecture is made for those who live it.

© Francesco Castagna

The big factory similar to Montegranaro – a respectable, simple and unassuming prefab – is located in front of the street but at the same time is hidden by grassy stairs bringing the structure back to the horizontal plane, reducing its height and the arrogance of a building that could be perceived as outsized compared to the surrounding context.

Above the stairs a greenhouse screens the factory from external viewers. Surprisingly, the glass facade frames the horizon from inside. The handlifts, the furnaces, the tack heel seat machines and the pulling over machines are set against a background of bamboo, hills and sky. The aim is to soothe the gaze of the worker looking for some relief between one production batch and the next.

The place embodies all the elements that the architect loves: here, like in Montegranaro, we can already see the big Valvigna plant that will be built years later. The heavy factory made in concrete and the light offices in metal and glass, the spacious entrance lobbies, the suspended walkways to link up and shorten the connecting paths and lots of green spaces: along the corridors of the entrance lobby, in the patio facing the canteen designed as an open space to enjoy when it is warm outside, on the roof gardens that transform the offices on the first floor into modernist salons, or the vines blanketing the walls, giving the work of men back to nature. And then barren structures, lattices, exposed metal beams, rhythmic and geometric creations, part music and part sculpture.  An architecture of suspended tones designed in the Giuseppe Terragni tradition, just like the one by Giorgio Morandi and very similar to “the lightness, the care, the industrious perseverance of pile-dwellings” that Italo Calvino saw in Fausto Menotti. A veneration of elegant yet sober details like serial components. A philosophically bare architecture.