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Story - Niccolò Paganini Auditorium
Parma, Italy, 1997/2001
The project was launched by the City of Parma in 1999 and is a part of a broader program dedicated to urban redevelopment and the reuse of the area itself. It is the site in which the first factories of the 18th century were located, such as the old Eridania sugar refinery, the Barilla pasta factory, the public slaughterhouse and the agricultural consortium, and even housed the great technological services of the era, such as the Light Rail Station and the Gasometer. The complex is close to the city’s historical centre and is immersed within a well-established urban park that boasts various tree species, many of which are exceptionally tall and of excellent quality. The auditorium was built within the former Eridania area, a complex of buildings that were constructed in 1899 and decommissioned in 1968.
The walls and the volume of the old factory were its most characteristic features and caused it to become a strong symbol of Parma’s urban development: a tribute to the legacy of Parma’s industrial history. With its classic functional layout, the factory was essentially a large “box”, hence the idea that it could be turned into a perfect “boite a musique” with a frontal stage. The verification of its proportions confirmed this idea: it was determined that the building’s linear layout would allow for the creation of a unique environment with the proper volumetric proportions for an auditorium. The restoration of the former Eridania factory required significant structural work to be carried out, while respecting the morphology of the existing building. New foundations were built and the old walls were recovered by installing appropriate comb-shaped reinforced concrete inserts inside the existing structure. The roof reflects the shape of the original one and has been entirely rebuilt in order to replace the old materials which, from a mechanical-structural and acoustic standpoint, were no longer suitable. The project involved the elimination of the main structure’s transverse walls and their replacement with three enormous acoustic windows, which provide for complete transparency along the building’s entire longitudinal axis, for a total length of approximately 90 metres. In this manner, the park can be seen from anywhere within the hall and the foyer, even during musical events.
The building is characterized by its longitudinal walls, which are punctuated by the existing low-arched windows, by its gabled roof, which is supported by visible metal trusses, and finally by its enormous frontal windows, which constitute the transverse walls of the auditorium itself. The main structure has been equipped with all of the necessary elements for the spectators and for the shows themselves: a foyer, a hall with 780 seats and a stage that can accommodate a symphony orchestra and a choir, all while respecting the “canonical” proportions in terms of acoustics. The building’s location in the middle of the park has greatly simplified the work that was required to insulate the structure against external noise. The ancillary buildings surrounding the main structure have all been demolished, with the exception of one that was restructured to house the rehearsal room, the dressing rooms, the restrooms and the management offices. The public entrance is on the southern façade and opens up onto the park. Subsequently, along the building’s longitudinal axis, there is an initial open space that is protected by the roof, as well as an “indoor plaza”, which is flanked by the foyer and the ticket office and mediates the traffic coming in and out of the structure. Beyond the enormous frontal windows is the foyer, which is spread over two levels.
The stage is situated at the building’s northern extremity, near the glass transverse wall. It is 17 meters wide and 14 metres long, for a total of 238 square metres, and is perfect for accommodating large orchestras. The seating area offers 780 seats, which are divided into six areas over 590 square metres, and extends along a single level with a slight slope in order to improve the visibility of the stage itself from every row of seats. The stage has a raised floor that acts as a natural resonance chamber. A system of acoustic cherry wood panels, which are suspended from the rafters above the stage, complete the spatial organization of the factory’s main structure. These panels serve the purpose of breaking up the direct sound waves and guiding the sound pressure back into the room. Other sound control elements include the glass deflectors which are positioned at the structure’s glass wall extremities, and the strips of wood that have been positioned behind the orchestra. The latter also serve to prevent the audience members from seeing their own reflections in the glass. Even the window niches, which were a part of the original structure, serve an acoustic function: in fact, they improve the homogeneity of the sound by constantly changing the angles of deflection.
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