Deconstructing shapes to create tomorrow’s (green) city: CityLife by Daniel Libeskind
“Fundamental to my thinking and motivation is that buildings and urban projects are crafted with perceptible human energy and that they speak to the larger cultural community in which they are built.” – Daniel Libeskind
by Sara Costi
The American architect of Polish-Jewish descent Daniel Libeskind was born in 1946. Ever since he was young, he showed inclination and passion for music. After all, architecture and music are very similar. Both these forms of art embrace harmony. In 1960, Libeskind was awarded a grant and moved to New York to follow his dream. In Lower Manhattan, where his father worked, he watched the construction of the original World Trade Centre. A few years later, he studied architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a university that provides merit scholarships and need-based financial aid. After he graduated, he followed Peter Eisenman’s advice and enrolled at the University of Essex, where he obtained a postgraduate degree in History and Theory of Architecture.
In 1978, Libeskind designed for the first time a building that subverted the rules of geometry for the redevelopment of an abandoned area by the Potsdamer Güterbahnhof in Berlin. That’s when two elements that would represent an important part of his life came together: Berlin and Deconstructivism, although he officially joined the movement only ten years later, during the Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York, in which he took part with other six renowned architects.
From that moment, Libeskind delivered one successful project after the other, including the Osaka Folly (Expo 1990), the master plans for the city of Groningen in the Netherlands and Alexanderplatz in Berlin, the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück, the Bremen Philharmonic Hall, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin – his first major international success –, the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester dedicated to the history of war and its impact on people and society, the Creative Media Centre in Hong Kong (2002), the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany, the London University Post Graduate Centre (2004) and the master plan for the New World Trade Centre.
Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany
Ground Zero, New York, USA
In 1985, Libeskind founded Architecture Intermundium, a non-profit Institute for Architecture and Urbanism in Milan, where he returned in 2012 to open a branch of his studio headed by his son Lev. Daniel Libeskind’s path crossed with Casalgrande Padana’s in Milan for the CityLife project next to other renowned names, such as Zaha Hadid and Arata Isozaki. An encounter that marked the beginning of a collaboration that has continued over the years. One of the results of this partnership is the Fractile collection, where the symmetrical harmony of fractal mathematics blends with the texture of porcelain stoneware to create stunning ceramic tiles.
CityLife – Libeskind Residences
The Libeskind Residences are located in the CityLife district, which was created from the redevelopment of the Fiera Milano area to house private residences, offices, shopping centres, parks, and leisure spaces. An eight-building complex spread across three areas, resembling an archipelago in a continuous dialogue with the surrounding environment between the past, the present and the future.
The Libeskind Residences stand out for their embracing curved lines, refined dynamism, almost tilted surfaces, flexible volumes, and asymmetrical cuts and fragments, and curve around the green area of the central courtyard, which becomes a place where to gather and meet.
All two-room, three-room, and penthouse apartments in various sizes feature large windows and terraces overlooking the park and the city to maximise exposure to natural light. The Libeskind Residences are also characterised by fine construction solutions that meet the highest efficiency standards, thanks to specific systems, innovative spatial solutions, home automation to control energy expenditure and ensure the highest level of comfort, and the use of renewable energy.
Casalgrande Padana’s project
The sophisticated façade system seems to embrace the refined dynamism of the whole structure thanks to the accurate use of ceramic materials, thereby enhancing the value of the project and drawing a lot of attention.
Two collections were used, i.e. Travertino Paradiso Grigio M8, (30x90 cm and 60x90 cm), specifically designed for this project, and Unicolore (22.5x90 cm) in Bianco B with Levigata finish. These tiles are the result of cutting-edge technology applied to fully vitrified porcelain stoneware and feature the same grain sizes, veining, colours, textures, and surface finishes as those found in nature and even higher performance.
The ventilated wall and the parapets of the terraces and balconies were installed according to a precise laying diagram. The façades are clad with over 50,000 sq.m of Casalgrande Padana ceramic tiles specifically designed for this project and applied according to specific construction specifications, which required the development of technical solutions that could ensure the highest safety.
The external finish on all floors and penthouses consists of a fibre cement panel to which the special porcelain stoneware tiles are glued and mechanically secured through Kerfix safety clips.
The tiles from the Travertino collection were also used on the parapets and ceilings of terraces and balconies. In this case, the tiles were glued and mechanically secured directly to the reinforced concrete structure using the double glue-down technique. This technique consists in applying adhesive to both the back of the tiles and the fibre cement or reinforced concrete substrate and then mechanically securing the tiles using metal clips (Kerfix), which are glued to the back of the ceramic tiles, where a slot has been created beforehand for them. At this point, everything is secured to the concrete substrate using nails or screws.
To fully appreciate the complexity of this cladding system, it is important to consider that, although they all share the same semi-circle layout, every floor of every building is different. Even the balconies are all different and feature tilted surfaces and virtual continuity lines that Libeskind has designed to harmonise the entire envelope.
Deconstructivism: architecture without geometry
Deconstructivist Architecture is an idea developed by Jacques Derrida. This type of architecture stands out for the absence of the details that have always been an integral part of it. Some define it as non-architecture.
Humans have always aimed at crossing the border of the unknown world. In architecture, this translates into overcoming the elements of Euclidean geometry (planes, axes, points, and lines) for a new vision and definition of space. The straight lines of buildings are deconstructed into distorted, asymmetrical shapes that look unstable. This way, formal purity and the traditional idea of balance are abandoned, creating apparent chaos and architecture, which has always been a three-dimensional form of art, opens up to new dimensions. Neglecting axes, vertical and horizontal dimensions leads to deconstructing shapes and overcoming the concept of unity, thereby creating fluid, light lines and multiple, unbalance perspectives that provide a new vision of space.
CityLife has marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Casalgrande Padana and Daniel Libeskind, which also includes Pinnacle, an installation for Bologna Water Design to celebrate Emilia’s tile-making tradition, the Vankepavilion for Expo 2015 in Milan, the Casalgrande Ceramic Crown and Sapphire. All these projects feature porcelain stoneware tiles from the Fractile collection, which combine a versatile material with the symmetrical harmony of fractal mathematics beyond the borders of mathematics and imagination.