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IDEAS / architecture

Palazzo del Lavoro. A Forbidden Land

11 June 2017

words & photos:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

I was walking in the streets of the almost suburban Turin with sweaty hands and sticky clothes. It was one of those 30-degree sultry days: gray sky, blurry shadows and steamy asphalt.

Under the blazing sun, my friends and I were strolling around the 100 x 100 m perimeter of the building: solid in its geometry, but light in its brise-soleil rusted wrapping, which at first glimpse could be mistaken for timber. We were looking for an “entrance”. In other words, we were seeking for a ford, a slightly lower gate, a tip on the lattice frame to simplify the climbing.

It was on the east side of the building that we stumbled across a line of wild, high vegetation. Here the fence lowered lightly: it was the perfect breaking-in setting. Despite the proximity to a park visited by a number of strange Sunday tourists, we attempted to camouflage ourselves with the surrounding environment and embarked the “aerial-crossing” of the steel mesh. It was with a sweet, adrenaline feeling that we entered that forbidden land: that sense of lightness, heaviness, euphoria and hesitation congenital to all prohibited experiences.

The building stood before us imposing and abandoned. A broken glass and multiple graffiti were evidence that many before us had violated its solitude. Right through a smashed window we penetrated into the concrete soul of the building. Here, an infinite space opened in front of us: a basilica of our time, a cathedral of architecture with no god or religion, a modern days’ ruin.

The echo of our footsteps was the only voice to our amazement, so eager as we were to pace up and down the whole edifice. Only the “mushroom-pillars” gave a rhythm to the room in their obstacles’ nature: sixteen Titans ordered in a 4 x 4 formation and forced like Atlas to support the celestial vault. As the only vertical elements in a volume initially perceived in its horizontality, they were sovereigns of space and caught the attention in their detail and uniqueness; every column broke away from the floor and from its cruciform plan to gather in a perfect circle at 24m above the ground. At that height, 20 deep beams blossomed from its rounded head in order to support a square cut-out of the ceiling.

By now just looking up, we were lost in the light and shadow games defining the vault geometry. Thin strips of natural light acted as separating elements among the huge square tiles. Through these cracks, a serious of sparkling rays entered the building, creating a surreal atmosphere of reflections and transparent walls. At the end of their vertical journey, the rays glimpsed on the floor. Here, however, they appeared vague and unsteady, mirror of the ceiling’s intersections.

Oppressed by this infinite height and width, we decided that it was time for us to abandon this abandoned building. We retraced our footsteps and made our way out from the same broken glass opening. Perhaps it was precisely this illegality that had made the whole visit so special.

I climbed over the steel fence. On this side it was even simpler due to a larger mesh pattern. Once on the other side, the so-called “land of the living”, I stopped, by now having the right distance to rethink this experience. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of forgotten buildings, made to be rediscovered and worshiped by those few. Those few who are the architects of tomorrow.

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architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.