23 January 2020

Florence’s Tobacco Factory takes on a new lease of life

It’s not the first time an industrial archaeological site has been turned over to new use – think of the Magazzini del Sale former salt warehouses at Punta Dogana, now transformed into a contemporary Art Centre, and the early 20th century Milanese distillery now being used by the Prada Foundation – nor will it be the last, but what is certain is that this is one of the best conversions of the last few years, geared to contemporary living and open to all. It also has tremendous added value in the particular attention given to the planning of the green spaces with the focus on regeneration, geared to creating welcoming, comfortable communal areas that people will gravitate towards and socialise.

The old Manifattura Tabacchi has been given a new lease of life after being abandoned in 2001 after some 70 years of active service. It was built between 1933 and 1940 by the architect, engineer and builder Pier Luigi Nervi, who had completed one of his major projects, Florence’s “Comunale” stadium, just a few years earlier. It was an example of a new style of architecture in which the exposed concrete served to emphasise its expressive power. Part of the more than 100,000 square metre complex will continue its manufacturing tradition with art and craft makers’ workshops and coworking spaces. The 16 buildings are gradually being brought back to life, looking to the future while preserving the Rationalist architectural elements intact.

The original footprint was essentially split into three areas, with the warehousing for raw materials to the west; the great curvilinear building on Via delle Cascine to the south, which housed the offices, the administration, the “maternity facilities for female workers” and the director’s quarters; in line with a fiercely symmetrical plan, the monumental entrance to the complex as a whole stood at the centre of the building, and then there were two edifices on an east-west axis given over to processing operations, symmetrically positioned in relation to the workshop, forming a U-shape with the general services building – now the third headquarters of the prestigious Florentine fashion school Polimoda, which opened on 7th January. It was designed by the Dutch Concrete group, in collaboration with Q-bic, the Florentine architecture studio set up by Luca and Marco Baldini, which oversaw the work.

Overall, the complex will be rehabilitated according to a masterplan which aims to preserve the industrial spirit of the historic architecture with contemporary interventions geared to valorising the monumentality of the buildings and the unique quality of the spaces and the materials. The Factory itself, the beating heart of the project, is due to open in 2021 and will contain concept stores, ateliers, workshops and exhibition spaces, with contemporary fashion, art and crafts, lifestyle and food making it a focal point for the international community of professionals and creatives who live and work in Florence. It’s just 10 minutes from the city by bus from the station and five minutes’ walk from the T2 tram stop. By 2022 the Tobacco Factory will be directly connected to the city centre by the T4 tramline (currently at the executive design stage). Once works are completed in 2023, the complex will also contain 28,000 square metres of space earmarked for training, offices and coworking; 28,000 square metres of residential space; 25,000 square metres dedicated to hospitality and co-living and 16,000 square metres of workshops and laboratories: a small Rationalist city and a new productive and social centre for Florence and beyond.

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