Rarely do my running and my architecture worlds collide, but here’s a glorious example. I’m in Turin for two days, and where do you think I’d book a hotel room? For any good architecture goon, Matte Trucco’s Fiat factory in Lingotto was too good to pass up.
The factory is a classic work of 1920s industrial architecture–exposed concrete frame, relentlessly marching for almost half a mile along the rail yards that fed parts into it, and took Fiats out of it. Most famously, the roof of the factory featured the company’s test track, with long straightaways and tightly banked turns at the ends. The factory itself wrapped around a long, skinny central courtyard that brought light into the upper floors and provided skylights for the lower levels, which occupied the entire footprint.
The entire complex was turned into a mixed use commercial facility around 2002. Renzo Piano and Arups did much of the work, including a conference room/helipad on the roof that forms the signature piece of the new development. There are two hotels on site, I’m actually staying in the NH Tech, which is in one of the newer perimeter buildings–but that offers this rather stellar view of Trucco’s facade:
When I checked in, I asked hesitatingly where there was a good place to run–I’m religious about my morning jogs every other day, and getting them in while traveling is always a challenge. The front desk attendant smiled and told me to just ask for a key in the morning. I had sort of hoped that the giant spiral ramps that Fiat used to get cars up and down the building to the track was now the way for joggers to get up there, since I can use all the hill workouts I can get. Sadly (or maybe not) there’s an elevator–the ramps are sealed off at the roof: my guess is that they offered rain an all-too-easy route in. And while the banked turns aren’t really built for the human ankle, there is one lane at the bottom, obviously for Fiats that weren’t quite so speedy, thats runnable.
Lingotto was a key moment in factory design, since it blended the material’s ability to form efficient grid structures with its capacity for freer forms like the banked turns. It was also an example of how expressive such a relentlessly efficient and pragmatic building could be. Architectural historians make a big deal of the track’s echo of Marinetti’s futurist manifesto–combining speed with architecture–but the timing here is all wrong, and I suspect that Marinetti was at best a distant thought in Trucco’s mind.
I could, I guess, make an argument that this is precedent research for the Nervi project. There’s little doubt that he was very familiar with it, particularly during his early days with the Italian Concrete Society–this would have been one of their most important examples. But if I’m honest, this morning’s 8-miler was less about history and more about a really, really thrilling setting, up above the roofs of Turin, under Piano’s glass bud, and atop a solid bit of aircraft-carrier scaled design. I usually take a day off after runs that long, but I doubt I’ll be able to stay off of it tomorrow morning.