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Viewed from above, the shiny office block at the heart of the Nuvola Lavazza headquarter complex has the amorphous form of a cirrus cloud.
Standing outside with architect Cini Zucchi on the overcast day of the opening, the office block’s metal and glass exterior glints with stormy hues of brown and grey. Across the recently-planted garden-piazza, at the other side of the 30,000 square meter complex, the Belle Epoque façade of a former power station–housing a conference center, canteen, and gourmet restaurant–appears to have little to do with clouds.
The buildings are located in an upcoming, post-industrial district of the elegant city of Turin (pop. 890,000), flanked by rows of nineteenth-century palazzi, neo-baroque churches, and abandoned factories. “The Lavazza family chose to create their headquarters in an urban rather than country context,” explained Zucchi, continuing “just a kilometer from the street where their grandfather/great-grandfather Luigi opened the family’s first grocery and coffee shop, back in 1895.” Today the roasting company giant, now run by Luigi’s great-grandchildren, operates in 90 countries and its red and gold coffee packs are among the best-known products on Italy’s supermarket shelves.
The cloud idea, however, actually occurred late in the design process, the tousled architect confessed. “In truth, it came to us on the last night before we entered the competition to design the complex,” he said. “The cloud idea alludes to a space that is flexible, both in terms of multiple purposes and in its use of open spaces, whose functions can be easily transformed.” The glass on the office block’s exterior reflects the sky as light scuds across the building on sunny days–like a sundial, he explains; while the bronze pigments on the aluminum cladding accidentally turned out be the perfect coffee shade. “The surrounding neighborhood is known as ‘Aurora,’ meaning ‘Dawn,’ and clouds feature in the company’s Italian ads, set in ‘Paradise,’ so the Lavazza family enjoyed the reference,” he concludes.
Cini also cites the remains of a 4th-century Christian basilica, discovered during excavation, as an example of how a building can evolve in unexpected ways. Incorporated in a space beneath the offices, the ruins are illuminated at night and can be viewed from behind a glass screen.
Today, the airy canteen across the piazza stands empty, but it’s usually bustling with a mix of Lavazza staff, students from Turin’s IAAD design school (also housed on the complex), locals, and visitors. Food, developed with Turin’s famous Slow Food movement, is divided into ‘green and healthy,’ ‘Italian street food’ and traditional Italian and Piedmontese dishes–such as bagna cauda, a bubbling hot mix of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, into which vegetables, roasted or raw, are dipped.
But the culinary highlight of the Nuvola is its gourmet restaurant Condividere, dreamed up by Spanish gastronomic guru Ferran Adrià, of the El Bulli Foundation, overseen by double-Michelin starred chef Federico Zanasi, and designed by three-time Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti (The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, Hugo).
“It’s the food that shapes the experience of eating out, and not vice versa,” says the effervescent Adrià, who holds forth in the empty restaurant (which opens, like the museum, on June 8, 2018). But Ferretti’s zany interior–resembling a coffee factory designed by Willy Wonka–will be hard for diners to ignore. Brightly-colored industrial pipes run along the ceiling; giant cogwheels form dividers, and clocks–recalling both the time zones of Lavazza’s coffee bean producers, and workers’ shift times–hang on one of the walls. The menu is still under wraps, but chef Zanasi reveals it will feature “special desserts that dialogue with coffee,” to be served in a separate room.
Coffee is naturally the raison d’etre of the Lavazza Museum, accessed via the atrium of the office block, whose sinuous, ribbed ceiling, and floating silver staircase, really does resemble the inside of a cloud. Put together by veteran museum designer Ralph Appelbaum, with texts overseen by Turin-born novelist Alessandro Baricco (Novecento; Silk), the museum narrates the story of the Lavazza family and its contribution to coffee culture around the globe. In the first room, a photograph of the original Lavazza grocery and coffee store grabs the eye. “Luigi’s store was the start of the Lavazza’s journey,” says Appelbaum. “People will identify with this extraordinary family’s trajectory.”
Anxious to make the experience memorable or “sticky,” Appelbaum invented a digital coffee cup. In it, visitors collect “memories, pointing the way to the future,” from digital displays which interest them as they wander through the museum. At the end of their visit, they decide which to eliminate, and which to pour into their social media feeds.
More tangible exhibits include the first glittering espresso machine, invented in 1884, a video of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti drinking Lavazza coffee aboard the ISS space station, a mock-up of the frothy paradise inhabited by Italian celebrities in the Lavazza ads, and artist Kristin Vallow’s statue of the Roman goddess Diana holding a Lavazza coffee cup. The visit ends with a chance to sip caffé cocktails–or just a plain espresso–at the museum’s deliciously coffee-scented bar.
Via Bologna 32; lavazza.com.