C+S ARCHITECTS SCHOOL COMPLEX IN FONTANIVA, PADUA
Trace the meeting point between Vicenza, Padua and Treviso, and you will find Fontaniva. In an area populated by Palladio villas, bell towers and factories, Fontaniva is the kingdom of Brenta river gravel: the raw material for the reconstruction of the Veneto region, since the 1950s to the golden era of the now-vanished dream of riches known as the Northeast. 1.14 The Kite, a school in Fontaniva, Padua, has become an important piece of architecture, where forward-thinking ideas have been grafted to an area that is by no means peripheral in terms of quality of housing and landscape. Over time, the architect couple Carlo Cappai and Maria Alessandra Segantini (C+S Architects) has managed to form an important course of work and architectural innovation in the ambit of schools, particularly primary schools, which are fundamental for all social projects. 1.14 The Kite was commissioned and built in the space of one season by ChiarAmEnte, a company that provides educational activities for children from ages 1 to 14. It brings together Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. Now, in various regions of Italy, nursery and primary schools are offering situations of excellent quality that never cease to amaze us, precisely in comparison to other nations. What can we say? In Italy we have the best schools and the worst prisons. Our philosophy for didactics is capable of producing new experiences, while the original philosophy of On Crimes and Punishments (1764) has not progressed. I mention this because in Venice, the domus nigra (“black house”, as magistrates and lawyers call the Venice Law Courts) is in name, and fact, the exact opposite, even in architectural terms, of the beautiful series of schools by Cappai and Segantini. The Kite in Fontaniva originates from a voluntary educational workshop. It began as activities held after the closing time of the afterschool club and sought to expand creative thought from the depressed nucleus of reading, writing and arithmetic. At 1.14, the three phases of this educational project emerge: 1.6 is the first phase, from 1 to 6 years of age, the second, 6.11, from 6 to 11, and the third, 6.14, from 6 to 14. The numbers of these respective codes form the logo of the school, painted on the side of the building in very large characters with primary colours – the first is green, then blue, and the last number is magenta. The rebus is solved with the same communicative lightness of the architecture. The Kite is like the one from Giovanni Pascoli’s poem we used to learn by heart, “There’s something new in the sun today, but no, / More like something old”. It reminds you of the paper airplanes thrown all over the place on the last day of school. The most difficult thing to do with a kite is not holding it by the string, but getting it to fly. This building, although anchored to the ground, effectively manages to make the spirit and fantasy fly, and that goes for the grown-ups who take their children there, too. Colours are used internally with particular care, with the educational effects of Gestalt. The walls can be used to work on; they are not just painted surfaces. Amid so much aversion to colour (greyscale) and twopenny Mondrian schemes seen in too much architecture, here we fully perceive the forth dimension of space. There is ‘ambient’ (atmospheric) colour and ‘local’ colour (objects and walls). The white-cement, kite-like school in Fontaniva is like the ‘white wings’ from the same poem, but as it rests in the middle of greenery, it is basically a flying island. Inside, different spaces are qualified as true interiors with respect to the exteriors, except for one point, which is like a connecting line between the earth and the sky: a circular hole in the roof of the portico. It shows what James Turrell and Tadao Ando were able to capture elsewhere: ‘filmic colour’. It’s the same perfect cut-out of blue that we can see from the bottom of Turrell’s large-scale artwork in a desert cinder cone (Roden Crater in Arizona) and from the wooden dining bench at Casa Wabi, Ando’s artists’ retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico. Filmic colour is none other than the sky as it appeared to the first terrestrial creatures, framed by a habitat. At Italian countryside festivals, where locally grown produce is sold, children still build and fly kites. Their faces betray a desire: to be able to see what their kites see. Will they be able to do so with the home-made drones that will soon fill the skies like locusts? At the schools designed by C+S Architects, all of this is felt, but above all it is seen.
Top: a plan shows the design concept of the kite. Facing the south, the building is conceived as a large roof protecting the activities of the children inside. Above: two stills from a video by Valentina Cocco show the symbolism of the kite captured in flight, illustrating the building’s constructional principle