22.9.2016

New Pecci Center for Contemporary Art in Prato

The project for the extension of the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, signed by architect Maurice Nio, is part of a predominantly industrial area, economically vibrant but still devoid of any prominent architectural feature. It is conceived as an extension and connection for the original building, designed by Italo Gamberini completed in 1988.

The first center for contemporary art in Italy was born in Prato in 1988. Conceived by entrepreneur Enrico Pecci and donated to the city in memory of his son Luigi, the Center was built with the support of several founding partners, including the Municipality of Prato, the local industrial association, Cassa di Risparmio di Prato, and a large group of private citizens: a rare Italian example of collaboration between public institutions and private patrons. Its mission was promoting a sensitivity towards emerging art —both national and international— by means of temporary exhibits, didactic activities, shows and multimedia events. The Pecci Center boasts a unique collection in Italy with over 1.000 works by leading international artists: from Anish Kapoor to Jan Fabre, from Jannis Kounellis to Sol LeWitt, as well as the great Italians of the last century, such as Mario Merz or Michelangelo Pistoletto. A patrimony regrettably sacrificed in the storerooms for a long time due to a lack of exhibition space.

To ensure that these assets be given due recognition, in the early 2000s the Pecci Center decided to double its exhibition space and, at the same time, renovate the original building by Gamberini, some aspects of which had become critical and obsolete. The enlargement works, funded by the Municipality of Prato and the  Region of Tuscany (through European Funds), started in 2006 and focused on the construction of a new wing with strong architectural impact, connected to the original building, whose functions and services were redeveloped and upgraded in the meantime. The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome supported the birth of the new building.

The project for the extension of the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, signed by architect Maurice Nio, is part of a predominantly industrial area, economically vibrant but still devoid of any prominent architectural feature. It is conceived as an extension and connection for the original building, designed by Italo Gamberini with a profile that was strongly influenced by the surrounding industrial landscape and completed in 1988. The complex is located near the East exit of the A11 autostrada, along the highway that connects Florence with Pistoia. A place of transition and transit, where the existing building stands “like the imperial palace in Tokyo, visible to everyone but very inaccessible”, notices Maurice Nio who, with this observation, pinpoints the primary aim he gave himself when designing the extension: to declare the presence of the Center, to highlight its access points —rather hidden until today—, to invite the public to explore its spaces, its collections, its exhibitions. Also, the project is meant to complete and reorganize the circulation within the art center, refining its exhibition possibilities and enhancing its use.

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“Sensing the Waves” is the name Nio himself gave to his project. A declaration of intent and a program. The antenna is a sensor, a system capable of intercepting (and transmitting) forms of creativity and artistic productions in the region. Its form can be strategically interpreted in many ways, according to the viewer’s imagination and fantasy: a disc, a ring, a long wave, a horseshoe, a spaceship, a sliver of the moon, a piercing as someone already described it. A scenic presence, an urban signal, an attention-grabbing element. An object that senses, stimulates reactions, elicits visions.

“As opposed to the rather rigid, mechanical character of the existing museum building ―partly inspired by the industrial architecture in Prato―, the new project”, recounts Nio, “looks fluid and ecstatic. It embraces the existing building and touches it only there where needed for the circular plan”. In addition, Nio’s project aims at establishing an interaction with the city around: the green area around the Pecci Center —formerly the site for an open-air art collection— was reorganized and made more practical and more visible both from the boulevards around the museum and from the eyes, sort of large portholes, of Nio’s ring-like extension. Contemporary art now escapes the envelope of the museum space and discloses itself to the city.

The new spaces of the Pecci Center are arranged along the circular extension embracing the existing structure. Nio’s extension joins the two ends of the original building. It encompasses two levels: the ground floor hosts all facilities aimed at visitors and opens itself toward the city by means of a glazed facade; the upper floor is devoted to the exhibitions, its outer envelope a warm, bronze-colored metal skin. Besides hosting new functions, the ring allows the preexisting building to double its surface area and to diversify its flows and trajectories.

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Transparency and opacity, concavity and convexity, light and heavy masses continuously interact and trigger curiosity in visitors, encouraging them to explore the spaces, to discover variations and similarities. Hovering above, off-centered, is the “antenna”, symbol of the mission of the new cultural program: sense creative energies and signal their presence. Says Nio: “It’s an antenna. It gauges the cultural mood in search for new movements”.

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