Location: Montelupo Fiorentino, Italy
Type: Architecture, Museum
Client: Bitossi Ceramiche
Photo credit: Delfino Sisto Legnani
The musealization of an archive of over 7000 ceramics exhibited within 1500 square meters in the historical production space of Bitossi Ceramiche, where history and contemporaneity are the focal points of the narration. A Company that boasts a centenary tradition and that counts collaborations with the greatest international designers of the last Century.
The exhibition of the museum of Bitossi industrial archive, located in the heart of the Tuscan production district of Montelupo Fiorentino (Florence), is an opportunity to tell the story of the century-old tradition that combines history, innovation and craftsmanship research of the company, becoming a creative testimony of Bitossi Ceramiche and defining its identity.
The goal was to make the entire historical archive a museum, making it a source of free use for the public, and also a source of inspiration for professionals and creative people thanks to the double layout designed for both ceramics and paper documents.
The constant action of the project was to recover the space currently dedicated to the museum, over 1500 square meters, in its original structure, showing off the historical memory of the place where the ceramics were produced. The idea, in fact, is not to abstract the exhibits from the container but rather to preserve and enhance the stratifications of time with the desire to keep all the elements of the pre-existing industrial architecture (production supports, flooring, doors and windows, electrical gutters, etc.) and thus avoiding the normalization of space. The chosen planning method does not want to tell a story by isolating it in areas without identity, but tends to contextualize it in spaces that generate more levels of reading and that increase the visitor’s curiosity.
The archive is the main exhibition space in the museum experience that extends for over 90 meters in the rooms of the production complex: it is a continuous, full and compact source of materials and information, it preserves the pieces in special shelves, it can be used for the daily operational activities of the archive and, at the same time, it makes the historical collection of ceramics available to all visitors.
The complex of ceramics on display occupies the empty spaces in the structural framework of the architecture and provides for their organized arrangement on fir wood shelves, a reinterpretation of those used in production and now found with an exhibition function.
More than 500 linear meters of flat display surfaces that, thanks to their design flared towards the inside, cancel the materiality of the fir support and make the exhibited works float, enhancing them.
This arrangement of the objects is designed to generate the perception of a mass in motion and diversified, in quantity and depth, by the observer. A first reading level, directly facing the exhibition path, allows the visitor to look at the emblematic ceramics in full view and in detail; a second level gives a more evocative view of the objects on display; finally, the last level gives the perception of an array of ceramics emerging from the shelves behind. The choice of disposition on different reading levels, as well as following a chronological criterion, is always the result of a museological choice linked, for example, to the historical value of certain ceramics or to their specificity; the display also allows a continuous curatorial flexibility: it is not rigid, but always modifiable according to the story that one wants to tell.
In dialogue with the shelves, but placed in the central part of the space, single pieces of the archive are exhibited. Those pieces are particularly interesting for their uniqueness, size, or because they are part of a stylistic, typological or chromatic whole, as in the case of the colored Rimini or the Totem by Ettore Sottsass.
To enrich the display, exceptional installations have also been placed centrally, which illustrate to the visitor the richness and complexity of the materials on display: the aviary, which takes up the checkerboard pattern of an old pre-existing window and houses ceramic birds; the control cabin, which has become an aquarium for Aldo Londi’s fish; an old freight elevator, now reused as a space to house the artwork Il dormiente con il coccodrillo by the artist Mimmo Paladino.
The principle of stratification, at the base of the museographic project, also generates the choice for the display of the drawing archive that highlights the design at the base of the production of the ceramics: drawings, workbooks, photographic images and documents testify, in fact, to the creative richness of the company and the evolution of a method of craftsmanship projected into the future.
Large fir wood frames, sized and positioned in correspondence with the perimeter windows, act as an exhibition support for the archive, a formal work on the architectural voids that evokes the idea of an “explosion” of architecture and makes the exhibited documents emerge in front of the visitor, adapting in a proportionate and insistent way the contents displayed to the frames behind, preserved and restored as a memory of industrial architecture.
A memory that becomes functional as for the electrical gutters, industrial modules found in the original space, repositioned on the project axes and readapted as a support for the electrical passages and lamps designed specifically to illuminate the graphics of the museum.
The entire museum itinerary is defined by symmetrical axes, formal relationships and material dialogues: displays and modular structures that give a feeling of infinite continuity along the structure of the building. The lighting project, curated by Studio Pasetti Lighting, also helps to recreate this perception, reinforcing the concept of the archive as a source, by means of a diffused perimeter light that runs along the entire exhibition space and accompanies the visitor’s path thanks to a modular lighting body of over 90 meters, together with specific lighting systems for the punctual enhancement of the objects and documents on display.
The reorganization of the architectural elements, in dialogue with the layout, also passes through the design and attention to detail, such as the uprights of the museum bollards positioned in axis with those of the shelving; or the choice of materials and colors, such as RAL 7023 gray, taken from the original color of the architectural frames and used for portals, baseboards and all the new iron structures.
In the same way, the design of the mechanical systems, left visible and positioned on the longitudinal lines of the space, in correspondence of the caps of the exhibition shelves, suggests order, direction and visual continuity to the visitor’s gaze.
Even the entrances of the structural iron portals are perceived as passage cuts in order not to interrupt the continuity of the space that, freed from wall components added in recent times, has allowed a specific museographic direction. Once inside, the visitor will have a wide overview of the exhibition project in which he will feel free to direct himself towards any point of the layout.
The project, in fact, plays on the contrast between the display rigidity of a scheme specifically studied for the ceramic, installation and paper archive and the multiplicity of paths offered to the visitor.
In addition to the archive, there are other museum spaces, such as the entrance, an immersive place that welcomes visitors and can be used as a space for temporary exhibitions; the plaster room, an introductory space to the main exhibition path where the protagonist is a central display that hosts a selection of the historical plaster casts on different levels, and the showroom dedicated to the Company’s current production.
In the idea of the project, contemporaneity coexists with the nostalgia of which the places appropriate, thus laying the foundations for a look towards the future. For this reason, the museum path ends by leaving a free space, dedicated to the next Bitossi Ceramiche collaborations.
Architectural and exhibition design
arch. Luca Cipelletti with arch. Nicolò Gobini (AR.CH.IT Luca Cipelletti)
arch. Gianni Vivoli (Vivoli e Di Fazio Associati)
Christoph Radl with Yuta Kurimoto (RADL)
Studio Pasetti arch. Alberto Pasetti Bombardella with arch. Claudia Bettini and arch. Chiara Brunello
DDS Elettronica S.r.l.
Punto Uno Arreda S.r.l.
Center Chrome Fine Art Print