Skateboarders dreamed place to work.
Founded in Milan in 1994 by four skateboarders, Comvert S.r.l. conceives, produces and distributes clothing for skateboarders and snowboarders under the brand bastard and distributes the brand Electric in Italy.
Few years ago Comvert decided that it was about time for finding a new location to set up its new headquarter and gave studiometrico the opportunity to search for the right building and then, possibly, to refurbish it.
The ideal place had to be spacious enough to be able to host the administrative department, the design department, a flagship store, a storage facility, a wide access for the goods and a skate-bowl for bastard employees, friends and team riders.
The existing building
Designed by engineer Mario Cavallé in the 40’s, Cinema Istria is a cinema theater with an overall surface of 1.400 sqm and an overall volume of 6.600 m³ occupied by the old pit and by a suspended balcony of 350 sqm. The roof of the building is composed by several arches in reinforced concrete. A 800 square meters ceiling light fixture is suspended under the vault through a steel construction.
Although it had been used by its last owner as a car dealer for some years, at the time of our first visit the Cinema theater was still able to show its original character. For this reason, and for its capacity to satisfy Comvert needs, it has been immediately perceived by designers and clients as a ‘unique place’. In 2006 the Cinema was purchased and in January 2007 the refurbishment started.
studiometrico has first observed and gathered information concerning habits, attitudes and wishes of Comvert employees. These collected data have been drawn up, presented and discussed in several meetings with the aim of defining a desirable and shared idea of ‘working together’. This idea could be translated in facts through the construction of working places that could facilitate a continuous communication between employees. Organizing Cinema Istria as a space and having it equipped with all the necessary infrastructure was extremely complex. Nevertheless the cinema has proved to be an incredibly adapt environment for the realization of architectural places that could respond to those needs that had already been focused on. All the activities that constitute the history, the culture and the world of bastard are put in a continuous physical and visual communication.
The main entrance of the Cinema, a regular room of 70 sqm, has been transformed in the first bastard Store, conceived not only to sell products, but mainly to meet the people that belong to the bastard universe.
All of the furniture are mounted on wheels and can be freely placed on the original marble floor. The cashier desks and the clothes displays have been assembled using left-over wooden panels from the offices construction, the dressing rooms have been fitted out with the left-over wooden elements from the bastard Bowl. A system of wooden elements has been designed to display skateboards, sunglasses and goggles. Comvert partners collaborators and employees will work one shift a month in the shop so that they are in close contact with the product they usually design, distribute and sell.
The half-moon shaped old foyer, flanked by two curved staircases leading to the upper balcony and connected through several glazed windows with the volume of the old pit, it’s a recurrent element in Mario Cavallé projects. It works as barycentric element of the cinema, it connects all the principal spaces and it joins the main axis of the building with the rotated axis of Via Slataper. The original marble floor lays on a slightly slanted plane, the stairs have solid curved wooden handrails, two light fixtures composed by metallic circular elements are placed on two pillars.
The administrative department offices have been organized on a larch platform that straightens the level of the floor and hosts the necessary electrical installations. Three banisters work as containers and provide the necessary privacy protecting the employees from the curious eyes of the visitors of the adjacent bastard Store.
In the 15 m tall and huge space of the old pit, against the wall on which the old screen used to lay, the metallic, black painted, two storey structure of the products depot has been placed.
The depot can be accessed from the administrative department or directly from a courtyard – connected with Via Slataper – that lays along one of the sides of the building.
One of the walls of the courtyard is characterized by an enigmatic graffiti drawing done by artist and skateboarder Lorenzo Fonda. The products depot is the predominant element inside the volume of the pit and it doesn’t just act as a big container for the goods, but, more importantly, it carries and – through an industrial steep staircase attached to its structure – provides access to the bastard Bowl.
This Department has been built on the slanted stepped surface of the balcony. This choice has provoked a structural and architectural challenge on one hand, and has permitted to positively respond to the problems related to the dynamics of work on the other. The balcony, suspended over the pit is, together with the bastard Bowl, the most spectacular element of the project. A steel structure has been fixed onto the existing concrete beams of the balcony to carry the different wooden platforms that modify and adjust the levels of the old steps without changing their nature. The platforms are fitted out with three-layered larch panels that constitute the banisters and the desks for the individual work stations.
The differences in levels provide privacy and exposition at the same time for the employees.
The lower steps of the balcony have not been modified. The original wooden floor and wooden banisters have been restored and the existing levels have not been adjusted in order to guarantee the access from the curved staircases from the lower foyer and to obtain a free, flexible open space. These lower steps are mainly used as showroom for the products that are presented to the sales representatives that sell them to more than 300 shops in Italy and abroad. The black-painted removable steel standers can be interchanged with the ones in the bastard Store and are characterized by two little ‘horns’ to recall the Comvert logo designed by studiometrico. The showroom can be used, from time to time, for informal meetings, video projections, fashion shows to present the collections or, more simply, as a chill-out area.
Suspended at 6m over the products depot, placed in front of the design department, the bastard Bowl is too important not to find a location inside the new headquarter of a company founded by skateboarders. It is the pride, attraction and ‘dream that comes true’ for Comvert partners, employees, friends and team-riders. The idea of placing this 200 m² bowl on top of the products depot came from the need of saving space and from the desire of establishing a visual and spatial relation with the design department. The bastard Bowl is composed by glue laminated wooden element and steel curved beams, it has been designed by Comvert partners together with the engineer practice Atelier-LC and is a unique case in Italy.
Photographs by Giuliano Berarducci & studiometrico