Industrial and manufacturing buildings

Technopole former tobacco factory

Bologna | Italy


Emilia-Romagna Region, ECMWF, Cineca
Architectural design
gmp - von Gerkan, Marg und Partner Architect
2017 - 2023
Amount of works
140.000.000 €
Services Provided
Structure design | Construction management
Industrial and manufacturing buildings
Total area: 120,000 m2
Construction technique
Reinforcement of reinforced concrete structures with composite materials, steel and carbon fiber

An industrial monument

The Ex Manifattura Tabacchi complex, designed by Pier Luigi Nervi in the 1950s, is one of the most important industrial architectures dating back to the 20th century. Its redevelopment must meet numerous requirements: first and foremost, respect for the architectural design of the complex, preservation of its image, restoration and enhancement of the reinforced concrete structures, and seismic and plant engineering upgrading of the buildings.

The Ex Manifattura Tabacchi in Bologna is a monument of industrial architecture. Due to its strategic location with respect to the city, it was chosen to house the new Tecnopolo of Bologna, which houses the data processing center of the European Weather Center (ECMWF) and the Leonardo supercomputer, managed by the interuniversity consortium CINECA. The goal of the intervention is to create an innovation and experimentation hub for industrial research and technology transfer: the complex will house active laboratories on mechanics, materials, construction, life sciences, energy-environment, design, and information and communication technologies. These will be complemented by offices, teaching classrooms and infrastructure connecting with the city center.

Construction site redevelopment former tobacco factory Bologna Tecnopolo
European Weather Center (ECMWF) Tecnopolo Bologna
interiors site redevelopment former tobacco factory Bologna Tecnopolo
interiors shed site redevelopment former tobacco factory Bologna Tecnopolo

Industrial architecture and technological innovation

Driving the intervention is the desire to overcome the barriers separating the complex from the city, creating a new and strong integration with the urban fabric, both in terms of the adjacent neighborhoods and the relationship with the historic center and, on a larger scale, with its territory, becoming an international hub for the digital economy, big data, supercomputing, and climate change.
The Bologna Technopole will occupy an area of 120,000 m2 and will include a system of research laboratories, offices and multipurpose rooms, aggregate spaces with habitable dimensions to allow socialization and mutual exchange between business and research sectors, and buildings to serve them.

The historical value of the complex dictated respect for the pre-existence and its enhancement, considering it as a scenic backdrop in which to intervene with a focus on functionality and accessibility, while respecting the architectural and historical value of the site.

New technopole Bologna former tobacco factory

Seismic and plant upgrades

The main interventions included the seismic and plant engineering upgrading of the complex.At the time of its construction in the mid-1950s, there were no regulations on seismic risk, but the genius of Pier Luigi Nervi was such that even then, while applying only the rules of proper static design, he managed to confer a higher level of seismic safety than the standards of those years. The project included seismic retrofitting, given the increased performance required by dynamic analyses and earthquake-induced stresses.

The intervention was carried out with the use of composite materials, steel plates and carbon fiber bands. An in-depth study on the application of composite materials made it possible to arrive at a solution that does not alter the existing volumes and forms, respecting Pier Luigi Nervi's design with interventions that are imperceptible.

The pavilions of the most significant buildings, with their typical lozenge-patterned coffered barrel vaults, once used for the storage of raw tobacco, are maintained in their integrity, implementing the necessary adaptations to the new functional and technological requirements: the structures are thus kept in view.

The interventions for the structural safety of the buildings, particularly the adjustment to ensure seismic safety, included the removal of vermiculite at the extrados of the roofing barrel vaults, replaced with a thixotropic fiber-reinforced mortar hood, and the removal of the previous plaster at the intrados with the subsequent application of new plaster reinforced with fiberglass mesh.

The reinforcement of the main reinforced concrete arches was achieved by applying carbon fiber bands that, due to their high mechanical strength, while having limited thickness, allowed high flexibility and total compliance with the original geometries of Pier Luigi Nervi's design.

Aerial view of construction site redevelopment of former Manifattura Tabacchi in Bologna
Redevelopment of roof of former tobacco factory building in Bologna
Former Manifattura Tabacchi redevelopment site in Bologna New Tecnopolo
The intended use of the building, after restoration and rehabilitation works, required the achievement of the use class in relation to level III seismic actions: "buildings whose use involves significant crowding." Given the importance of the complex, intended for laboratories with strategic public functions for which continuity of use is necessary even in the event of an earthquake, the client requested the application of Class IV, the maximum applicable, and Nominal Life of 60 years so as to achieve a Useful Life of the building of 120 years.
Use class IV new Tecnopolo Bologna
The project, involving the placement of computational supercomputers inside the aisles, included the construction of new high-capacity surface foundations that once connected to Pier Luigi Nervi's existing foundations significantly increased bearing capacity, stiffness and averted possible foundation drift phenomena in the event of a seismic event.
Earthquake-resistant reinforced foundations Tecnopolo Bologna
In the body built in 1954, Pier Luigi Nervi experimented with a lozenge-shaped coffered barrel shed roofing system, which went on to create the double-ribbed ceiling typical of his works.

With regular pitch of 8 m, large tapered concrete arches support the vaults and unload the actions directly onto the plug walls that run the length of the sheds.
Photo Historic lozenge coffered barrel shed roofing
In the Ex Manifattura Tabacchi complex, which belonged to several State Monopolies contracts, Pier Luigi Nervi experimented with construction and prefabrication solutions, which were later patented.

In the building called Ballette of size 210 x 24 m on 5 floors with an area of more than 24,000 m2 the patent for the orthogonal cross-ribbed floor slab, which will return in the plants for Fiat Mirafiori or in the Burgo paper mill in Mantua, is applied for the first time on a large scale.
Building site and prefabrication solutions Pier Luigi Nervi
"Concrete is the most beautiful building material man has ever invented."
Pier Luigi Nervi

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