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Landscape, psychology and design: the Prada factory in Valvigna

Immersing yourself in the landscape makes you become more creative. Living in contact with nature increases your well-being. But bushes and flower beds are not enough to turn a workplace into a garden factory. «Nature needs to be designed», experts say. And manifesto-projects such as Guido Canali’s Prada factory in Valvigna.


When you walk in the Prada factory in Valvigna (Tuscany), designed by  Guido Canali, a question springs to mind. How much serenity can nature provide to our everyday life? Because this is the feeling that one feels here, a few meters from a motorway. In a place that should be breathing out fatigue, since it was built for people to work and produce goods. Yet everything – the rows of cypress trees, the vine trellises, the pools of water – leaves inebriated. and invigorated by the Tuscan essences that fill in the air: elder, honeysuckle, ampelopsis and ivy. Prada factory Valvigna

Can nature make us happy? And to which extent?

The answer to this question which is as old as the world exists. It comes from a study by the European Center for Environment and Human Health (conducted for 18 years out of 10 thousand people). «Access to nature is, by itself, a factor that increases dramatically the well-being of humans. In the long run even more than a love relationship», says Matthiew White, author of the research. Which is like saying that between a garden and a partner, to have a feeling of fullness, the former gives more certainties than the second. Prada factory Valvigna

Prada’s Industrial Complex in Italy

Scientists have been talking for decades about the saving power of nature

It was in the 1980s when Roger Ulrich (now professor of architecture at the Center for Healthcare Building Research at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden) managed to prove that hospital patients in rooms with a view of nature were released long before the others. And since then Ulrich (who had himself been sick for months in the past) has been working for the cause of the therapeutic gardens. That is, green places designed specifically to make sick people feel good (and heal first).Prada factory Valvigna


But if nature can help those who suffer, what could it do for those who are subjected daily to stress, physical or mental fatigue? To the need to concentrate for long periods? In other words, for those who work? According to Francesca Pazzaglia, who directs the Master in architectural psychology and landscape at the Padova University, this is a hot topic amongst architects and institutions. Prada factory Valvigna

Landscape and psychology

«This is the topic that landscape psychology deals with. We are talking about a discipline that is new in Italy (the Master of Padua has been running for three years), but that is entering the university classrooms and design studios. And most importantly, it is catching people’s attention». According to Pazzaglia, it is not a passing trend. «I would rather say it is a collective necessity linked to the time we are living. Because the surge in the complexity of everyday life, the quantity of the built areas and the ubiquity of technology create disorientation. Nature, in this context, is no longer an ornament but the answer to a physical need for mental and physical wellbeing». Which, in a work environment, also translates into better productivity.


Aresearch study from the Kansas University carried out by Paul Atchley has shown that the possibility to immerse oneself into the landscape increases creative outputs and problem solving capabilities by 50%. So it should not surprise anyone to see that after ping pong tables and skateboard tracks, communal gardens are now the new must-have of the great Silicon Valley corporations, from Yahoo to Google, who are evenr hunting for talents and ways to keep them. Prada factory Valvigna

According to Helena Chance, author of The Factory in a Garden (Manchester University Press, 2017), this new interest in the landscape in the world of work is a return. To a historical moment in which another technological revolution, the industrial revolution, shook the world.

The story of garden factories started with the industrial revolution

«Whoever says Victorian factories thinks of crumbling and obscure environments, with exhausted and exploited workers. but in many cases this is a distorted image», explains Chance, a professor of design history at Buckinghamshire New University. «The idea of gardens and parks for employees has a long history, starting right at the dawn of the industrial revolution».

We know this well also in Italy, since we played a fundamental role in the history of the garden factories. In fact, Adriano Olivetti designed a “dream-like” production site with Neapolitan architect Luigi Cosenza and with landscape designer Pietro Portinai. He was imagining «a worker who can gaze at the gulf before resuming to his task, regenerated».

The exceptions, in a landscape focused on profit

«These were isolated cases, due to enlightened entrepreneurship rather than a widespread conviction of green as a factor of well-being», says Pazzaglia. «In most cases, when designing an industrial environment, purely economic aspects are valued to obtain immediate benefits. without asking questions about the factors that can instead bring more important benefits in the long term. Like landscape. It is often added as a decoration and left without care».

In order to bring well-being, nature needs design

It is one of the main errors. Because a landscape that brings wellness is not a simple lawn nor a beautiful wood near the work environment. «It must be designed»,”Pazzaglia continues, «keeping in mind the psychological factor. Wild nature, for example, is scary. And abandoned nature looks like degradation. On the contrary,  open spaces are attractive and welcoming, as long as  they don’t feature too dense vegeration. People feel particularly protected when they see wide-crowned trees and water. In essence, what makes us feel good is the “readability” of the landscape. Understanding what is the access, which routes are passable and where they will take us. If there are buildings, the landscape must help navigate in the middle, offering protection and immediately indicating the function of the architecture. Nature gives serenity, it’s true. But, in a human context, only when it’s been properly designed». Prada

factory Valvigna

Guido Canali: a Prada factory that becomes a garden

Like in the Prada Factory in Valvigna. Where there are four main areas. The two-storey building with the warehouse and the sample laboratories, the rooms with the electric, thermal and hydraulic power stations, the canteen and the offices. All clearly distinct and legible, but united by a “green discourse”. The canteen and the atrium of the offices are imagined as greenhouses, with transparent covers protected by a pergola for microclimatic control. The laboratories, with their long windows, look out onto hanging green areas, a backdrop that changes with the seasons. While inside the ground floor and the first floor there are internal triangle spaces, areas planted for breaks.

Nature is not an ornament

«The secret gardens, the shady bowers, the shining ponds do not represent a formal complacency. but respect for the dignity and health, even psychic, of those between these walls and these gardens must work», says the architect who designed the complex, Guido Canali. Those who enter Valvigna, in short, feel immediately surrounded by beauty. But the aesthetic pleasure of the landscape and architectural solution should not be the end of a project on a human scale: if anything, it is a means to get to his heart.

The garden factories that Guido Canali has designed for Prada have been recently illustrated in a book curated by Italo Lupi with Francesca Picchi ««Guido Canali, architetture per Prada» (English texts included). For info: click here

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