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Doing what comes naturally

Far from being a soulless cavern, the Nuova Fiera di Rimini uses warmth and natural materials to make the exhibition centre a welcoming place both to visit and to do business in

Too many exhibition centres fall into the category of a necessary evil. The vast size is there, the facilities are there, people can show their products and meet each other in the approved manner, but the place is soulless, confusing and depressing.

How refreshing, then, to see a new exhibition centre that bucks all these trends by being logically laid out, airy, full of natural light - and which makes generous use of timber, a material not commonly associated with such locations.

The Nuova Fiera di Rimini is set in an Italian town that, although more commonly associated with cheap-and-cheerful seaside holidays, has a long and distinguished architectural history. This is reflected in the approach to the fair buildings, which has been described by the architect, Hamburgbased von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, as 'orientated around the Emilia Romagna tradition, which has characterised European architectural history since the ancient world and the Renaissance'. The design is strongly axial but within the clear geometry, classical elements are interpreted in a contemporary manner.

With an exhibition area of 80,000m 2 and a service area of 50,000m 2, the Fiera consists of 12 exhibition halls, congress and conference rooms, event areas, restaurants, shops, administration offices and the necessary auxiliary and storage rooms.

The entrance forecourt has a fountain and four tall, square, light towers that signal its presence from a distance. The main entrance has a portico and a circular domed meeting space. The single-storey exhibitor halls are arranged along colonnaded walkways. They are modular to allow maximum flexibility of use, despite the formal layout.

Both the dome roof and the roofs of the exhibition halls are in timber.

The circular dome has a 30m diameter and is 22m high at the crown. A central oculus brings in light both to the space and to illuminate the dome itself, which has a latticework of structural members coming together towards the apex. Timber boarding behind runs circumferentially.

Similar construction is used in the exhibition halls, where the roofs span a 60m by 100m column-free space. Along their central apex, glazing rises above the timber structure, again bringing light into the space. The architect has taken as its inspiration for these roofs the load-bearing structures developed in the 1920s by Friedrich Zollinger as netlike wooden roof vaults. However, by using modern techniques of laminated timber construction, it has managed to produce spans far larger than those Zollinger could achieve.

The architect used Scandinavian timber and took care to ensure it was all from renewable resources. It described the success of the project by saying 'The Italians have organised a competition and we have worked with them to create a unique experience: as disciplined as Prussians, hardworking as Swabians, and always punctual, they cost half as much as Germans and are timely in making decisions.'

Another way of looking at this synergy of cultures is that a distinguished German architect has embraced an Italian architectural tradition to build a complex that, by making wise and imaginative use of Scandinavian timber, transcends the usual bland international experience of visiting exhibitions.

ARCHITECT von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, Hamburg

LOCAL PARTNER ARCHITECT Dr Clemens Kusch, Venice

CLIENT Ente Autonomo Fiera di Rimini

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Favero & Milan, Venice

TECHNICAL AND ELECTRICAL ENGINEER Studio TI, Rimini

LANDSCAPE DESIGN Studio Land, Milan

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