Asymptote Architecture’s design for the Azzano-San Paolo Master Plan, a 100,000-square-meter commercial development, was recently unveiled at the MAPIC international retail real estate conference in Cannes, France. The site for the new master plan is an area south of Orio al Serio International Airport near the historic city center of Bergamo in Northern Italy. The master plan, as conceived by Asymptote, is a meandering and intriguingly articulated collection of surfaces that seem to have evolved naturally from the adjacent farmlands and calls for powerful, yet subtle, new architectural works placed on an urban plinth. Overall, the Azzano-San Paolo Master Plan is a signal for the possibility of such developments to be aesthetically compelling and architecturally dynamic. 

The manifestation of the Italian rural landscape in built form is an elegant solution to the real and commercial need for mid- to large-scale development projects such as this one. The site is divided into various precincts accommodating cinemas, a planetarium, shopping and retail centers, medical facilities, hotels and office complexes, altogether forming a balanced and harmonic symbiotic relationship to the surrounding airport, roadways, rural context and already completed developments nearby. The surfaces of the master plan climb in subtle slopes upwards, allowing for the programs beneath to be adequately planned and programmed to include places to walk and enter the various buildings from above, and to be used as open public spaces, amphitheaters and cafés that are open to the sky and surroundings. 

Beneath these planar surfaces are urban spaces influenced by the great Italian tradition of colonnaded public streets such as those found in Bergamo and especially Bologna. These “undercuts” provide sheltered, dignified promenades, public sidewalks, retail frontage and so on, while also providing a means of defining public streets versus the private realm, a process, through architecture, of humanizing the streetscape and allowing people to experience a new and modern urban environment that, although drawn from the past, is firmly and precisely centered on the future. 

The project’s clean lines, articulated roofs capes and surfaces, dignified public streets and parks, as well as the playful nature of the architectural forms that spring from the planar surfaces, all comprise a new approach to this scale of development in areas and locales within the Italian context where people need a sense of place and purpose that is not solely tied to the past and its powerful presence in this country, but provide a glimpse of a future where efficiency, commerce and culture comingle in a dignified place that is wholly new and progressive, without being empty and devoid of meaning.