Green Life Headquarter: Sustainability in its purest form

Parma, Italy
Frigero Design Group

Green Life Headquarter

Sustainability in its purest form

The new office buildings on the Crédit Agricole Italia campus in Parma, certified with LEED Platinum in 2019, are a prime example of sustainable construction. Planned by the architecture office Frigerio Design Group in Genoa, they harmonize with the existing buildings, offer a pleasant working environment, are highly energy-efficient and rely on sustainable building materials. The KeraTwin K20 ceramic facade system of Agrob Buchtal provided the project with additional certification points.
The new Green Life headquarters of Crédit Agricole Italia (a subsidiary of one of France's biggest commercial banks) is located southwest of Parma's old town on the edge of a large park. There are some buildings designed by the architect and industrial designer Vico Magistretti in the 1980s for the former Cassa di Risparmio di Parma as well as three striking new buildings of the architecture office Frigerio Design Group. The heart of the newly structured campus for a total of 1500 employees - 650 of them in the new buildings - is the single-storey forum with a surrounding glass facade and green roof.

The forum serves as reception building, central meeting point and location of the company restaurant. In addition, the path leads from there to two free-standing four-storey office blocks whose pent roof superstructures full of photovoltaic panels towering far above the flat roof edge make a clear statement: As the tip of the iceberg, as it were, they suggest that the buildings were planned in an exemplary and sustainable manner down to the last detail.
The design approach is based on Crédit Agricole's newly defined brand identity, which includes the slogans "Green Life" and "Smart working". In addition, ecological and sustainable building has always been a central concern of the architects. However, the new headquarters is sustainable not only because of the geothermal heating and cooling system, the use of grey water and the natural night-time cooling of the offices, but above all because of its variety of working environments, which people like to use permanently because they feel comfortable there.

On the south side, the office buildings offer open spaces with lounge areas and retreat islands, and on the north side, mostly enclosed offices and meeting zones, while the green inner courtyards under the central pent roofs provide plenty of daylight and communicative permeability. The large glazed southern facades and the open floor plans enable high solar gains in winter - the summer sun protection is provided by an overlaying layer of small-sized expanded metal elements. The north, east and west facades cladded with the KeraTwin K20 curtain-type and rear-ventilated ceramic facade system of Agrob Buchtal, on the other hand, are rather closed in order to minimize heat losses.
Initially, these facades above the fully glazed ground floor appear above all as mysteriously shimmering surfaces of differently dimensioned horizontal window and ceramic strips. Some of the fields merge seamlessly into each other, others only touch at the corners.


The result is an airy and light building envelope which playfully conceals how large the buildings are due to the hardly recognizable floors. As a reinterpretation of the strictly linear facades of Vico Magistretti's existing buildings, the new ceramic shell creates a pleasantly uniform image on the campus in addition. This is not least due to the comparable colour and surface qualities: Magistretti used ochre bricks, and the architects of the Frigerio Design Group chose unglazed ceramic tiles of the KeraTwin system in the colour Natura 412 (salmon).
At second glance, regularities can be seen in the gently undulating sea of window and ceramic strips: on the one hand, recurring component dimensions suggest a strict building grid; on the other hand, vertical joints running through the entire height indicate the prefabrication of large facade elements. All essential building dimensions are based on the basic dimension of 180 cm - the column spacing and floor heights as well as the size of the facade elements. In view of the 180 cm wide and 360 cm high prefabricated elements and the architect's wish for narrow horizontal formats underlining the horizontal, the KeraTwin facade tiles have the size of 90 x 20 cm.


In order to be able to fit perfectly into the prefabricated elements, special formats with slightly different sizes and cross-sections were also used.
The prefabrication of the complete facade elements with windows and ready-to-install facade ceramics supplied by Agrob Buchtal offered several advantages: the individual components could be quickly and precisely joined in a factory hall regardless of the weather and then be easily mounted on site. However, the prefabrication also made it possible to develop the building envelope right from the start according to the architects' credo of "minimal, simple and green" and, as in many other projects of the office, to use "durable and recyclable materials which reduce the amount of maintenance required". KeraTwin facade tiles consist of natural raw materials with high-quality clay as the main component. Thanks to the Hytect coating, which is durably baked in at the factory, they improve the air quality by decomposing exhaust gases such as nitrogen oxide and at the same time have an antibacterial effect withoutusing chemical products, thus effectively preventing algae and moss formation.

In addition, the hydrophilic ("water-loving") surface causes a self-washing effect, which makes every rain shower a free and environment friendly cleaning process. These innovative properties not only offer concrete practical advantages every day, but also provide the project with additional LEED certification points.
The LEED Platinum award winning building ultimately is exactly what the architects called "Slow Architecture" when they founded the office almost 30 years ago: "Our architecture loves where we built it. It identifies with its surroundings and wants to be lived. And it's not afraid of growing old" - a clear statement to which nothing more can be added.

Photographer: Mario Carrieri