There are quite a few competitions out there involving fashion houses and groups, but they are usually open to universities and they are aimed at students graduating in this field. Last year, instead, the Italian hosiery, underwear and swimwear company Calzedonia Group announced it was funding an international contest launched by the local authorities in Verona for a project for a retractable covering to protect the Arena.
The Roman amphitheater hosts opera, ballet, theatre and music performances and a covering would protect it from the elements (especially rain that is constantly damaging it), while offering the chance to use the space throughout the year.
Calzedonia offered 100,000 euros for the international contest that was open to architects and engineers worldwide. Eighty-seven proposals were sent in from countries all over the world including Italy, Switzerland, Britain, the US, and Japan.
A jury of experts analysed all the projects taking into consideration several criteria including feasibility, functionality, sustainability, safety, quality of the designs, architectural coherence and compatibility with the Arena's structure and with its archaeological and architectural restrictions.
Winners were announced two days ago at the Politecnico university in Milan: the main award went to a partnership formed by Stuttgart-based Schlaich Bergermann & Partner (SBP) and Berlin-based Gerkan Marg & Partners (GMP).
Their project consisted in a membrane-like covering supported by a system of cables and cloths. When the covering is pulled, it turns the Arena into a sort of giant scallop shell; but the roof can disappear under a permanent steel structure, located on one side of the amphitheater.
The second prize went to Sicilian-based Vincenzo Latina with a design featuring permanent metal cables supporting inflatable segments, while the Italian-Spanish ensemble lead by Roberto Gianfranco Maria Ventura won the third position with a structure composed by a series of pillars located outside the building and supporting a cloth covering.
Though the idea of the Arena covering first emerged in the '90s, it was never put into practice. The estimated cost for this project is actually quite high - 13.5 million euros (part of the financing of the project will come from Calzedonia) - and, if approved by the cultural ministry in Rome, it should be in place within three years.
Commercially speaking, the project for Calzedonia represents part of the same exercise in restoring and colonising buildings seen in recent years and carried out by many fashion companies (as you may remember, Della Valle's Tod's financed works at the Colosseum in Rome; Fendi sponsored the restoration of the Trevi Fountain and of the Quattro Fontane; luxury jeweler Bulgari helped cleaning the city's Spanish Steps, while Diesel jeans founder Renzo Rosso invested in restoring the Rialto bridge in Venice in return for using it as advertising space).
Calzedonia may easily turn the project not just into an advertising opportunity, but also into a range of dedicated products maybe inspired by the membrane-like structure or developed in collaboration with the winning architect studios (we cringe at the possibilities of underwear with prints of the Arena, but there are interesting possibilities for small accessories and affordable garments including shirts and leggings).
Yet the most intriguing aspect of this competition remains the fact that, though funded by a fashion company, it was not fashion-related: maybe this event proves there is a new trend out there with fashion groups reaching out to professionals from other fields and disciplines, something that we hope will generate in future more collaborations also with institutions focused on technology and science to maybe develop genuinely innovative materials and products.