In the rural commune of Russi in northeast Italy, Italian architecture firm Giovanni Vaccarini Architetti has converted an industrial zone once used for sugar production into the new grounds for the Powerbarn, a bioenergy production plant with a sculptural appearance. Inspired by eco-friendly principles, the architects crafted a masterplan that integrated the architecture into the farming landscape and restored and re-naturalized approximately 280,000 square meters — including three wetlands — for the benefit of the local ecosystem and community. Surrounded by human-made dunes to soften its appearance, the Powerbarn uses biomass, biogas and solar systems to generate an output of approximately 222 GWh a year — enough to satisfy the energy needs of 84,000 families.
Once the site for the Eridania sugar factory, the former industrial property has long felt at odds with its agricultural surroundings. That’s why Giovanni Vaccarini Architetti paid special attention to the edges of the property, which the team has redefined with human-made dunes — rather than an industrial fence — constructed only from earth used from the construction site excavation. The vegetated dunes help soften the Powerbarn’s size; the main building that comprises the furnace and smoke line measures about 100 meters in length and over 30 meters in height.
“Our intention was to create something similar to a natural bastion, almost a dune, along the edge of the area now converted into the pole for energy production — hence an element closely linked to the ecological functions of an environment,” Giovanni Vaccarini explained. “Not a barrier, but a functional element that would express our design intentions: to create a permeable, accessible and living element.”
Inspired by the “razzle dazzle” camouflage technique, Vaccarini clad the Powerbarn in large triangular panels of timber and steel that also evoke the art of weaving and nomadic architecture. The masterplan also includes a building for offices, an electric substation and an area for wastewater collection. In addition to solar, the Powerbarn is fueled with wood chips and organic materials sourced within a 70-kilometer radius of the site along with livestock sewage that’s fed into the biogas plant.
Photography by Massimo Crivellari via Giovanni Vaccarini Architetti