Vincenzo Solimene, whose family has been working for more than a century in the ceramic business, engaged Paolo Soleri to plan his new factory in 1951 and was completed by 1954. It is one of the most significant buildings of this century, standing on solid rock in the small town of Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfitan coast, which is famous for its ancient tradition of ceramic craftsmanship going back to the 15th century. Its production of crockery, floor and wall tiles, worked and painted entirely by hand, combines the use of ancient techniques, such as the use of the potter’s wheel, with the very latest in modern technology in order to guarantee the strength and durability of its crockery even when washed in modern dishwashers. The great versatility in the decoration, in the shapes and in the lead free glaze, which is the result of continual study and research, allows us to satisfy any customer requirement and also enables us to create new products on request. The factory exports all over the world, and also holds exhibitions and courses for the training of young people in the art of ceramic production, thanks to the “Centro Studi D’Arte Vietrese” which holds annual courses, authorized by the Campania Region.
The building is as if carved into the rocks overlooking the sea entirely ceramic. From the outside a bright enamels mosaic in the form of a drapery, almost as a garment giving a hint of what is produced inside, constructed with sixteen thousand waste vases, glazed in copper green or in simple terracotta embedded into the facade.
If the outside is wavy and sinuous like the Amalfi domes, the inside is geometric and defines the space towards the center. This fifteen meters central skylight illuminates the objects that are produced every day by expert hands.
The interior, flared upwards, follows the same archaic principle of the object that is produced: the growth of the vase on the lathe. The ramp going through the floors, defines the four stages of ceramic processing and allows us to better observe the thousands of coloured and painted dishes, cups and vases.
The pieces are fired at the top floors and slowly come down to be painted in the main atrium, as you descend into the building you see this chromatic and also geometric change - from the material to its final creation. The building accompanies you throughout the production of a single object - starting with the terracotta and gradually seeing its final shape and colours. The objects become part of this scenography, framed in every gaze. They’re simultaneously actors and props that drive the public - constraining you to squeeze and linger among them. It is an architecture that screams the craft made with hands, which is still in full fervor today.
Soleri studied the constructive typology and patterns of functional distribution in various superimposed levels and steep slopes. The communication between stairs, curbs and signposted external pathways appears on the various levels of terraces, so typical of the Amalfi coast, until reaching the ground level where the finished product arrives, ready for sale.
The floorspace available is long and narrow, obtained by excavating into the rock. Internally, it is divided into five floors, formed by a large helicoidal ramp which overlooks the central area of the building, creating the different work spaces. On the ground floor, they display and sell the finished products. From this level, the ramp leads to the different levels of processing, where each worker and artisan can freely choose his workspace, then finish and leave his piece.
This ramp is supported by large inclined pillars. Solimene follow the traditional system of ceramics production, with wood-burning ovens, where the process is completed vertically: beginning on the top floor and finally arriving on the ground floor where pieces are decorated and fired. Soleri developed an articulated, ogival factory. It is not centred on one space, but rather on various spaces at the same time.
Without a doubt, one of the elements which distinguishes and characterises this project is the “cladding element” used on the façade. Circular bases of amphoras, of round terracota vases, the classic “mummarelle” (a protagonist for centuries in Roman architecture), bottles lacquered in green and many other pieces are embedded in the concrete cladding and decorate the façade.
These lacquered ceramic elements not only help with the insulation of the walls, but also with the maintenance of the façade and, in this case, with the intrinsic character of the work. Their use also provides a modern reinterpretation of the use of ceramic, an eternal element the whole length of this zone in Italy.
The perforated design of the roof which contributes to the luminosity of the factory has been made using a framework of wood, and the construction of the ramp, pillars and general structure uses reinforced concrete.