The fast show: Italy's Enzo Ferrari Museum is a fitting memorial to its maverick creator

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Jan Kaplicky knew how to fail, brilliantly, better than any other architect in the 21st century. The practice that he and Amanda Levete ran in London's swish Holland Park was called Future Systems, and it became famous for losing architectural competitions with building designs that ranged from gleaming amoebas to towering, ribbed condoms. Even so, they delivered two of Britain's most extrovert buildings, the periscopic Lord's Media Centre, and the glittering supersized basque known as Birmingham's Selfridges.

Kaplicky's final building, the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, has just been completed by his protégé, Andrea Morgante and his London-based practice, Shiro Studio. Kaplicky's fascination with cars and big, big toys for big, big boys is perfectly distilled in the museum's design: it's a giant sports car bonnet, a sleek, Modena yellow obituary to architecture's charming Mr Awkward, who dropped dead in a Prague street in 2009.

We may never see a building quite like this again. Its architecture comes from an imagination not of the future, but from Kaplicky's dream world, which was filled with the shapes of military aircraft, high-tech bits and bobs, and 1950s sci-fi magazines. The museum's shell suggests the sleek lines of a 1972 Ferrari Dino 246 GT, but also recalls spaceships on the covers of Astounding Science Fiction. Kaplicky was, as per the cover line on the May 1951 edition, a "galactic gadgeteer".

The museum is his finest gadget. And two things about the building are completely surprising. The museum, and the Ferrari family's beautifully restored original home and workshop next to it, cost the equivalent of £11.8m – which would barely secure a quarter share in an apartment at One Hyde Park.

Even more unexpected is the relationship of the museum's form with its urban context. A bright yellow building with 10 rooflights shaped like streamlined air-intakes should terrorise the mixture of architecturally calm 18th, 19th- and 20th-century buildings in this part of Modena. It doesn't. Why not? Firstly, because the building is half buried, with an aluminium roofline no higher than the ridge of Alfredo Ferrari's old metal-bashing workshop. Secondly, because the museum is simply graceful.

Simply being the key word. Andrea Morgante, who completed the project for the city of Modena after Jan Kaplicky's death, is apologetic about some of the building's details, and speaks wistfully of the kind of refinements seen in high-tech buildings by that master artificer of structural joints and connections, Nick Grimshaw.

Morgante's concerns are slightly misplaced: racing cars are pared-down machines, always on a knife-edge between design innovation and failure. When Norman Foster designed the TAG McLaren headquarters in Surrey, his proposals for wind-bracing struts were turned down: McLaren's boffins designed simpler ones. The architecture of the Enzo Ferrari Museum lacks that degree of ultra-refinement, but it succeeds in the most important way. Its form is more than an obvious metaphor for fast cars: the building looks, and feels, absolutely, a part of this stripped-down, high-performance world.

And Modena, after all, has been at the heart of motor racing since the 1920s, the city's workshops and factories turning out Alfa Romeos, Bugattis, Maseratis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. Enzo Ferrari drove for, and managed, Alfa Romeo before setting up his own motor racing company in 1940. The Enzo Ferrari Museum may not be the official Ferrari museum – that's in Maranello, 10 miles south – but it is still a cabinet of beautiful automotive curiosities, with 21 cars floating on thin platforms raised a metre above the floor.

Everything, apart from the cars and the yellow pods that contain the museum's shop and lavatories, is white. The interior is like the inside of a vast, high-tech oyster shell. And the cars – such as the cream 1948 Ferrari Barchetta, and the agate grey-blue 1955 Maserati Zagato Spyder – seem to have formed rather like multi-coloured pearls; automotive figments transformed from the nacreous grit of design ideas into gleamingly perfected high-speed machines.

It is hard to think of 21st-century motor racing as anything more than a sterilised video game populated with multi-brandmarked, baseball-hatted androids given to saying "for sure". But in this museum, we glimpse an age when cars screamed round the bumpy sopraelevata banking of the Monza track at 170mph on tyres that wouldn't be acceptable for a modern BMW family saloon. And Enzo Ferrari was a ruthless overlord of this world. "If he had been in politics," reports the motor-racing writer Joseph Dunn, "Machiavelli would have been his servant."

There's more than a touch of the sopraelevata to the museum's facade, a deliriously slanting double-curve of glass striated with horizontal louvers, engineered by Arup's Sean Billings. Each of the 30mm-thick steel-tension rods that lock the glass panels into position can take 20 tons of pressure caused by wind or snow. Jan Kaplicky conceived this part of the design as the radiator of a sports car – but that analogy doesn't work. The facade is much more like a windscreen that might have been designed by the Brazilian genius, Oscar Niemeyer.

Morgante cheerfully confirms that the design of the museum is an example of Kaplicky's pathological disinterest in design briefs: "Jan never cared about the briefs. He just liked to draw. He never designed options – the final design was always the evolution of the original sketch." Morgante made a significant contribution to the design, suggesting that the building "should be as if it was turgid and inflated, like a bonnet, and Jan agreed immediately."

Morgante describes the museum as a kind of hand that embraces the old Ferrari family buildings just 30 miles north of it. The metaphor won't do: the museum's form is paw-like, at best. It makes much more sense to think of the new and old buildings as history and modernity in vivid tension.

The architecture of the Enzo Ferrari Museum is the star of the show, but Morgante's design of the exhibition covering Enzo Ferrari's life, in the big barn-like ex-workshop, is a conceptually exquisite masterpiece. Morgante's idea was very simple: a pure white oblong with projecting fins that would suggest the pages of a three-dimensional biography of Enzo Ferrari, who was universally known as Il Commendatore.

Screens telling his life story are set back in the pages so that, as a whole, this oblong form radiates a wonderful, almost gorgeous, stillness. And high above this block of pages, two massive new white steel cross-braces – shades of tough, 19th-century engineering – hold the barn's walls together.

Andrea Morgante has delivered a very fine piece of restoration and exhibition design that is far more engrossing than Kaplicky's original idea for the space – a meandering red tifosi banner-cum-surface carrying images and artefacts from Enzo Ferrari's life. Morgante's approach has given the contents an interesting, slightly surreal piquancy. In all this white, perfectly sculpted purity, it comes as an amusing shock to gaze down into a small display vitrine and behold signor Ferrari's famous black-framed dark glasses.

The man who wore those glasses once said: "If you can dream it, you can do it." He also said aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines. The new museum has realised Modena's dream to sanctify its most famous son – even if some might give precedence to Modenesi such as Luciano Pavarotti, or the Vatican's senior exorcist, Gabriele Amorth. The museum also proves that, particularly here (and whether Il Commendatore's ghost likes it or not) aerodynamic form has a place in the architectural fabric of this city.

Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot