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.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
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: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there