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  • Sesto Calende
  • Italy
  • Architect :
    Studio Castiglioni and Nardi / Arch. Maurizio Colombo and Cristian Meletto
  • 2009
  • Client :
    Air Vergiate - Italian Flight Training Organization 001
  • Engineering Firm :
    Ing. Paolo and Marco Lucca
  • Contractor :
    steel: alveolar beams ArcelorMittal Cellular Beams
    technical consultant ACB: Mauro Sommavilla ArcelorMittal Commercial Long Italia
  • Photographer :
    Andrea Raffin forArcelorMittal, Studio Castiglioni and Nardi


Rehabilitation of the Flying School at Lake Maggiore

The restoration work for the new centre of the Airvergiate Flying School at S. Anna in Sesto Calende, on Lake Maggiore, has given life back to a “sacred” place of Italian civil aviation. In fact, the first civilian flying school in Italy established in 1915 adjacent to the seaplane base and the industrial complex for the production of seaplanes, was located in this building.

The airplanes of the two world wars were manufactured here and from here the seaplanes left for the first heroic transatlantic flights. The small building also housed during the Second World War the X Fleet MAS. According to a legend that fascinates X-Files and UFO enthusiasts, Mussolini’s Secret Service brought and hid here certain mysterious “unconventional aircraft” which arrived in the area in 1933.

After being abandoned and neglected for decades, the restoration and development project of the ex seaplane base has been launched. It was decided that the small building be restored to its original use by opening a civil aviation training centre, even if the new pilots will no longer use the calm waters of the lake as a take-off and landing runway, until the water landing area has been reactivated (the Airvergiate fleet currently uses the Biella Airport as its operating base).

The historical building had a pitched roof supported by a metal reticulated truss of the Polonceau type. The approximately 5.8 m height to the underside of the beam allowed the available area to be doubled with the creation of a loft at a height of about 3.50 m.  The need to find a structurally light solution for the new loft was obvious in order not to burden with excessive loads the original masonry columns, some of which had deteriorated because of humidity. It was therefore decided to use two intrinsically light materials: steel and wood.

The solution proposed by the designers for the metal structure of the new loft was not discounted: the suggestion of the honeycomb shapes of the beams, with the wide circular openings in the core, that because of the aeronautical similarity remind one of the lightweight ribs of the wings of aircraft, was stronger than the suggestion that could at first appear more logical, namely that of a reticular beam in dialogue with the existing one of the roof.

The honeycomb beams, characterized by material and visual lightness, were made starting from laminated steel profiles (IPE400) transformed in the workshop through special processing – a double continuous sinusoidal cut along the entire core with welding in-line of the two T-shaped elements obtained -, allowed the section height to be increased by 50% (614 mm) and to give life on the core to large circular perforations at 80% of the final height of the beam. Finished with a treatment of aluminium-coloured paint, the 13 m honeycomb light beams reproduce on an enlarged scale the structure of the wings of airplanes.

The parallel beams are arranged obliquely compared to the rectangular plan of the building: during the design, special attention was placed on the visual alignment of the holes, which from beam to beam “thread” perfectly. Placed at a reciprocal distance of 3.5 m, the beams are hung by rods to the metal truss: besides adding dynamism to the interior space, this particular structural layout allowed us to free ourselves from the problem of the early 1900s walls of the building being out of square.  The floor is finished just with planking of pressed laminated wood 10 cm thick, which acts also as brace for the beams-rods pendulum system. In order to hang the system, it was first necessary to reinforce the reticular roof beam with new braces and gussets, inserted in the interstice between the two profiles in C to the truss.

The building of the flying school also has a bar and a multipurpose room available to the community that opens onto the park of the ex-seaplane base, a nature-oriented area that is rich in history.

Text: Tommaso Tirelli

Scuola di volo dell’ex-idroscalo di S. Anna
Sesto Calende (Varese)
Project: Studio Castiglioni and Nardi / Arch. Maurizio Colombo and Cristian Meletto
Structure: Ingg. Paolo e Marco Lucca
Customer and  user: Air Vergiate - Italian Flight Training Organization 001
Propriety: Comune di Sesto Calende, Provincia di Varese
Steel: travi alveolari ArcelorMittal Cellular Beams
Technical consultant ACB: Mauro Sommavilla ArcelorMittal Commercial Long Italia
Photos: Andrea Raffin for ArcelorMittal, Studio Castiglioni and Nardi

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