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The Ferrari Factory is a showcase of design excellence. goes beyond the gates of the spectacular production plant to view the architecture and engineering that maintains the lionized automotive producer's pole position in the motoring world.

Access to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, near the northern Italian city of Modena, is generally limited to owners, dealers, and members of the home team. As one of the fortunate few to be invited through the gates, you expect to be impressed by the firm’s commitment to innovation and beauty, but this high-tech campus far exceeds expectations. Top architects were invited to create energy-efficient buildings that rival the sleek lines of the automobiles. The gleaming floors and the walls of glass and steel are highlighted with vibrant splashes of red – in the signage, the workers’ overalls, and the cars themselves. You can order a Ferrari in almost any color you want, but most customers choose the signature red. Plantings within and around the buildings add abundant greenery. The French poet Baudelaire must have imagined such a place when he wrote: “La, tout n’est qu’ordre et beaute/Luxe, calme et volupte.” Then reality intrudes. The hush of the assembly lines is broken by the heart-stopping roar of a new car on the test track.

The complex has a new entrance, where hopefuls gather to snap photos, like groupies outside a recording studio, but the shock of discovery is greater when you approach through the original point of entry. Suddenly, you are in the midst of the action, confronting a mural of Ferraris, and a scarlet wall flanking the new GT assembly line. The French architect Jean Nouvel is celebrated for his inventive shapes and daring cantilevers – notably in his Lausanne concert hall and Genoa exposition center. Here he has created a gleaming container for the production line. The soaring space is bathed in natural light and full of trees. Robotic arms carry each shell and part to a long line of workstations where skilled craftsmen perform delicate manipulations and check the assembly to be certain it’s flawless. The atmosphere is more like that of a hospital operating room than a factory. Every car manufacturer employs robots, but rarely is man matched to machine as seamlessly as here. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion, and the spectacle is hypnotic.

The Ferrari complex is like a little town where the main boulevard is named for the company founder, Enzo Ferrari, and side streets for Fangio, Hawthorn, Lauda, Surtees and fellow drivers who achieved glory on the track. Another production line is dedicated to the Formula One racing cars that established the brand after its founding in 1947, and still draw legions of fans. The plant operates around the clock, with a two-hour break for maintenance at 3am. Crankshafts and other milled steel components are displayed on plinths. To stay ahead of competitors, on the road and on the track, Ferrari is constantly innovating, and architect Massimiliano Fuksas has created a serene center for the product development team. Fuksas, whose profile and air of authority evoke one of the more admirable emperors of Rome – his home city – earlier created the vast new Fiera of Milan. His contribution to Ferrari more closely resembles the church he recently completed in the Umbrian town of Foligno. It’s a cool, transparent block with a reflecting pool, pebbled borders, and bamboo that abstract a Japanese Zen garden.

Close at hand are bolder architectural gestures. The Turin architect Marco Visconti designed the restaurant, which seems ready to fly into space, and Renzo Piano created an equally expressive wind tunnel. A son of Genoa, whose family were builders, Piano is best known for his art museums – from the De Menil Collection in Houston to the new Modern Wing for the Chicago Art Institute and, of course, the innovative George Pompidou Center in Paris. The wind tunnel is a striking departure from the cool elegance of his signature works. In contrast to its boxy neighbors, the aerodynamics testing facility exposes its giant, tightly knotted ducts, and it’s an apt symbol of the quest for speed that propels the three thousand people who work here.

It’s worth driving to Maranello to visit the Galleria Ferrari behind the factory. There you can admire classic cars that may have inspired Enzo Ferrari, notably a powder blue Alfa-Romeo that’s as long and curvaceous as the legs of Cyd Charisse. It was built in 1938 as a last flourish of luxury before Europe was consumed by war. Ferrari emerged from the chaos that followed: a manifestation of the artistry and invention that Italians always demonstrate in turbulent times. A parade of cars that built the legend culminates in the newly unveiled 458 Italia. And if you cannot have a car you can buy one of the crankshafts and display it as a work of art.

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