With an international track record in performing and visual arts buildings, Italy's Renzo Piano has now converted a sugar factory in Parma, near Florence, into a simple, elegant, no-frills concert hall.
One-time partner of Richard Rogers and designer of the Pompidou Centre, 64-year-old Renzo Piano is now firmly established as Italy's top international superstar architect. While working on the practice's largest building in Italy's capital, a new-build concert hall, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop has converted another concert hall in the ancient city of Parma.

Named after Parma's most famous musical son, Niccolò Paganini, the concert hall started life as a sugar factory, part of a 19th-century industrial complex near the historic city centre.

Long before the factory was converted into a musical auditorium, the surrounding industrial complex was razed and landscaped as a luxuriant city park. Just as the industrial building's massive oblong brick shell offered suitable acoustics for a concert auditorium, so the park serves both as a noise buffer zone and an attractive amenity for concert-goers.

Piano's design concept is simplicity itself. All cross walls in the 90 m long brick shell have been removed and the space filled with 780 seats, almost entirely in straight rows, and a stage large enough to accommodate an orchestra and a choir. The two gable-end walls have been reconstructed as clear-glazed screens so the audience can gaze out into the park while soaking in the music, and passers-by can return the compliment.

A new raised platform has been profiled to create the stage at one end and shallow-raked seating at the other. Beyond the raked seating, a large foyer is set at a lower level between two glazed cross walls, and concert-goers enter this directly from the park.

The acoustics of the space have been improved by a series of slightly concave acoustic reflectors suspended from the roof and placed vertically either side of the stage. The hall is capped by a new double-pitched roof supported on slender industrial-looking steel trusses.

A smaller neighbouring factory building has been similarly converted into a rehearsal hall, rehearsal chambers and toilets, and the space in between filled in as circulation and services core.

Like the layout concept, detailing is deceptively straightforward. Piano has little time for fussy historic conservation, and all the clutter of the original buildings has been shorn away to leave the basic shell. In its place, new elements have been inserted in a clean-cut, no-nonsense modern style that nevertheless complements the robust industrial functionalism of the 19th-century carcass.