In a contemporary scenario characterized by global climate change and by over quoted key-words such as sustainability, resilience, shrinking city and urban sprawling, the architectural design overlaps more and more closely with the transformation project of the existing built heritage. The ability to assess the built heritage, the width of the preliminary knowledge on which a project rests on, therefore represents the basis of a contemporary design, if not even its quality. Many innovative projects are nowadays developing in this direction, when the scrupulous conservation of the remnants operates as an engine to the contemporary design for the re-use of an existing building.
The Architectural Preservation Studio will consider the architectural heritage both as a cultural testimony of the past and as a tangible resource for a contemporary re-use. The students will experience how every feature, little sign or imperfection of a historic building may be a benefit to the contemporary design, whereby the architect is able to understand, assess and put them in order. Every different aspect of the project may likewise increase the complexity of a building and its value. Respecting a historic building does not mean preserving a still image of the past, or, worse, to foster a false reproduction. It is rather about preserving the remnants and adding what is required for a contemporary re-use. It is not about imposing but to include the present into a vision of the history as a continuum.
Students will carry out an exercise of analysis and design on a building of the past. Students will deal with three specific tasks for a contemporary architect: analysis (survey and anamnesis), assessment (material and cultural), design (conservation and transformation). The survey of the historic building will gather data on both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the case-study. After measuring lengths, heights and computing the geometric shapes, students will investigate every constructive feature of the building (e.g. construction materials, doors and windows, building facilities, décor, colours). A strong emphasis will be given to the qualification, quantification and interpretation of the decay. In fact, through the process of building analysis, students will be asked to evaluate the state of the building as the result of transformations that have taken place over time. They will learn to recognize the signs of degradation (including structural decay), to evaluate its depth and to understand its causes. Along this path, students will experience how conservation and transformation are not antithetical at all. Conservation is rather one of the ways in which the transformation of a building takes place, focusing on resource conservation instead of dispersion, according to the contemporary mainstream of sustainability.
Lectures will focus on increasing and updating student’s competences about:
- contemporary theory and history of conservation, in an international perspective
- heritage and design, a matter of values: completeness/fragmentation, authentic/original, selection/stratification, new/old.
Lectures will then consider:
- technical drawings and papers for the restoration project
- conservation techniques and methods (problem-solving approach vs. pre-fab technical solutions)
- sustainable enhancement of the architectural heritage.
The case study
The Visconti Castle of Binasco is the case study of the Preservation Studio. The Castle is a fortified complex of the fourteenth-century, once part of the external defensive line of the city of Milan, since it was built to control the road to Pavia and, together with the castle of Abbiategrasso and castle of Melegnano to defend the southern front. The history of the Castle of Binasco is representative of the various phases of defensive fortifications protecting the Duchy of Milan and the other towns, especially in feudal times. These buildings lost their original defensive function since a long time. Nowadays they represent a heritage that requires knowledge and conservation for designing a sustainable reuse. The Preservation Studio therefore consists in an architectural survey and restoration exercise. The practical part will be side by an overview of the current situation of the castle’s heritage in Italy and over the issues that this matter poses in terms of conservation and use.
The Castle of Binasco nowadays appears as the result of several transformations that took place over the centuries. It consists of a fortified enclosure rising above an upland in the center of the town, thus defining the main civic square. The castle consists of a perimeter of high walls with two corner towers and it has also shoe base and remains of crenellations. On a typological point of view, the castle has a structure consisting in a boundary wall and a courtyard and two corner towers. One more central tower once completed this scheme and today no longer exists. The castle consists of two wings: a two-storey western wing with interiors carhacterized by the presence of big rooms covered by cross vaults and pavilion valuts. This wing is also characterized by a double body, a staricase and a large loggia facing the inner courtyard. This building derives from the palace where the Visconti and Spanish delegates resided in the 15thand 16thcentury. The eastern wing consists of a simple two-storey building as it derives form the rustic constructions and stables once leaning against the fortification wall.
The noble wing, on the two levels of the court floor, is nowadays used as the seat of the municipality. The Municipality also owns the areas at the level of the moat, where the public library is located. The eastern wing is owned by the State Property Office, and informally used by the Municipality as storage. The Castle is a reference point for the small town of Binasco: a number of public activities take place in the library, since they lack a proper location: the civic school of music, the children's playroom-space, the co-working activities and the meeting spaces for the numerous city associations. The need is thus for augmenting the space for these public services.
Issues for the preservation design
The project will therefore consist in an hypothesis for recovering the parts of the castle that are today unused, verifying their accessibility and possible relationship with the already existing municipal offices. It is also necessary to redevelop and enhance the green area surrounding the castle, transforming it into an equipped public park, including an area for public events and concerts.
The exercise of the Preservation Studio therefore consists in conducting an architectural analysis of the Castle of Binasco and in designing a restoration and reuse project of the building and its urban surroundings. By discussing the issues of authenticity, safeguard, accessibility and safety, students will design how to transform the unused rooms of the eastern wing into a new civic center. This way, the castle and the surrounding open space will consolidate their role of civic center, alongside the municipal offices. The project will focus on improving the relationship between the public space at the moat level and the internal courtyard on upper level and on the connection paths.
The Architectural Preservation Studio will consist of lectures, seminars and tutorials on topics agreed with the teachers about the project of knowledge, conservation and reuse of a building. Two days (6.3 and 13.3) will be dedicated to the survey activities on site.
The Architectural Preservation and Architectural Survey modules will be strictly connected. In the first part of the course (1stof March – 3rdof May) the students will analyse the Castle and the surrounding area. The goal of this part will be to produce the drawings of the area among via Dante Alighieri, via Villa Teodoro, via Matteotti and via Albertario. Floors plan, elevations and sections of the Castello Visconteo, will be provided by the teachers in .dwg and .tiff format. The students will elaborate these drawings and make them usable for the purpose of the subsequent design phase.
Along to to the survey phase, each group of students will elaborate an architectural concept for a public reuse of the Castle. Following this concept, the students will design the architectural layout, where they will show the functions and paths. Moreover, they will rethink the accessibility to the building, and will design a new staircase-lift to be placed along the north façade of the Castle. The students will also design the layout of the green area and the playground at the level of the moat, thus resulting into a new design for the public square i.e. the city centre.
In the second half of the semester (8thof May – 5thof June) the teachers will review together, so that the project develops in an integrated way with the representation activity. Students will work in 4 work groups of 6-7 students / group.
The SURVEY AND DIGITAL MODELING module has the following teaching structure:
- Introduction to advanced survey, modelling, photography and representation;
- 4 theorical lessons + revisions on survey and modelling, proportion of buildings, playgrounds and urban installations, every Friday afternoon from 20.3 to 8.5
- drafting of the project, from 8.5 to 5.6
The exercise consists in producing orthophotos of the façade of the Castle and of the urban façades forming the square. Thanks to these drawings the students will create a urban maquette in a 1:50 scale. For more information about this type of activity you can see the results of the exhibition "PROSPICERE - Exhibition of two rationalist squares in comparison / The surveys of Piazza Monte Grappa in Varese and Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia" (https://vimeo.com/217669066) and the results of the day "EXAM in / of Piazza", organized in Piacenza in Piazza Cavalli under the loggia of Palazzo Gotico: (http://www.liberta.it/news/cronaca/2013/06/27/il-politecnico-punto-informazioni-per-expo-2015-in-piazza-cavalli/). Students will perform:
- The orthophotographic restitution of the surveys in 1:50 scale 3thof April)
1.1. draw the external façade of the castle, 1:50 scale
1.2. draw the façade on the internal courtyard of the castle, 1:50 scale
1.3. survey of the urban fronts in front of the assigned external façade, (1:50 scale) according on the 4 colours assigned in the layout: yellow (north), red (west), green (south), blue (east).
- The construction of a urban maquette based on the surveys of the castle and of the public space in front of it, scale of 1:50 (24th April)
The organization of the work within each group is free. E.G. within each working group, 3/4 students draw the external façade and the façade of the internal courtyard of the Castle, the other 3 students survey and draw the façades of the buildings on the other side of the street.
The ARCHITECTURAL PRESERVATION module will have the following structure:
- Introduction to the Preservation Studio, to the case study and to the exercise (1.3) + History of the case study (6.3)
- 7 lessons on theory and history of restoration with examples of projects + revisions on the restoration project, every Friday morning from 20.3 to 15.5
- 1 intermediate test about the theoretical lessons (29.5)
- work in the classroom with revisions on 22.5, 29.5, 5.6
For the Preservation module, each group of students will design:
- the architectural-functional layout of the whole castle with the arrangement of the public functions (school of music, library, co-working...), the paths, the accessibility project, in 1:100/1:50 scale, using the drawings in DWG format and according to function program assigned by teachers (10thof April)
- the arrangement of the area outside the moat (paths / playground / garden / equipment for public events), in scale 1:100/1:50 (15thof May)
- the project of the new staircase / elevator to be built along the northern side of the castle, in 1:50 scale (5thof June).
The organization of work within each group is free. E.G.: all the members collaborate in the definition of the architectural layout. Afterwards, 3-4 students design the emergency staircase, the other 3-4 design the paths and the arrangement of the outdoor area and the playgrounds.