Urban vs. Wilderness
Based on the existing formal system of the island there will be a strong contrast between urban condition and the wild part in the north and north-east. The existing nature is hereby preserved as authentic layer of the past. The campus is a densified evolution of old buildings, extensions as well as completely new constructions. The housing units will be scattered in nature and linked between each other by slightly elevated pathways, These are made with metal grids that do not seal the ground. Moreover they give vegetation the possibility to merge with the new and keep walkability during different weather conditions.
The heart of the university will be a precisely circumscribed open space serves as a ‘trading zone’. A trading zone is a space for crossing, gathering and interaction. The reference for this spatial element is the Venetian ‘Campo’: the presence of wells is transformed into a landscape of water, stone and benches that provide the setting for intellectual exchange. The campo separates and connects the neighbouring building at the same time and refers to historical traces.
The perimeter of the urban form is reinforced by a spatial sequence. It accommodates different urban qualities that reach from ‘intimate retreat’ to ‘generous representation’. Above all they connect different realms such as the outside world with the island, the wilderness with the urban and the northern with southern part. Different pavements distinguish campo and perimeter spaces: whereas the campo is paved with traditional masegni stones, the others feature wood block surfaces that allow water to infiltrate into the ground.
The planning of the new campus enhances the dialogue between old and new in order to create a harmonious yet intriguing composition: traces of existing formal systems, such as the regular central square as well as remaining perimeter walls become the basis for new extensions. Vice versa there are changes to the old which originate in the adaption to the added buildings to keep a set of resilient proportions of volume and height. The open spaces that embrace the buildings follow the central issue of offering a stage to the public and facilitate heterogeneity and connectivity.
The overall idea is to extend the offer for public institutions by a new university campus that can benefit current and future citizens of the lagoon. Poveglia becomes a place of intellectual retreat with accommodation options on-site. Whilst the island will become more densely built, certain existing buildings will get extended. The main urban strategies are:
The project in Poveglia aims at introducing the idea of the shelter as leitmotif relating back to the 3 categories which have been identified for the current state of the existing buildings. In this way each category – desolate, damaged, intact - corresponds to one approach i.e. one type of shelter. The architectural articulation of the three types was developed in a way that different spaces with varying atmospheres are able to give sufficient possibilities for a range of uses. Last but not least it was crucial to treat the existing with care yet giving a contemporary answer.
The first approach deals with the buildings which have preserved both facade and roof. Making full use of their potential main appearance and most of its physical fabric is preserved. The intervention consists of an insertion of a new nucleus inside the shell of the existing. The interference of the house-in-house principle creates a layering of spaces which is enhanced by the mediating function of the generated thresholds. Decisive openings allow more light to enter and mark the renewal of the building also on the exterior.
The second approach remedies the situation for the buildings which suffered the most: a second skin will create a covering layer all around the old parts and encase them completely with a transparent closure. The formerly collapsed roofs will be substituted with intermediate ceilings which can be easily regulated according to visual and acoustic comfort. The extension by the second skin increases the amount of usable space for academic activities.
The third approach provides another type of shelter which applies for all new constructions made on the island. It is mainly built in wood offering a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It can easily adapt to a wide range of spatial configurations reaching from housing units up to big gathering spaces for lectures, assemblies and large scale events.
There is something to the setting of the island. The abandoned ruins and the dominance of nature, they make one think about the essential things in life, the struggle for survival and the most basic needs for a primitive shelter. It is most probably the hostile exposure to rain, wind, fog and the isolation from the outside world. In this sense, Poveglia brings us back to an old tale. The story of Laugier’s Adam as described in his Essay on Architecture published in 1755. The Abbé argued with his ‘Primitive Hut’ in favor of a man-made shelter that served as a meteorological defence in a solitary, individual experience. ‘Houses come before temples. (...) Pragmatism comes before ritual. Structure comes before space.’1 Compared to our case there are intriguing parallels to Laugier’s primordial scenario. Most notably there is the necessity of creating shelters for human activity in a difficult environment. The powerful imaginary of such a quest suggested the idea of shelter as guiding theme in the development of the architectural language. Whereas in the tale everything is made ex-novo, Poveglia raises an additional question: what is the role of the existing, the ‘found-spaces’, as shelter?
The Cave Type is characterised by a two layer system: On the outside we kept the original brick masonry which features a timber roof construction with tile cladding. The openings are double glazed windows and wooden or glass doors (depending on their orientation). The inside is an insulated concrete shell with ceiling height openings.
The Tent Type follows the described stratification principle: the outside is defined by a structural glazing as façade, whereas the roof is a steel girder construction with a trapezoidal sheet metal with a casted concrete layer, insulation and PV panels on top. The vertical load-bearing is ensured by steel columns positioned every 3.5-5 m (varying in each building). The inner part preserves the existing brick masonry walls covered by lightweight polycarbonate panels which serve as horizontal noise barrier and thermal conclusion of the aula spaces.
The Hut Type can be described as timber board cladded wood stand construction supported by concrete skeleton (in the smaller units concrete is substituted by a wooden frame). The acoustically separated inner core is made of cross laminated timber panels which are attached to the vertical load-bearing system or are suspended from the roof.
Finding the right balance can be complicated. In fact, the aim to keep the existing buildings is by nature diametrically opposed to pure contemporary requirements. Values are not universal and depend on the point of view: preservation is a matter of appreciation for historical objects, an attitude and by no means absolute necessity. Differentiating between value and valorisation can be hereby a first step to get the situation under control: whereas the term ‘to value’ implies the appreciation of existing, ‘valorising’ is intended as ‘giving added value’. That is to say that the specific values of the project are supplemented by ‘added values’ that should enhance the first ones instead of diminish them.
Phenomena of innocuous colour and material alterations will be preserved since they are part of the material authenticity and can trigger age value. Internal partitions will be considered for the new layout, existing flooring and roofs kept were possible. These measures are indispensable to guarantee the aspired historical continuity not only as idea of the old but as tangible physical fabric. The crucial point is to render Poveglia’s architecture readable to the users which will enable the buildings to acquire and then to maintain sufficient appreciation for continuous care and future preservation.
The interior of the mensa recalls the spatial experience of being in a naturally formed cave. It surrounds you entirely with a solid shell which gives you an unanimous tactile experience: rough, unpolished and primitive. The impression of an edgy space is obtained by triangle-shaped panels which unify ceiling and walls to a unique architectural language. Sun rays infiltrating a cave through narrow slots are simulated by stripes of light which are built in the joints of the panels to generate a diffuse illumination.