giovedì 30 aprile 2015


The Castle of Comezzano, set in the Po Valley near Brescia, was built in the 15th Century around a preexistent tower. Entirely made of bricks it has the typical plan of the Castles of the Italian plain, both in dimensions and shape, with a flooded ditch all around the rectangular complex of buildings, lift bridge, towers and a generous internal court. Subsequent additions and demolitions deeply modified the complex. The greater intervention, dated in the second half of the 19th century, saw many secondary volumes demolished and a complete redefinition of the main residence. During the 20th century some volumes also collapsed, because of neglect.

The restoration of this castle is the most representative intervention on heritage conservation designed by our studio to date. Besides, for our studio and more generally, at least in Italy and Europe, it's more and more frequent to operate on existing buildings instead of starting from scratch.

The intervention on the complex focuses on three main areas, i.e. the restoration of the remaining parts of the 15th century Castle, the reconstruction of some volumes partially collapsed during the second half of the 20th century and a few new additions to the existing buildings. A new definition and use of the open spaces of the internal court and the ditch is also detailed.
Every minute part of our work has been supervised by the local Commission for the Architectural and Landscape Heritage (The Italian “Soprintendenza”).
For each of the three main areas, restoration, reconstruction and new additions, we adopted different strategies, nevertheless all referred to the same theoretical approach to restoration and reuse of ancient buildings, as here detailed.

At the basis of this approach there's the will to pursue a conceptual clarity aimed at maintaining the peculiar state of the building and therefore to avoid a disrespectful design path that would degrade its meaning and its power.
Thus the restoration handles the theme of intervention on the ancient volumes with the aim to keep as much as possible the original parts of the building maintained to the present. This is pursued with non-invasive and localized interventions, using traditional materials. Conservation of the the physical matter is the main goal we have tried to reach, often trying to maintain parts substantially deteriorated when this could not be a harm for the preservation of the building itself and for its usability.

The reconstruction of the collapsed volumes has probably witnessed the most difficult choices. We think to have chosen a subtle solution, which is at the same time effective, culturally sustainable and understated. And we are very proud of this understatement.

The language used for the reconstruction of the fallen portions of the historical buildings allows to clearly acknowledge the typology and morphology of the original complex.
We pursued an autonomy of the rebuilt volumes and a balance of these with the remaining ancient ones. This strategy can be likened to a composition in a composition from which originates a good dialogue between the different parts.
Consequently, the rebuilt portions are easily recognizable compared to the historical ones, as they are slightly simpler than the original in masonry detail, they adopt squared off timbers for the roofs and horizontal structures and the treatment of their walls is uniform. Nevertheless they do not 'appear' as 'modern', they just subtly and not plainly denounce their modernity, and, while not seeming ancient at all, they remain subsidiary to the historical structures.
We'd like that this intervention could be seen as pencil sketch that, with its light lines, meaningful and identifiable, could help to enhance the readability and the general substance of an enigmatic ancient ink drawing.

A totally different approach has been chosen for the actual new parts of the complex, which are just two and very limited in dimension. A little recent and utilitarian addition, set to the north of the main building, built in the 1950s and almost generally collapsed in the last decades, is reconstructed with a wooden facade that aims to make it appear secondary and at the same time definitely contemporary compared to the ancient walls it stands close to. The same treatment is used for the closure of a first floor loggia that is transformed in an apartment. These new elements are designed with a modern use of materials (wood and glass) and detail, counterpointing the historical brick walls. The design of the wooden facade is inspired by Peter Zumthor's 'Gugalun House', where vertical and horizontal planks are intertwined determining so a plastic facade. Other sources of inspiration are Frank Lloyd Wright's George C. Stewart House (the first inspiration for Zumthor himself?) and the less known house Paul Schweikher designed for himself in Illinois in 1937-38. While all these sources of inspiration share a similar (but not equal) juxtaposition of timber planks, our solution nevertheless differs in detail from all these three houses both because the planks are detached one-another and thus constitute a ventilated facade and because all the planks are laterally confined by vertical ones, a system that enhances the feeling of a facade applied to a hidden masonry structure set behind.

The project gives again a proper spatial identity to the ditch, dried up of water since the beginning of the 19th century, which is treated as a grass lawn with no trees, with a hedge that encircles it and mediates its relationship with the surrounding countryside.
The main court, treated as an internal garden serving the dwellings, is rethought with a paving that underlines the geometry of the spaces and the built volumes, leaving the great part of the spaces as a meadow. A great oak is inserted in relationship with the buildings’ masses and integrates the garden.
The open spaces act as a catalyst for the many built volumes of the complex, enhancing its unity as a whole.
With the end of 2010 the first phase of the realization was finished with all the roofs and the facades completed, while the general completion of the work with the finishing is scheduled for the next decade.

Bruno Tonelli
(civil engineer, head of
architecture at Studioartec)

Matteo Gorlani

(architect, Studioartec)