Increasingly, architects are hired to design new work for existing structures. Whether for reasons of preservation, sustainability, or cost-effectiveness, the movement to reuse buildings presents a variety of design challenges and opportunities. Old Buildings, New Designs is an Architecture Brief devoted to working within a given architectural fabric—from the technical issues that arise from aging construction to the controversy generated by the various project stakeholders to the unique aesthetic possibilities created through the juxtaposition of old and new.
Old Buildings, New Designs features nineteen innovative case studies of built work by an international list of renowned architects — including Daniel Libeskind, Renzo Piano, Foster + Partners, and Herzog & de Meuron — as well as an insightful foreword by noted architect and preservationist Hugh Hardy.
Il Forte di Fortezza
Markus Scherer and Walter Dietl
Photographer: René Riller
Fortezza, Italy, 2007
Completed in 1838 by the Hapsburgs, Il Forte di Fortezza is located in the southern Tirol region of northern Italy. It is an enormous stone edifice constructed to defend the Eisack Valley during the reign of the Austrian Empire. In 1918, the Italians took control of the fort, and as recently as 2003, the Italian army occupied the site. Although it was touted as one of the strongest forts in Europe, it never came under fire.
The fort consists of three massive lobes of granite construction that follow the contours of the alpine terrain; the lobes are interconnected by a maze of underground passageways. As large as a small town, the fort now serves the region as a cultural center. In 2007, architects Markus Scherer and Walter Dietl began restoration of the complex, adding elements to accommodate the center’s activities.
The original architecture is heavy and powerful with a distinct medieval ambiance, despite its relatively modern origins. Granite masonry walls, vaulted ceilings, stone stairs, and rough-hewn passageways predominate. Architectural critic Catherine Slessor describes the work by Scherer and Dietl: “The thick granite walls were restored, roofs waterproofed, and windows repaired. Walled-off spaces were opened up and unsympathetic later additions removed. Throughout, the process has been a tactful cleaning up and drilling down to the raw form and structure of the fort, which itself acts as a cue for the new interventions.”1 The architects’ interventions are also strong. Employing the simple materials of concrete and matte-black galvanized steel, the work complements the existing architecture.
Although the new components are purely functional in nature, they are precisely located and carefully detailed. One of the most dramatic features is a seventy-foot vertical passage—cut into the native stone—that contains stairs and an elevator to connect the subterranean caverns to the fort above. The shaft culminates in an entrance pavilion—a small concrete and steel building that also includes restrooms. This utilitarian structure is set against a partially deteriorated stone-wall enclosure in a manner that completes the composition both artistically and functionally.
For a circulation loop between exhibition spaces, Scherer and Dietl designed a daring, two-level, L-shaped bridge over a lake that abuts the fort at a lower level. Connecting two facades of an inside corner, the bridge is made of channel-shaped steel gangways that look as if they have been shoved out of openings in the masonry until they intersect and then are tied back to the walls with tension rods.
The interventions seem to have been made only where necessary to solve a practical problem, yet they are thoughtfully rendered in two basic modern materials so as to be differentiated from the original construction. At the same time, the new forms are almost military in their bearing, fitting comfortably into the fortress context as summarized by Slessor: “This intelligently judged reciprocity between architectures, eras, and functions is emblematic of the surprising rebirth of an extraordinarypiece of nineteenth-century military history.”
Selected case studies discussed in Old Buildings, New Designs