Castelvetrano’s new town hall is located in the north-west of the Sicilian city. Along with a number of other public buildings that are currently under construction, it occupies land confiscated from the Mafia. Designed by Orazio La Monaca in collaboration with Santo Giunta, Leonardo Tilotta and Simone Titone, the building reflects important new architectural directions as a contemporary reinterpretation of the old city’s multilayered architectural fabric that focuses, in particular, on the key features of the old town hall.
As a necessary corollary of this design approach, the architect has attempted to construct through the architecture an urban hub – an identifiable space with its own distinct order and makeup. Located on the outskirts of the city, the building also reflects its backdrop of olive groves, a lake, and, in the distance, the Mediterranean Sea and the important architectural site of Selinunte, with its temples and acropolis. While this is the building’s geographical and conceptual context, the new town hall also defines an urban area in its own right, by standing out in its landscape and providing a distinctive landmark through its design and elegant appearance.
The reinterpretation of the old Castelvetrano town hall invites us to consider the meanings that the passing of time gives architecture. Time has embedded the old town hall in its urban setting through the inherent meanings of the public spaces that link the buildings and churches in the old town centre. Elements that interconnect and interweave, elements that are specifically architectural – the old town hall has an imposing portal on a thoroughfare, thereby reflecting concepts of movement and political representation. The building is distinguished by its solid cornice above the upper row of windows, which encapsulates the geometric substance and physicality of the architecture as an abstraction of its decorative aspects.
The new town hall translates this into a contemporary setting in its interweaving of volumes and spaces. The transit areas occupy different levels, the road that passes through the building suggests a permeability of the architecture as a whole, while the volume of the building itself is expressed through the combination of the basic geometries that define the contours of its rectangular prism shape and an articulation that enriches interior shapes within its outlines.
The solid upper fascia, which, like an abstract cornice, terminates the linear rhythm of the eastern elevation, is an obvious feature of the building, which has six aboveground floors and a half-basement area accessible from street level. The compositional logic of the building is accompanied by its functional logic. The sixth floor has service areas and open spaces arranged as a series of terraces and rooms that face onto a central trellised corridor, forming the ideal settings for the public restaurant and canteen.
The building’s relationship with the landscape is fundamental – a core element of the entire design. This is clearly expressed in the design of the sixth floor. The ‘full’ fascia that distinguishes the town hall has two openings – almost horizontal slits – on the western elevation, while there is a large unglazed opening on the northern side, which frames the landscape like a painting. Relationships between ‘secret’ spaces create an intense experience.
On the southern side, the building has a recessed section, with the exterior wall set back between the third and sixth levels. This forms a large ‘niche’ within the virtual volume of the rectangular prism. Relationships between full and empty spaces, recessed and projecting surfaces, create contrasts that reflect an attempt to create a sense of abstract decoration through superimposing geometric and volumetric elements. The large offset square windows here follow a vertical sequence, progressively projecting further out the higher they get, creating a visual and volumetric break in the regularity of the flush rectangular windows on the other sides of the building.
The new Castelvetrano town hall is architecture of contrasts: the building is set into its terrain, with a floor plan at the half-basement level that forms a C-shape with a series of offices with glazed walls and a paved square, while at ground level, which is accessed by open walkways and stairs that offer views of the sky, it projects vertically above it; the solemnity of the solid fascia on the top floor level contrasts with the recessed wall of the floors below; the virtual and real cornices create an interplay that contrasts the architectural elements with the views of the sky and landscape.
Similarities in design approach can be found in Palazzo Deca, an office and residential building located a short distance from the new Castelvetrano town hall and also designed by La Monaca. The building accommodates its sloping site, located between the two parallel streets, making it a part of the design, with the first two aboveground levels following the slope longitudinally. The building forms a virtual rectangular prism, distinguished by the obvious set back of the first two aboveground floors relative to the upper levels and the shape of the top floor, with its reinforced concrete cornice extending the virtual continuity of the wall.
This is architecture based around an overlapping of meaningful contrasts – between full and empty, recessed sections and the resulting projections. On the residential floors, distinguished by their light colour plastering, the composition of the openings avoids rigid alignments or symmetries. On the eastern side, the balconies set back from the line of the façade create large, loggia-like openings, while the western elevation has a interweaving of narrow, rectangular windows. The two lower floors, occupied by offices, have dark ceramic tile cladding, creating a plinth-like appearance, and a series of uniform square timber sections. Within each timber section are four square windows, occupying the same positions round the edges, providing natural light for the interior. The shapes of the windows therefore differentiate the office area from the residential area. Similarly, the interplay of full and empty spaces is a key feature of the architecture, with the strong statement of the full surfaces of the north-west corner contrasting with the empty corners of the top floor, created by a beam that simultaneously frames the building and the horizon.
Location: Castelvetrano, Trapani
Client: Deca Consulting
Gross Floor Area: 2070 m2
Architects: Orazio La Monaca
Design Team: Vincenzo Mangiaracina, Francesco Cannova, D’Antoni Rosa Maria, Dina Leone, Francesco La Barbera, Maria Barbera, Benedetto Monachella Main
Contractors: Archimedil, Cascio Costruzioni
Timber doors and windows: Desi Legno
Tiles: Cia Pirrello
Photo by: 1/5-7/9-11-13-16 © Lamberto Rubino, 10-12-14-15-17 © Ignazio Marino, 6 © Francesco Pagliari
Orazio La Monaca
After graduating in architecture from Palermo university, Orazio La Monaca started up his first practice in 1990, showing a particular bent for studying materials and using light to define space.
In 2003 he set up the firm of a x a = area architettura.
In 2008 he won the GB Vaccarini Award “Quadranti d’Architettura” for the best completed project in Sicily; in 2009 his plans for a new building in the Castelvetrano Town Hall received the “Premio di Architettura Ance Catania” and he was a finalist, with special mention, at the Third Edition of the Medaglia d’Oro all’Architettura italiana (Milano Triennale 2009).
In 2008 he won the “Premio Ischia di Architettura alla carriera” for a completed hotel building project and the GB Vaccarini Award for a work of interior design.
In 2010 the volume “Orazio La Monaca, works and plans” edited by Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi was published by Edilstampa Publishers in their Architects series. His plans and completed works have appeared in reviews and collective volumes. Works of his have figured in architecture exhibitions, including: “2010 European Prize for Urban Public Space" in Barcelona; “Project Lebanon” in Beirut; 3rd edition of the Medaglia d’Oro all’Architettura italiana, Milan Triennale; 23rd World Architecture Congress in Turin; 12th Venice Architecture Biennale, Italy Pavilion, “Ailati. Riflessi dal futuro”.