The intervention concerned the restoration and functional recovery of the Benedictine Cloisters of San Pietro, the most extraordinary monumental complex in the city of Reggio Emilia. The monumental body is structured around two cloisters and testifies to a moment of incredible liveliness of Benedictine monastic architecture. As a military area then abandoned, this place represented an inaccessible area in the heart of the historic city until the moment of rediscovery for sporadic events such as the European Photography festival. With the aim of strengthening its natural cultural vocation, the restoration of the complex was financed with European funds through the POR-FESR regional program to return it to the public as an important cultural center international.
The project involved three closely related interventions in a single operation. The first concerned the completion of the restoration of the monumental body with the equipment functional adjustment for an excellent use. The second concerned urban regeneration through the demolition of the minor bodies behind them, incongruous volumes dating back to military occupation, and the reconstruction on the same grounds of the new building of the Urban Open Laboratories, in close management relationship with the monumental complex and in functional continuity with the adjacent building of the old stable, also restored as an integral part of the Laboratories. Finally, the third intervention involved the redevelopment of the courtyard spaces and of the areas behind them that persist between the buildings, formerly connected to the monastery and later spaces serving the military barracks, as new public spaces returned to the city, rediscovering the role of urban crossing and of relationship space.
The rediscovery of the monumental body was carried out through the conservative restoration of the basement, mezzanine and cloisters, with the sole exception of the first floor. Methodologically, the traces of the changes that the complex has undergone over time have been maintained, preserving the signs of the alterations and changes of destination that the building has undergone over the centuries, enhancing the unfinished character that in different parts the centuries have returned, a condition that has become the leitmotif of our intervention and not only for the monumental part. The most relevant aspect was the intervention on the Chiostro Grande attributed by Bruno Adorni to Giulio Romano. This space today returns, without forcing the historical-critical reading of a never-completed completion, the extraordinary historicized condition of an unfinished that reconfigures the courtyard as a cavea ideally lowered to the level of the courtyard areas, allowing direct use from the outdoor spaces and privileged use for events, a condition that the project has enhanced and emphasized also in relation to the choice of flooring. We also intervened where new functional elements that required choices consistent with the building were needed. The doors and casings that house the fan coils, in burnished brass, are clearly recognizable and create a dialogue at a distance as elements that wink to ancient materials.
The Laboratories represent the management machine of the complex, an aspect emphasized by the emergence in the large sloping roof of the technical volumes also serving the monumental body, avoiding to bring machinery incompatible with the extraordinary architecture of the ancient monastery. Built on the site of service buildings destined for demolition, the new building defines the completion and closure of the monumental complex to the north, representing the limit towards the twentieth-century city behind it. Conceived as a sequence of serial spaces, it is characterized by internal flexibility also in relation to the courtyards which favor natural through ventilation. The south facade allows the maximum contribution of natural lighting controlled through a polycarbonate system and wooden bars from which the heads of the concrete partitions emerge to denounce the division of the internal spaces. The glass window that runs the entire length allows an uninterrupted view of the perimeter wall of the ancient monastery, excluding the view of the upper part, to underline a protected area in the heart of the city. The serial aspect, the bare structure, the rhythm of the facade in the repetition of the architectural elements combine to recall a remote dialogue with the monumental order of the ancient building and its unfinished basement part. The restoration of the old stable was carried out with the same criteria adopted for the monumental part, seeking a balanced relationship and a material dialogue with the adjacent building of the Laboratories.
The calcestre external paving emphasizes the continuity of the pedestrian space as a natural soil from which the buildings emerge, finding its climax in the Chiostro Grande, and continues uninterruptedly by stitching up indoor and outdoor spaces, helping to create a material and perceptive unity. The same unity has been sought in the choice of the materials of the intervention as a whole, in the study of the proportions between the parts, in the balanced relationship between the buildings and the way in which they dialogue with the public space. The new ramp that gives access to the monumental body detaches itself as an independent element, contributing to the definition of the entrance courtyard with respect to the path through which the complex is crossed. The high backrest in wooden strips, markedly oversized compared to the mere protection function, horizontally turned as a seat on the external side and continues throughout the entire lenght of the ramp, also visually directing towards the entrance. The newly inserted green is of the vertical type, also to allow maximum flexibility in the use of the spaces, and is defined by adult plane trees and climbers in the walls that once surrounded the complex.
With a portfolio of public/private projects ZAA has received recognitions in competitions and architecture awards, such as Honorable Mention Piranesi Award 2019, selection Best international works Capocchin Award 2019, shortlist Dedalo Minosse Prize 2019, longlist Dezeen Award 2019, nomination Grand Prix Big See Award 2020, nomination I National Architecture Award 2020 Maxxi-Triennale. Specific field of research is the new-ancient relationship, from restoration of monumental complexes to conversion of industrial heritage, from redevelopment of public spaces to urban regeneration. Co-founder with Maurizio Zamboni, Andrea Zamboni graduated with Peter Zumthor then collaborated with Guido Canali office. Ph. D with the qualification as Associate Professor he was part of the Study Center of Domus magazine directed by Nicola Di Battista. He is author of many publications and essays such as Domus Smart City and Domus Future African Cities supplements. Website: www.zamboniassociati.it