Historical and contemporary languages combined in a harmonious whole
With its basilicas and chapels, as well as mills, stores, winemaking facilities, and farmhouses, Novacella Abbey, near Bressanone, was created as a small, self-sufficient village. The canons regular live and work in the abbey community under the “rules” of St. Augustine, while a part of the complex also includes a museum, which was recently extended by Bolzano-based studio MoDusArchitects, headed by Sandy Attia and Matteo Scagnol.
Founded in 1142 among the vineyards of the Isarco Valley, this Augustinian abbey is the product of various additions and modifications carried out during different periods of history. It ranks among the most significant architectural complexes in the South Tyrol. “Our extension helps visitors orient themselves within the spaces of the abbey,” explains Matteo Scagnol, “engaging them with its multilayered history, while presenting new paradigms and new vocabularies through an architectural language that respects the past but is also open to the future.”
The museum extension project, which includes a new entrance, gives new functions to these historical buildings. The project had three distinct phases – demolition, renovation, restoration – with the underlying aim being to unite the existing secondary structures through a single system of pathways connected to the 17th-century wing occupied by the abbey’s library. A former barn has been transformed into a large, double-height space that now forms the new entrance to the museum, with its mezzanine floor used as an exhibition gallery. This new atrium is the fulcrum of the entire project. Surmounted by restored wooden trusses and surrounded by rough plaster walls, it houses the ticket office and a number of display cases. The second building, once a wash house, has been transformed to contain an imposing staircase flanked by an elevator tower. The third and final building has been renovated on the ground floor to host seminars and other events in a space that overlooks an external courtyard, while the upper level now houses a temporary exhibition space and choir room.
Leaving the entrance atrium, visitors begin their journey through the complex in the abbey’s cloister. They then continue through the monastery itself, climbing up to the ancient library on the upper floors, then descending back down to the entrance. The atrium therefore forms the point of departure and arrival of the museum’s rhythmic sequence of exhibition galleries. Passing through the ancient abbey walls via a new bridge with blackened copper cladding, which emerges from the roofs of a group of service buildings, visitors come to a large window with views over the abbey’s enclosed garden and the vineyards beyond.
The color palette of the interiors is marked by the use of soft tones and natural materials. Exposed bush-hammered concrete walls, troweled concrete floors, striking elements in chestnut wood, and elegant copper trim blend new and old together, creating a sense of peace and serenity. Contrasting with this understated, essential style are the unusual and highly imaginative interpretations of the Hortus Sancti Augustini, in which Austrian artist Paul Renner has created a reflection on the abbey’s botanical heritage on the elevator tower’s metal walls.
Location: Varna, Bolzano
Area: 610 m2 (300 m2 newly built and 310 m2 restored)
Client: Abbazia di Novacella
Project by: MoDusArchitects
Structural Engineer: Bergmeister ITB
Mechanical Engineer: Energytech
Electrical Engineer: Von Lutz Studio Associato
Manufacturer: Oberegger GmbH
Museum layout: Alessandro Gatti, doc s.r.l.
Artist: Paul Renner (Hortus Sancti Augustini, Camera d’ambra)
Photos by: Simone Bossi and Jürgen Eheim, courtesy of MoDusArchitects