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The recovery of the assets of the female communities of contemplative life.
The case of the Monastery of Sant'Agostino in Vicopelago (LU)

Supervisor: Prof.ssa. Ing. Giorgia Predari

Co-supervisor: Prof. Ing. Luigi Bartolomei

Master's degree (LM04) in Building Engineering-Architecture

Typology: Recovery and conservation of  buildings, architectural composition

Final grade: 102/110

September 2020 - March 2021

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"Architecture is to time as salt is to water."

(LA WIFE DI LOT / Superstudio, Florence. Venice Biennale 1978)


The conscious recovery of ecclesiastical assets

The Italian monastic heritage is composed of a vast and heterogeneous set of properties that first of all have in common a close correspondence between their built form and the form of life of the communities that inhabit them. 


The independence that has always characterised monastic communities within the broader panorama of church-related subjects is now translated into a series of congenital economic and administrative vulnerabilities, which expose this enormous heritage to the increasingly real risks of abandonment or speculation in the event of its disposal. 


There is also the extremely topical issue of the decline in the number of religious. If the downward trend were to continue, the number of convents and monasteries in Italy today would tend to disappear by 2050. 

1. A look into the near future 
2. Typological and temporal analysis of the monastic patrimony 

Characteristics and peculiarities of the monastic typology

The monasteries always represent independent and isolated urban areas of considerable size and are for the vast majority valuable constructions based on masonry construction systems. Beyond these characteristics, which are minimally variable from case to case, it is perhaps in the distributive conception of these buildings the key element useful for the development of a general method of approach to the theme.


In fact, all monastic buildings have in common a sort of ideal system of relations between spaces, a direct consequence of the rule of the order of belonging. A brief study on the first construction systems highlighted how the different spaces dedicated to celebrations, work, common life and the lay community tend to recur with minimal variations both in space and time and on different scales.


In the great majority of cases, however, it happens that the monastic spaces are the result of a dialogue between a pre-existence and a monastic community established a posteriori as in the case of the complex of Sant'Agostino in Vicopelago, which was a monastery only starting from 1886, assumed a case study of this work.


Repeating the same analysis on other case studies, we have seen how the spatial constants identified reappear, however, varying their scale and mutual arrangement by a great deal. The deformations of the original implant are in this case buffered by a greater degree of freedom of the paths.

3. The case study

Application of the typological analysis and development of the project concept

The Augustinian monastery of Vicopelago, active from 1886 to 1999, is located a short distance from the walled city of Lucca and includes a series of buildings added over the last two centuries to an older central body that reflects many of the typical typological characteristics of the seventeenth-century villas in Lucca.  


Thanks to a comparison with a series of documents found in the archive, it was possible to establish with good approximation the succession of the historical stratifications of the complex, then also referring them constructively to the various buildings from a design perspective. The monastery is also strongly linked to the figure of Giacomo Puccini whose sister was here a cloistered nun and mother superior five times.  


The first input of the recovery process comes essentially from the indications of the ecclesial institutions that in recent decades have become more sensitive to the issue of dismissal which is seen as an opportunity, for a reintegration of these within the fabric for social purposes. real estate.


Given these fundamental premises, in the last months of 2020 a series of dialogues with some institutions active in the Lucca area began. This first framing, once adapted to the spaces of the complex, takes the form of a sort of dipole of which, for practical reasons, only one part was chosen to deepen, that linked to the spaces dedicated to the Giacomo Puccini foundation and the Luigi Boccherini musical institute. and developed within what were the "sacred" spaces of the complex.


Starting from an ideal system of relations between the different sets of functions, once the paths and volumes already suitable for hosting the new uses have been subtracted, a picture of the distribution shortcomings of the complex has been obtained. These are faced with a system of interventions that can be summarized in three categories relating to as many families of devices.  


In addition to the first category of intervention of the accesses, which is entrusted with the task of recreating a relationship between the spaces of the complex and the outline, the central one relating to the internal paths which are adapted with translucent polycarbonate diaphragms.  New internal volumes with a reversible character are then inserted where the current spaces are not suitable for hosting the new uses.  


The project resulting from this operation is centered on the relationships between the different spaces, tracing where possible for coherence and comfort, some of the historical vocations of the various parts of the complex.

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