Unexpected heritages

The reuse of former-prisons: challanges and potentials

13th October 2017 | Santa Agata prison, Bergamo – Italy


The symposium draws on the assumption that the remains of former prisons constitute a difficult and neglected heritage, which is often ignored in order to remove it, at least metaphorically, whenever preservation laws, economical consideration, or even architectural and urban contexts, did not permit to do so physically. Indeed many of the oldest prisons that have been more or less recently closed across Italy remain where they were. They are often completely or partially abandoned, misused, and subject to negligence eventually contributing to urban decay. Their spaces talk about freedom and incarceration, the changing position on what is legal and what is not, and how this related with the architectural and typological evolution of this public building. The complexity former prison in fact, is not only related with their meanings and memories, but also with their architectural features. These complexes indeed are usually quite large and ancient architectures inherently closed and introverted, and developed with a rigid spatial layout. They are often protected by preservation laws, deeply intertwined with the city’s built environment and rooted in urban collective memories. All that makes them difficult to handle from a social, economic, programmatic and design point of view. The idea at the basis of this study day is that former prisons may be regarded as a heritage, which is often forgotten or invisible to a wider public but that bears unexploited historical, social architectural and cultural values. By analysing selected emblematic examples of adaptive interventions on former prisons and focusing on design based strategies and approaches to their reuse, it will expand upon the chances and challenges posed by the urgent question of how to preserve and valorise this overlooked architectural heritage.



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