The´Palazzo di Città´ in Cairo Montenotte, Savona

The 'Palazzo di Città', Cairo Montenotte, Savona
  • The 'Palazzo di Città', Cairo Montenotte, Savona The 'Palazzo di Città', Cairo Montenotte, Savona

Client: Municipality of Cairo Montenotte
Chronology: Design competition: 2000; Design: 2001 - 2004; Realization: 2004-2007

Architectural design: Mario Gallarati with Letizia Masciotta, Laura Roccatagliata, Giacomo Gallarati
Structures: Massimiliano Cremonini, Luigi Giamello
Technological systems: Marco Gaminara

The intervention takes place on a public space particularly significant for the development of the urban organism of Cairo Montenotte, the main town in the high Bormida valley. The town centre is the fruit of successive expansions, starting from a primitive planned settlement, arranged on a valley-bottom axis along the banks of the Bormida river. This territory axis appears to be the matrix of the settlement, the main urban axis running SE-NW, on which abut, at right angles and regular intervals, a series of building courses.
The “internal” nucleus set on an almost square plan (about 140 x 140 m), thickly covered with basic buildings (mostly houses), is crowned by a series of special spaces and functions: the knots of the street plan at the centre of the four sides of the nucleus, underlined by the two main squares of the old centre and by the two doors of the town walls; the nodal special buildings (particularly the churches) set at the edge of the basic tissue of the older nucleus. Around these spaces and special structures develops the tissue of the old centre, limited by the Bormida, the Castle, and the two minor rivers delimiting the Castle hill before flowing into the main river. Along these minor rivers develop the two valley-bottom routes, destined to have the role of overturning axes of the successive urban development. To them correspond the two bridges over the Bormida and the related urban spaces outside the town walls, qualified by the presence of two important buildings: the Town Hall, on the south-eastern side of the old centre, and the ex school building, opposite, on the north-western side of Piazza della Vittoria.

In this situation it is Piazza della Vittoria that acquires increasing importance: thanks also to the great building increment of the whole north-western part, from public nodal space external to the old town centre it becomes the main “pole” of the urban organism, around which the life of the town seems more and more destined to gravitate; this also appears from the decision of the Town Council, towards the end of 2000, to submit to a design competition the Recovery and re-utilization of the ex school building in piazza della Vittoria and its transformation into a polyvalent culture centre: a competition in the end won by our group. An important element qualifying our project, besides the recovery of the existing spaces, was the idea of completing the architectural complex with the realization of a theatre-auditorium hall of about 360 seats, to be effected by filling the back court between the two wings of the building.

Having so restored their functional character to the existent spaces, that is, to the classrooms scattered along the corridor shaped like a “C” at whose centre the staircase body was inserted (so creating a centrality not quite coherent with the serial system of the building, a centrality reflected also in the organisation of the main prospect), with the realization of the new central volume the old school building acquired a new role, also in terms of architectural emergence on an urban scale, passing from its primitive configuration as special serial architectural organism to today’s special nodal architectural organism.
The realization of the new auditorium-theatre, though, pointed out a series of problems: in the first place the position of the existent building, almost at the centre of the lot, left both in front of it and at the back spaces that resulted too limited to consent the insertion of the new cavea and of the stage as well; besides, there was also the problem of completely separating its function as “public entertainment” from the rest of the culture centre (with meeting halls, exhibition spaces, library, and so on) and as a consequence to provide two distinct entrances. Moreover, of the three storeys of the building the whole basement resulted of difficult access and hygienically inadequate because of the total absence of a cavities around of it.

The solution we prospected tried to cope with those limitations and to exploit as well as possible the potentialities of the building to recover: in fact we chose to destine the whole basement (at a level about 2 m. below the original ground) to the theatre, locating in the existing premises all the additional functions (lobby, foyer, bar, cloakroom, conveyance corridors, deposits, services, and so on): the new hall with tiered seats, drawn as we said in the back court, was consequently set at a lower level (about 3 m.) to be reached along light downward gradients from the foyer; in this way one could gain the scenic spaces at the two sides and under the monumental stairway leading from the mezzanine to the upper floor.
The whole basement, besides, acquired new outer openings, due to the two new large cavities- emergency exits along the sides of the building and a new “lowered square” on the main front. This lowered space, directly connected with a public underground car park, was conceived as a second tiered cavea for summer events.
By the realization of the new theatre hall and of the cavea in the open air the central axis of the building was greatly accentuated, so giving back a stronger consistency to the vocation of the existing serial organism to be read in terms of symmetry by the entrance hall-grand staircase axis: so preserving the structural plant of the existing building, but interpreting it at a higher level of organic unit.