Gabella Gate: a modern anecdote of history by Rocco Valentini Architecture in Italy

With the addition of Gabella Gate to the heritage structure, Rocco Valentini Architecture translates the ruined Porta Gabella from an object of past to a history in the process.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Sep 10, 2022

How do you structurally, architecturally and conceptually insert contemporary additions to traditional architecture?

In the province of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of Italy, stands a structure in ruins, Porta Gabella. The history of the old structure traces back to the 15th century, built post the Aragonese conquest. Resting amid the Ripa Teatina region, the watch towers were damaged during the Second World War. Though a significant building in the urban surroundings, the incomplete pieces of the structure without the gates have existed in the context as a memory of the past. Reviving the ruins, while letting its wisdom of the past reflect, Italy-based Rocco Valentini Architecture introduced a new addition connecting the towers.

  • Rocco Valentini Architecture aimed to revive the ruined Porta Gabella with the insertion of a clearly distinguishable architectural element from the context  | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Rocco Valentini Architecture aimed to revive the ruined Porta Gabella with the insertion of a clearly distinguishable architectural element from the context Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The new structure presents itself as a modern sculpture that rests in the surrounding as public art | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The new structure presents itself as a modern sculpture that rests in the surrounding as public art Image: Rocco Valentini
  • Reinterpreting the olden gates of the fort, the newly built aims to be more than just a link or a gate | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Reinterpreting the olden gates of the fort, the newly built aims to be more than just a link or a gate Image: Rocco Valentini

Expressing the dualities of time, its beginning and its present, the Gabella Gate's form physically and philosophically connects the old structures to a new era. While presenting itself as a modern sculpture that rests in the surroundings as public art, the corten steel structure is enclosed in an envelope of vertical strings. According to the architects, the suspended bridge connecting the defence towers draws inspiration from the wooden walkways of the middle ages. Reinterpreting the historic architecture of old gates often seen at fort, the newly built gate aims to be more than just a link or a doorway. With the Gabella Gate, the Italian architects hope to "sew together the urban fabric with a polyfunctional structure".

  • The suspended walkways leaning against the fortification walls allows the connection between the defensive towers | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The suspended walkways leaning against the fortification walls allows the connection between the defensive towers Image: Rocco Valentini
  • Even when the texture of corten steel contrasts with the brick, its dark shade compliments the earthy tones of facade | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Even when the texture of corten steel contrasts with the brick, its dark shade compliments the earthy tones of facade Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The gate bridges the ancient environment to the old town's pedestrian pathways and acts as an outdoor stage whenever required | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The gate bridges the ancient environment to the old town's pedestrian pathways and acts as an outdoor stage whenever required Image: Rocco Valentini

Amid the extended functionality, the gate bridges the ancient environment to the old town's pedestrian pathways and acts as an outdoor stage whenever required. Along with creating a new face for the old structure, the gate also adapts to new definitions of representing history. While defining this modern narrative, the architects tried to present the design "through a contemporary language full of echoes of medieval architecture". With the addition of new stairways and walkways, one can enter the rooms of the adjacent building through an existing underground tunnel, thereby establishing a connection between the rooms of the Aragonese tower, Garrisons and the alleys of the Old Town.

  • The thread of the new stairs appears to be folded from a single piece of steel without any coping or decorative detail as compared to the stairs of the old structure | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The thread of the new stairs appears to be folded from a single piece of steel without any coping or decorative detail as compared to the stairs of the old structure Image: Rocco Valentini
  • Amid the imperfections of the brick architecture, the minimalism of the glass and corten steel contrasts the existing from the new | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Amid the imperfections of the brick architecture, the minimalism of the glass and corten steel contrasts the existing from the new Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The new walkway in the towers makes the rooms inside accessible through an underground tunnel | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The new walkway in the towers makes the rooms inside accessible through an underground tunnel Image: Rocco Valentini

The stairs in the interior of the towers also adore elements of contemporary design in steel and glass. With an eye for detail, the thread of the new stairs appears to be folded from a single piece of steel without any coping or decorative detail as compared to the stairs of the old structure. Furthermore, amid the imperfect brick architecture of the old, one will find the new handrails with polished edges and corners reflecting the essence of minimalism. In its contrasting materiality and architectural style, the towers and the gate remain in the dichotomy of separate aesthetic identities. Even when the gate is permanent, the raw aesthetics of corten steel and the transparency of glass impart a sense of temporary presence, that does not dominate the existing structure, and co-exist with it as a courteous outsider.

  • Within the rawness of corten steel and transparency of glass, even though the gate is a permanent entity, it imparts a sense of temperance | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Within the rawness of corten steel and transparency of glass, even though the gate is a permanent entity, it imparts a sense of temperance Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The corten steel structure is enclosed in an envelope of vertical strings | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The corten steel structure is enclosed in an envelope of vertical strings Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The entrance of Porta Gabella before and after the addition of the new gate | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The entrance of Porta Gabella before and after the addition of the new gate Image: Rocco Valentini

While appearing to be a structural addition, with much resemblance to a scaffolding, the gate physically extends the postulation of 'support'. As structural support to the old building. As visual support to the heritage ruin. As functional support to the vanishing use of the towers. With minimum intervention, that can be visually differentiated, the architects seem to be invoking a multitude of ways to perceive how an architectural addition can make the old more significant. The architects share, “Where once the Gabella Gate stood, there was just a large stairway. From the studies of the floor plans and from the historical photos, it has been possible to reconstruct the original shape of the tower." Though the spaces of the towers appeared to be vaguely connected through a transversal masonry structure, most of the spaces lacked ease of circulation. 

  • While contrasting with the architectural language of the context, the new structure remains a contemporary addition to the existing towers | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    While contrasting with the architectural language of the context, the new structure remains a contemporary addition to the existing towers Image: Rocco Valentini
  • The gate adds a modern narrative to the traditional architecture and history of the Porta Gabella | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    The gate adds a modern narrative to the traditional architecture and history of the Porta Gabella Image: Rocco Valentini

Preserving a heritage structure most often entails many concerns. By the time we have addressed the initial discourses, the notion of preserving would have shifted to retrofitting unwanted interventions and additions. With time, history seems to be changing, in such a context, architecture acts as the most accessible proof of the past. Though restoration has been a topic of debate since the times of Viollet-le-Duc, the architectural world of today still seems to be juggling between rights and wrongs. However, internationally the attempts of preserving, conserving and restoring architectural heritage hope to be a narrative that represents the life of the structure with all its timely representations, imperfections and visible intervention of presents. So when architecture knowingly or unknowingly heals and hurts the parts of history, what are we creating from it? Are we safekeeping what is left for us, are adding a layer of our own times or are we rewriting a whole different history?

  • Gabella Gate: Site Plan | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Gabella Gate: Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Rocco Valentini Architecture
  • Gabella Gate: Floor Plans | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Gabella Gate: Floor Plans Image: Courtesy of Rocco Valentini Architecture
  • Gabella Gate: Longitudinal Section | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Gabella Gate: Longitudinal Section Image: Courtesy of Rocco Valentini Architecture
  • Gabella Gate: Cross Section | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Gabella Gate: Cross Section Image: Courtesy of Rocco Valentini Architecture
  • Gabella Gate: Section across the rooms connected by underground tunnel | Gabella Gate | Rocco Valentini Architecture | STIRworld
    Gabella Gate: Section across the rooms connected by underground tunnel Image: Courtesy of Rocco Valentini Architecture

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