by Jincy IypeMay 20, 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.
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".
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 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.
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.
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?