MoDus Architects design a curvilinear portal for a ring road project in Italy

The sculptural portal by MoDus Architects on the Bressanone-Varna Ring Road features elements such as signage, acoustic barriers, service substations and ventilation chimneys.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Sep 24, 2020

The Brixen-based MoDus Architects were given the opportunity to design a new gateway to the centre of Bressanone (Brixen), a small city in South Tyrol in Italy, as the latest addition to the Bressanone-Varna Ring Road. The project is an intriguing collaboration between landscape designers, engineers, geologists, underground experts, technological and structural engineers and architects.

First inaugurated in 2012, the five km-long ring road that bypasses the historic city centre of Bressanone to Varna was planned in an effort to avoid congestion, reduce pollution and to facilitate access from the north to the south. “Civil engineering projects provide a unique opportunity to bring together the different scales – and at times jarring specificities – of infrastructure, landscape, architecture and urban decorum. The Ring Road project underlines the reciprocity of these disciplines as a singular design challenge, not just given the environmental and economic impact of these projects, but also as a model for small cities grappling with questions of mobility, heritage and placemaking,” says architect Sandy Attia, co-founder of MoDus Architects.

  • The curvilinear entry portal to the Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    The curvilinear entry portal to the Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road Image: Gustav Willeit
  • Corten steel chimneys | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Corten steel chimneys Image: Gustav Willeit

The design brief mentioned a series of interventions and requirements - tunnel portals, retaining walls, acoustic barriers, service sub-stations, mechanical structures, ventilation chimneys, and various signage elements along its entire length. The project was guided by three simple design decisions - the architects sought to minimise the environmental impact, the elements above and below the ground were conceptualised into a unified approach, and the Bressanone and Varna tracts were pulled together into one continuum, as two parts of a greater whole.

  • The plan of the Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    The plan of the Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects
  • The sculptural Central Juncture Tunnel portal out of Bressanone city center | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    The sculptural Central Juncture Tunnel portal out of Bressanone city center Image: Gustav Willeit
“The project presents an inventory of complementary elements integral to the system of tunnels—as new entries, the central junction tunnel portals have been conceived as expressive figures whose raised heads emerge from the buried, unseen networks of roads serving as mediators of the disparate speeds and scales of the stratified urban context,” shares Matteo Scagnol, co-founder at MoDus Architects.
  • The air ventilation chimneys created to connect with the tunnel | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    The air ventilation chimneys created to connect with the tunnel Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects
  • Exposed concrete sculptural entry portal with acoustic barriers | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Exposed concrete sculptural entry portal with acoustic barriers Image: Leonhard Angerer

The central juncture tract of the ring road is the section of the project where motorists navigate a roundabout and pass through a short U-shaped tunnel along with its two, respective exposed concrete portals. With the central juncture tunnel being the length of 500m, the entire ring road being five km and full length of the ring road being eight km, the designers created a sculptural mouth for the portal that steers away from the strictly technical or functional vocabulary otherwise offered by infrastructural projects.

“The role architects play in large infrastructural projects has been increasingly marginalised over the past few decades in Italy. The Ring Road in South Tyrol is borne of deliberate, decision-making processes that comprehend the importance of design at every scale and as such created the conditions necessary for a cross-disciplinary collaboration to occur,” adds Attia.

  • Corten steel chimney in winter, view of the Isarco Valley | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Corten steel chimney in winter, view of the Isarco Valley Image: Leonhard Angerer
  • Corten steel chimney in winter, view of the Isarco Valley | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Corten steel chimney for ventilation into the tunnel that creates an aesthetical landscape Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects

The concrete work of the new addition is made of aggregates and excavation materials drawn from the ongoing construction site of the 64km Brenner Base Tunnel traversing below the Alps from Innsbruck, Austria to Fortezza, Italy. Together with exposed concrete, larch wooden acoustic barrier walls and corten steel ventilation chimneys, the portals constitute important sites of architectural design that lie at the intersection of landscape, infrastructure and mobility.

  • Site plan with each section | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Site plan with each section Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects
  • Exposed concrete finish given to the entry portals | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
    Exposed concrete finish given to the entry portals Image: Gustav Willeit

MoDus Architects paid particular attention to noise emissions and many of the interventions, such as the Leca-beton walls, grappled with sound absorption solutions. Research into the reconfiguration of commonly used materials in the road-building industry unearthed solutions to better address environmental concerns while exploring new ways to combine simple, low-cost materials that could bridge the gap in scale and overcome the difficulties inherent to building in close proximity to the small-scale buildings of Bressanone.

The chimney making a lyrical presence in the landscape of the Ring Road | Bressanone-Varna Entry Portal Ring Road by Modus Architects | STIRworld
The chimney making a lyrical presence in the landscape of the Ring Road Image: Mario Valdemarin

The lyrical form of the corten steel chimneys, the curvilinear geometry of the exposed concrete entry portals, wooden acoustic barrier walls and with close attention to reducing environmental impacts, the design of these portals with exquisite partnerships showcase the power of collaborations and the difference architecture and design can make at every scale.

Project Details

Name: Central Juncture of Bressanone-Varna Ring Road
Location: Bressanone (Bolzano, Italy)
Architect: MoDus Architects (Sandy Attia, Matteo Scagnol)
Client: Department of Infrastructure and Mobility of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano
Design phase: 2015—2017
Construction phase: 2017—2020
Completion: June 2020
Civil and Structural engineering, Construction management: Mario Valdemarin
Engineering team: Mario Valdemarin, Dieter Schölzhorn, EUT Energie und Umwelttechnik GmbH, Bergmeister GmbH, Geoconsulting Int.
Underground and geotechnical consultant: Mario Valdemarin, Dieter Schölzhorn
Geological consultant: Alfred Psenner, Icilio Starni 
Technological systems consultant: Studio Tema Srl (p.i. Mattia Betti)
Project manager: Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano, dott. ing. Umberto Simone
General Contractor: PAC S.p. A in ATI with Wipptaler Bau and Beton Eisack

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