MoDus Architects’ new design pays homage to Novacella Abbey's monastic history

The new entrance and extension of the Novacella Abbey Museum by MoDus Architects in South Tyrol rewires the relationship between the ancillary structures and the main buildings.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jun 24, 2021

Architecture has a tendency to invoke emotions. This is particularly true in the case of older structures that stir a sense of nostalgia for a past that one may never have experienced. These buildings are home to many untold stories, with an abundance of history hiding in every nook and corner. The growing global trend of adaptive reuse in architecture is expanding its scope to include century’s old structures. Architects are now tasked with reinventing these old spaces, while still preserving and emphasising their charm. MoDus Architects have worked on one such abbey, huddled within the vineyard lined basin of the Eisack Valley near Bressanone, Italy.

Novacella Abbey is huddled within the vineyard lined basin of the Eisack valley near Bressanone, Italy | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
Novacella Abbey is huddled within the vineyard lined basin of the Eisack valley near Bressanone, Italy Image: ©Simone Bossi

Along with being one of the finest Augustinian abbeys, Novacella Abbey is also one of the most significant architectural features in South Tyrol. Its history dates back to 1142, when each building within the monastery complex had a specific role, based on the Rules of Saint Augustine, who was a prominent figure of worship of that time. The doctrine of the saint was responsible for some of the changes in architecture in that period of time. The constituent churches, the old Sant’Angelo chapel, mills, workshops, wine cellars and farmhouses, are all arranged in a dictated orientation, forming an important unit. Hoping to keep those parts of its history intact, only a portion of the abbey was converted into a museum.

In the cosy Eisack Valley of Italy, architects are focusing on keeping the old charm intact | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
In the cosy Eisack Valley of Italy, architects are focusing on keeping the old charm intact Image: ©Simone Bossi

The new plan of the abbey is designed to help the visitors navigate the building according to the chronological history of the place. Looping back to where it started, the path through the abbey takes visitors through the 17th century monastery. Passing through a newly restored 17th century room that features frescoes from the same era, visitors are then led to the 18th century library. From here visitors take the bridge, a completely new addition to the complex, to the upper level of the monastery, which has been converted into a mezzanine floor, overlooking the entry.

  • Despite the refined look acquired by the abbey now, the façade takes the driver’s seat to retell of the history of the place | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    Despite the refined look acquired by the abbey now, the façade takes the driver’s seat to retell of the history of the place Image: ©Simone Bossi
  • The architecture of the place makes tours easy for visitors without a guide | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    The architecture of the place makes tours easy for visitors without a guide Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects

From demolition to restoration, the abbey has gone through many transformations. Upon entering, the first building one encounters is a grain storehouse converted into a spacious, double-height entrance with an atrium and a mezzanine. The second structure within the complex used to be a one-story lavatorium, or washing area, that has now been demolished and remodelled into a generous staircase and elevator tower that is connected to the antique wing of the monastery, via the famous black bridge. The final intervention comes in the form of a renovated seminar and event space at the ground level, which is supplemented with a newly-designed outdoor courtyard, a temporary exhibition space and an intimate choir room on the upper level.

  • Entry to the museum immediately puts the visitors in a serene state | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    Entry to the museum immediately puts the visitors in a serene state Image: ©Simone Bossi
  • Picturesque views unfold along the metal cladding of the elevator tower | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    Picturesque views unfold along the metal cladding of the elevator tower Image: ©Simone Bossi

The highlight of the renovation is the addition of the bridge that connects the two main structures, namely the elevator tower and the antique wing of the monastery. It stands out as a unique feature with its blackened, copper clad finish that emerges from the cluster of white buildings. When one steps out onto the bridge, they are greeted by a huge window that overlooks the rooftop of the renovated storehouse, the old chapel of Sant’Angelo. One can also peek into the walled garden attached to the monastery and the vineyards beyond.

A newly constructed bridge, takes visitors to the upper level of the monastery | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
A newly constructed bridge takes visitors to the upper level of the monastery Image: Courtesy of MoDus Architects

The bush hammered, exposed concrete walls, trowel-finished concrete floors, and thick chestnut woodwork provide a cleaner and bolder look to the abbey, while still emphasising the monastic aura that it emits. MoDus Architects chose to enhance the multiplicity of the architectural features of the abbey and brought it together in a balanced manner. The emptiness in the space is a deliberate intervention aimed to enhance the monachal qualities of the building. The new additions hope to convey the simpler ways of the past while paying homage to the people who were a part of the history of Novacella Abbey.

  • The bridge plays a pivotal role in presenting a fun and fresh take on the restored abbey, by giving it a tidy personality | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    The bridge plays a pivotal role in presenting a fun and fresh take on the restored abbey, by giving it a tidy personality Image: ©Simone Bossi
  • The bridge offers a majestic view of the celebrated vineyards | Novacella Abbey Museum addition | MoDus Architects| STIRworld
    The bridge offers a majestic view of the celebrated vineyards Image: ©Simone Bossi

Project Details

Name: Novacella Abbey Museum Addition
Location: Stiftstraße 1 39040 Vahrn (Bz), South Tyrol, Italy
Architect: MoDus Architects (Sandy Attia, Matteo Scagnol)
Project Architect: Laura Spezzoni
Client: Augustinian Canons Of Novacella Augustiner Chorherrenstift Neustift
Design Phase: June 2016 — May 2020
Construction Phase: May 2020 — April 2021
Completion: May 2021. Opening June 4, 2021
Gfa: 300 Sqm (New Construction) 310 Sqm (Covered Area Building Under Protection)
Structural Engineer: Ing. Philipp Prighel, Bergmeister
Itb Mechanical Engineer: Ing. Norbert Klammsteiner, Energytech
Electrical Engineer: Andreas Von Lutz (Von Lutz Studio Associato)
General Contractor: Oberegger Gmbh
Exhibition Design: Alessandro Gatti, Doc S.R.L.
Artistic Contribution: Paul Renner Hortus Sancti Augustini, Camera D’ambra

(Text by Supreena Dash, intern at stirworld.com)

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