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Pelagos Marine Mammal Sanctuary Interpretation Centre

First prize in the two-stage international design competition for the renovation of the building known as “Ex Galeazze” in the municipality of Portoferraio

We took part in this competition because we believe that protecting the sea is fundamental and indispensable for the balance of our ecosystem. We like to think, with this project, that we are making a small contribution to safeguarding this extraordinary part of the planet. The Pelagos Marine Mammal Sanctuary Interpretation Centre, which will be built in the former Galleazze building in Portoferraio, is envisaged as an active place to raise awareness and education; a place to approach and involve people, both cognitively and emotionally, in the wonder of the marine habitat; a proactive and active place to show good practices in the field of protecting the seas from pollution, and to create start-ups in the field of training in environmental awareness and sea protection.

The focus of the project is the creation, on the Island of Elba, of a nodal pole within the international network for marine protection that is exemplary in its conception, eco-sustainable in its realisation and flexible in its future management.

The new functions are inserted in the historic centre of Portoferraio and in an ancient architecture whose character has long been obscured by decay, and has been restored to new life. The relationship with the context of the historic centre is studied in terms of image references and physical connections, starting from the macro-scale of the overall area of the park, up to the micro-scale of the intervention of punctual stitching inside the historic fabric of Portoferraio, to reach the urban enhancement and invitation to rest in the building of the ex-Galeazze. The spatial areas near the access to the building will become recognisable through the hybridisation of the elements of urban space: a minimal intervention will create a space for resting, mediation and invitation to visit the Interpretation Centre.

The project for the restoration of the late 16th century structures of the ex-Galeazze focuses on two macro objectives.  The first is to emphasise the historical documentary value of the building, freeing it from incongruous interventions to the structure and restoring it to its spatial, historical and material coherence.   The second objective aims at the dialogue between the restored ancient structure and the architectural project: on the one hand natural materials and philological restoration for the ancient “container”, on the other hand autonomous, impermanent and eco-sustainable building systems for the “content” of the exhibition space. Their reciprocal relations will constitute the fundamental aspect of the building’s new life. Ancient and contemporary will be respectful of each other and will be able to coexist, giving value to their respective identities and offering visitors stimuli for reflection on the contents and aesthetics of the structure, in an environment with high performance in terms of environmental and energy comfort.

The architecture of the elements proposed for the Interpretation Centre lives in symbiosis with the ex-Galeazze building. In dialogue with the historical building, it emphasises its beauty by inserting structurally and formally autonomous objects that allow for a complex spatial exploration: on the one hand, the ogival bays mark the rhythm of a space with an elegant, rhythmic progression; on the other, a ramped pathway with an enveloping course, called the “Pelagos pathway”, triggers an emotional and perceptive movement, an unprecedented element yet respectful of its structural autonomy, aimed at telling a new page in the history of the building and the island. The architecture of the new objects, inserted in the space like sensitive guests, makes itself available to the context to participate in a flexible and never imposing way in the future story of the interpretation centre, its functions, the need for flexibility, the strong propensity to enter into a relationship with the life of the urban centre, with the educational, environmental, social and popular objectives of the park in the Mediterranean.

The organisation of the exhibition space will start from the sea of the Sanctuary, from the info-point on the dock, with the path mentioned along the street, after a stop in the small dedicated square, the continuous thread of the sea will connect to the “Pelagos path” of the wrap-around ramp, designed as a support for the permanent exhibition of the eight protected species of cetaceans and marine mammals: visitors will be able to observe them from different perspectives, grasp every aspect and compare their characteristics.

The design of the Sanctuary’s exhibition follows a dual track, the permanent architectural route supporting the models of the specimens preserved at the Sanctuary, and the multimedia track with a number of interactive installations with a high emotional impact, closely linked to each other in terms of the content of the themes addressed. The multimedia installation is designed to be modular, dynamic, updatable and easily transferable to the Sanctuary’s network: the interactive installation will be created to convey an emotional approach through spectacular technological solutions.

The dream of this project, together with the architectural enhancement of the building, is to trigger a unique experience for the visitor that will increase awareness, interest and respect for the sea and the wonder of its ecosystem.

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Auctioneer: Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano
Location: Portoferraio
Type: Two-stage design competition
Date: October 2020 – January 2021
Design group:
- CHVL architetti associati (leader),
- Cameranebbia with Federica Grigoletto (interactive multimedia communication)
- Ing. Roberto Furlanetto, Artech (structural engineering)
- Ing. Stefano D’ambrosio, Eideo (plant engineering)
- Dott.ssa Simona Caruso (scientific informant on nature in the marine environment)
- Arch. Chiara Intreccialagli (junior professional)