A Diptych for Camerino

Reconnecting Community through Culture in the Crater Area

Camerino is in all respects a university town whereby culture, knowledge and intergenerational exchange reach beyond the confines of the university walls. Camerino is a hotbed of innovation characterized not only by academic excellence, but also by a homegrown, thriving base of young, entrepreneurial graduates.  This new generation combines business acumen with a remarkable sense of stewardship—a shared belief in the responsible use of the natural resources of Camerino.  Spin-offs and start-ups abound: Geomore works with the area’s geological resouces; Mumo transforms the aromatic essences of the nearby Sibylline mountains into a brand for sensorial marketing; EcCOItaly combines local materials with technical expertise to promote sustainable building practices.

The university was also the first to occupy the area north of the historical center, the same one where the project introduced here is situated. A series of university buildings were designed by the Faculty of Architecture and built after the earthquake of 1997. Thanks to these interventions, the university even after the earthquake of 2016 was able to continue offering most of its courses and many of its services. However, before the most recent earthquake, the monofunctional nature of the buildings was compensated for by the presence of the historical center as a catalyst of all the social functions and cultural exchanges. This is currently the greatest challenge: to build forms of decentralized aggregation, but while focusing on the historical center. So as not to forget and to one day return to live there.

Like many hilltop towns, Camerino is perched atop a rocky outcrop and enclosed by high defensive walls. The jagged outline of the historical city center juts out from the bulwarks, melding ground, wall and town into one solidified artefact. And yet, the very solidity of Camerino is what belies her fragility. With the most recent seismic waves of October 2016, the bedrock has shaken violently only to betray Camerino time and time again.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the town is defiantly intact, but her newly acquired ‘red zone’ status has reduced her to a ghost town. The only inhabitants are the excavators and bulldozers whose numbers and presence pale in comparison to those digging tirelessly away below the city’s embankments in the appropriation of new, safer grounds for the displaced. Neatly terraced earthworks swathe the rolling hills in a Christo-like installation of orange—the perforated, soft fencing of these newly sprung sites of construction constitute the new Camerino. These structures are only temporary, fine examples of militaresque encampments. However, as time will tell, they are most likely here to stay.

While earthquakes cause destruction and the de facto rebuilding of that which crumbled, they are also largely responsible for the rapid propagation of new, anonymous buildings. Two important questions emerge in the struggle to strike the right balance between the pre-and post-seismic conditions and the staggered timelines of reconstruction: What about the old? What about the new? While Burri buried the remains of Gibellina in a tragically poetic monument, the new Gibellina is but a shadow of her former self. Camerino, in the midst of reconstruction, is busy building her own shadow.

Tucked into the underbelly of the medieval town, however, already lies a second, shadow city.  Extraordinarily intact, this place of cavernous wonders safeguards the artefacts of Camerino’s historical and cultural patrimony.  Relics, paintings, and antique books, albeit rescued, languish in their subterranean safe haven only to become imprisoned by their inaccessible chambers in the long wait of reconstruction.

The project grapples with the fragility of Camerino and the present-day dispersion of people, places and things with two iterations—one inside the city, the other outside.  Together, the two sites generate hybrid spaces in one, single trajectory for the community.  The first intervention huddles up close, just outside the medieval archway of Porta Bonaparte, with a hybridized ‘rural urbanity’ that defines the axis connecting old Camerino with her improvised alter ego some 2 km away.  The second intervention tackles the inertia of the historical city center at the site of Camerino’s oldest monument, the 13th century church of San Francesco.  A new passageway pulls together the existing urban fabric with a series of new, emergent figures and subterranean places, connecting Camerino with her adjacent, outlying territories.

The dense encampment of thatched roofs at Via Madonna dei Carceri plays off the tectonic and temporal qualities of the straw sheaf, conjuring up the collective image of the region’s agrarian landscapes.  Stepping lightly across a series of earthbound platforms, the clustered volumes grab hold of Camerino’s fraying community to fill the present-day void of spaces for cultural and social exchange.  As the renewal of the historical city center gains footing, these thatched volumes reduce in number and leave behind their supporting structures where a crossover community of academics, entrepreneurs, and associations can thrive.

On the site of the (to-be) demolished former courthouse of the 1970s, a newly formed complex draws together old and new, above and below ground spaces to house a civic library.  The library combines all of the closed, inaccessible city and university libraries, state archives, reading rooms, event and gathering places that have been time and again damaged, compromised and ultimately closed. The central space of the library is a safe place, a large, subterranean hypostyle hall that recounts the stratification of Camerino’s history whose seemingly forgotten future can finally be set free.


Arcipelago Italia – Padiglione Italia, Biennale di Venezia 2018


La Biennale di Venezia

Project Team

Sandy Attia, Matteo Scagnol, Lavinia Antichi, Miriam Pozzoli