Otranto Urban Regeneration Workshop

Otranto, Italy

The Laboratorio di Quartiere, or District Workshop, was a UNESCO-supported project aimed at the renovation of historic town centres through a mechanism to safeguard their physical aspect: a permanent worksite. The project in Otranto was used to test the feasibility of using local artisans to restore an ancient town centre. The plan allowed residents to remain in their homes and actively participate in the restoration work, thanks to the use of compact, non-invasive and innovative technology. Although the workshop left the town once its mission had been completed, as an independent studio, its work could continue as a travelling model to be adapted based on its sensitivity to the context in which it was activated. The concept of building on what is already there, of being willing to listen, and patiently renovating and repairing the fabric of a town is an idea which is just as valid today for the outskirts of a town as its centre.

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A cube-shaped mobile unit ferried on the back of a truck was placed in the historic centre of the town. It was divided into four parts, one on each side: analysis and diagnostics, information and education, open project, work and construction.

The analysis and diagnostics section performed structural, architectural and sanitary assessments of the area’s rundown buildings. The aim was to conduct a meticulous survey of the old homes. A tool was devised to produce a detailed picture of the ancient urban fabric: a special camera hung from the bottom of a hot air balloon took photogrammetric pictures, a solution that was much cheaper than a traditional aerial survey and more precise than a manual survey.

The second section – information and education – studied the many issues relating to the restoration of old city centres. It had a library and video-library, provided information on the condition of the city and local laws, on legislative tools and the various public funds available. It acted as a sort of interface between the workshop’s experts and local residents.

The section entitled ‘open project’ kept the public informed about the project’s practical and technical aspects and its activities via consultants specialised in the regulations which were in force, and with information about costs and opportunities for cost-cutting through cooperative purchasing.

The work and construction section progressed from the diagnoses of the previous stages to the actual restoration work itself. The worksite used non-invasive, compact, environmentally-friendly equipment (mobile scaffolding, low-speed electrical vehicles, zip-lines, presses and welders).

The practical side of the renovation was done without requiring the residents to move out of their homes. Once the structure itself was consolidated, cracks were filled, roofs fixed, plaster redone, humidity eliminated and new sanitation installed. New techniques were employed wherever possible, such as the use of polyurethane spray foam for thermal and acoustic insulation and injections of silicon resin to prevent humidity.


Client: UNESCO (S. Busutill, W. Tochtermann)

Studio Piano & Rice
Design team: S. Ishida, N. Okabe (associates in charge), E. Donato, G. Fascioli, R. Gaggero,
R. Melai, G. Picardi, P. Rice, R. Verbizh
with M. Arduino Piano, M. Fazio, G. Macchi, F. Marano, F. Marconi

Consultants: Ove Arup & Partners, IDEA Institute, G. P. Cuppini, G. Gasbarri, Editech; G. F. Dioguardi (coordination and administration)

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