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Competition: Green Academy, Bologna

Bologna, Italy

An open international competition has been launched to transform an abandoned 5,000m² paper factory into a new green academy in Marzabotto, Italy (Deadline: 1 August)

Backed by Italian recycling firm Dismeco, the contest seeks ideas for a new ‘high-level and ludic-experiential’ centre focusing on ecology and sustainable development.

Designed by acclaimed Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, the 1954 factory produced paper for Rizzoli Editore print publications but shut down in 2006 amid challenging market conditions and is now owned by Dismeco.

Green Academy contest site Marzabotto  1

Green Academy contest site Marzabotto 1

The Marzabotto paper factory

According to the brief: ‘Dismeco knows well that a better world is only possible with an increasingly widespread environmental awareness. That is why Dismeco, thinking about future generations, aims at creating in its building the first and most excellent school in the world dedicated to ecology and sustainability.

‘In one of the most innovative industrial areas, regarding recovery and disposal of waste, the “recycling” of an architecture will enable the creation of the first and most important school of ecology and sustainability aimed at transforming the building into a global epicentre for a more responsible society and a more sustainable future.’

The document continued: ‘Surrounded by an enchanting natural backdrop, the building creates a unique relation between architecture and landscape, the natural and the artificial being the most proper context for the creation of a school whose mission regards the values of sustainability and environmental eco-compatibility.’

Green Academy contest site Marzabotto  3

Green Academy contest site Marzabotto 3

The Marzabotto paper factory

The new facility will feature classrooms, conference areas, laboratories, exhibition galleries, apartments and a gym. A children’s museum – featuring an educational theme park – a science and recycling museum, a green business incubator, training centre and lifestyle academy will also be included.

Proposals must not demolish the iconic triangle-plan structure but may remove some interior walls and floors to reconfigure the space. Concepts should feature green spaces, passive energy systems and a strategy for rationalising water and electricity.

The project is part of the ‘Restart from Beauty’ initiative which aims to restore disused industrial spaces across the Bolonga region and promote new ethical entrepreneurship.

Around 800 civilians were massacred by the Nazis in Marzabotto in 1944 and the project is also intended to act as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

Organised by Young Architects Competitions, the contest requires all participating teams to feature at least one architect below 36 years of age.

Digital submissions must be in English and should include a single A1 board no larger than 10MB featuring graphical illustrations alongside a more detailed seven-page A3 brochure.

Judges include Dismeco chief executive Claudio Tedeschi, Valerie Mulvin of Dublin-based McCollough Mulvin Architects, OMA’s Ippolito Pestellini and Agostino Ghirardelli from Libeskind Studio.

The winning team will take home €10,000 and a second place prize of €4,000 and third place prize of €2,000 will also be awarded. Four honourable mentions worth €1,000 are furthermore available.

How to apply


The deadline for registration and submissions is 11.59pm GMT on 1 August


Early bird registration from 16 May to 12 June: €50
Standard registration from 13 June to 10 July: €75
Late registration from 11 July to 1 August: €90

Contact details


View the competition website for more information

Wales Institute for Sustainable Education case study: Q&A with Pat Borer

The architect discusses lessons learned designing a new build sustainable education centre in Machynlleth, Wales

What are the core requirements of a 21st-century sustainability education centre?

The main requirement is that the centre should be true to its message – to ‘walk the talk’. In other words the development has to be zero carbon for energy and feature highly insulated, well-daylit buildings that generate more energy from renewable sources than they use. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) standard excludes any combustion devices.

Pat Borer

Pat Borer

Pat Borer

Materials should be from truly sustainably renewable or abundant mineral sources. The general principle is to reverse the proportions of highly industrialised materials (≈80 per cent) to sustainable materials (≈20 per cent) found in conventional contemporary buildings.

Constructions should be ‘breathable’ and hygroscopic. Embodied energy should be minimized. The materials used should be benign to humans and the natural world. This is hard, as it pretty well excludes the use of plastics from non-sustainable (fossil carbon) sources.

Every space should have a window and a view and, preferably, easy access to the outside world; and don’t forget ‘light from more than one side’. The design should encourage an egalitarian spirit and encounters and discussions between the users.

Machynlleth, Wales

Machynlleth, Wales

Wales Institute for Sustainable Education by David Lea and Pat Borer

Which material, structural and other techniques are available to designers seeking to achieve a similarly impressive impact?

It depends upon who you are trying to impress. There are constructions, such as rammed earth, which not only have the very best environmental credentials but also can look stunning – but in our society they are expensive, and therefore will have to be used sparingly and appropriately (as structure, thermal mass etc).

It is now well understood that timber has the potential to satisfy any structural desires – it will be less slender than, for example, a steel frame, so calls for a more solid, robust, warmer aesthetic.

Using air-based thermal insulation materials (as against foams blown with other gases) will obviously result in fatter thermal elements to give the same U-value. So this again will give a more solid appearance.

Glass is just glass however and beloved of all designers. Despite its high embodied energy, it is the only material that can collect more energy (presuming triple glazing etc) than it loses - plastics being precluded. The aesthetic device of solid, robust-looking walls and large voids of glass give us endless design opportunities.

Machynlleth, Wales

Machynlleth, Wales

Wales Institute for Sustainable Education by David Lea and Pat Borer