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Competition: Ripafratta Castle, Italy

An open international ideas contest has been launched to transform the abandoned ruins of a Sixteenth Century fortress in Tuscany, Italy (Deadline: 15 May)

The competition invites participants to draw up contextual and sympathetic proposals to restore and re-use the prominent hill-top Ripafratta Castle which was designed by renaissance architect Giuliano da Sangallo in 1504, possibly in collaboration with Leonardo da Vinci.

Proposals should resurrect the historic structure while introducing new facilities for hikers and a climbing wall along with support rooms, changing areas, a reception zone, and a 150-capacity multi-purpose events space. A restaurant, 100m² shop, 50m² historical exhibition space, and parking for up to 10 cars must also be included.

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

According to the brief: ‘Ripafratta Castle is one of the most important fortifications in the territory of Pisa and it is an iconic element of its landscape. It is part of a bigger cluster of medieval fortresses in the “Monti Pisani” area, which are mainly abandoned and represent an relevant artistic and territorial value.

‘During recent decades, a spotlight has been focused on the reuse of Ripafratta Castle thanks to a considerable citizen action which pressed for its renovation through many initiatives, both on a local and national scale. This international competition aims to give visible strength to the fortress and to prove that it is still possible to restore life inside it, after such a long time in which it has been a ruin. Participants are invited to conceive a design for the reuse of the castle, which will then be submitted to the local citizenry.’

Located on a hilltop site overlooking the River Serchio between the settlements of Pisa and Luccain in Tuscany, Ripafratta Castle is an ancient stronghold which was most recently rebuilt more than 500 years ago.

The name of the castle – Ripafratta – is thought to originate from the Latin phrase ‘Ripa-Fracta’ meaning the broken riverbank.

The complex – which occupies a site first settled by the Etruscans in the 3rd Century BC – features two prominent towers known as Niccolai and Centino which must be restored and integrated into proposals to encourage hiking and other outdoor activities in the region.

The competition is organised by local historical associations 120g and Salviamo la Rocca and supported by the Municipality of San Giuliano Terme, the University of Pisa, the Chamber of the Architects of Pisa, and the Castle Italian Institute.

Jury members include Gong Dong of Vector Architects, Marco Giorgio Bevilacqua from the University of Pisa, Ted Baab of SO-IL, Alejandro Guerrero and Andrea Soto of Atelier Ars, and Gabriele Cei from the Chamber of the Architects of Pisa.

The overall winner, to be announced 8 June, will receive €2,000 while a second prize of €300, third prize of €200 and seven honourable mentions will also be awarded. All winning teams will also be invited to present their proposals to the local community at a ‘Festival of the Castle’ later this year.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 14 May and submissions must be completed by 23:59 (GMT) on 15 May



Contact details


View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Giulio Fazio, Leonardo Magursi, and Andrea Crudeli

The organisers discuss their ambitions for the competition

Giulio Fazio, Leonardo Magursi, and An

Giulio Fazio, Leonardo Magursi, and An

Giulio Fazio, Leonardo Magursi, and An

Why are your holding an international ideas contest to rethink the ruins of Tuscany’s Ripafratta Castle?

This beautiful castle has been a ruin for so many centuries that it would be a surprise for local people to see it finally recovered, even if they’ve been fighting for years for this cause. The international contest aims to shake the collective imagination. It’s a local story, but abandoned historical buildings are a common problem all over Italy. We would like this issue to be more widely featured in cultural debate, both nationally and internationally, because this heritage belongs not just to the Italians but to mankind all. The jury members we’ve selected, who all have international profiles, agreed with this ambition and decided to join our civic mission. The submitted projects will give hope to local citizens, who will have the opportunity, for the first time, to visualize the Castle alive once again, and, hopefully, some ideas will be useful to find investors.

What is your vision for how the abandoned landmark could be transformed?

The facilities program is the result of local citizens’ requests and we’ve simply followed a general territorial strategy they have been working on for decades to redevelop the entire mountain area. Besides the functional aspect there is also an emotional one: this contest has the opportunity to prove it is still possible to restore life inside these ancient walls after being disused for centuries. In terms of architecture, the first step is to develop a deep knowledge of the artefact, to be aware of its complexity, and to feel respect for it. I would call this approach ‘Italian’. The layered structure of the castle tells us the stories and needs of different ages. The new intervention must belong to the contemporary realm of architectural language, respond to nowadays necessities, and achieve continuity with the building’s existing narrative.

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

Ripafratta Castle, Italy

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We hope people who participate fall in love with this fortress: we literally felt goose bumps the first time we went inside. The appeal of this castle is instantaneous, its territorial majesty and its physical simplicity are two elements we hope participants will acknowledge and find a way to synthetize. The first quality we are looking for is creativity: we hope participants submit unexplored and unique ways to reuse this space.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We are determined to keep working on this issue. Promoting the reuse of historical abandoned buildings is a kind of mission for our generation, and we want to make people more aware of this problem, helping to make it paramount in public debate, even if there is a dramatic decline in the popularity of architecture in Italy. We have received proposals about a second potential contest, so probably it will happen. At the same time we are on front line working in our profession capacity as architects and engineers who actually restore buildings in Italy.

Are there any other recent historical landmark restoration projects using you have been impressed by?

In terms of general attitude of designing inside a historical frame, we would like to put forward two Italian masters: Carlo Scarpa and Massimo Carmassi. For a particular project that can be specifically related to this competition, we recommend having a look at the renovation of Castel Firmiano in Bolzano, designed by Werner Tschool, who is a jury member as well.