The municipality of Taranto has launched an open international competition to regenerate its historic Old Town (Deadline: 20 July)
Backed by the Office of the Prime Minister of Italy and the Italian National Institute of Town Planning, the contest seeks ‘integrated and consistent’ strategies to revitalise the ancient settlement’s oldest quarter.
Known as Citta Vecchia, the Old Town was first established as a Greek acropolis on a prominent island within Taranto Harbour but today features many derelict buildings.
Source: Image by Livioandronico2013
According to the brief: ‘The international ideas competition is intended as a way to create a future vision for Taranto Old Town and a means to kick-start the engine of regeneration through an action plan.’
‘The competition seeks to activate hidden energies and talents, unknown and underused resources; find innovative ways to interpret resources and draw out memories, creativity, inspiration, ideas and methodologies.’
The document continues: ‘Proposals should help reinforce the importance of the Old Town for public functions on an urban and wider territorial scale and underline its role as a cultural attractor for a large area, helping to position Taranto within the regional and national cultural tourist system.’
Located in Italy’s southern Puglia region, the coastal city of Taranto is home to a major commercial port, a large naval base and many heavy industries.
Founded by Sparta in 706 BC, the settlement – known as Spartan City – is today ranked as the most polluted city in Italy and Western Europe.
The Old Town’s layout has remained largely unchanged since it was rebuilt by the Byzantines in 937AD following its destruction by Saracen forces.
Accessed by the Ponte Girevole and Ponte di Porta Napoli bridges, the 26 hectare island features an Armenian quarter and several historic palaces and churches.
Large areas of workers’ housing and the Jewish quarter were demolished in the 1930s by Benito Mussolini to make way for new apartment blocks.
Many residences in the island’s north-eastern segment remain either dilapidated or derelict. Prominent Old Town landmarks include the 15th-century Aragon Castle built to protect Taranto from coastal attacks.
Proposals should respect local characteristics and improve the relationship between the city, the sea and the wider context.
Teams must be led by an architect or engineer and must include an urban regeneration expert. Specialists in sociology, economics, architectural history, archaeology, smart planning and urban ecology may also be included.
Up to 20 teams will be invited to participate in the anonymous competition following an initial open applications round. The winner will receive €60,000 and be invited to negotiate for the design contract.
A second-place prize of €30,000 and third-place prize worth €15,000 are also available.
How to apply
Altstadtquartier Büchel case study: Q&A with Andrew Mackay
The associate director at Chapman Taylor discusses lessons learned regenerating the historic centre of Aachen in Germany
How does your Aachen project respond to its local and historical context to promote regeneration in the city?
The main challenge in regenerating the quarter is to create something which will be accepted by locals and tourists as part of the inner city experience, a part of town that is as attractive as the adjacent Old Town, but without offering more of the same. How we connect old and new, and continue the spatial qualities of the former into the latter are crucial to the success of this regeneration project.
Aachen’s street pattern has changed very little since the Middle Ages and is listed. We had to be very careful about creating new streets and squares in such a sensitive context. Our primary concern was to create strong and fluid connections between the new quarter and surrounding areas, that felt natural and that made sense when you consider the whole inner city. We decided that Aachen was missing a lateral axis that connected the bus terminal with the historic centre, so found a way of weaving a new axis through the existing urban fabric, and across our site to connect the two. In addition we created a new axis in the other direction, to tie together the two loose ends of Aachen’s pedestrianised shopping zone, that currently don’t lead anywhere. Such large scale regeneration projects create opportunities to solve urban problems beyond the immediate site.
The attractive sequence of irregular streets and squares in the Old Town is continued seamlessly into the new quarter, with views of Aachen’s UNESCO cathedral opening along the way, a reminder of where one is. A public square and the meeting point of the two new axes will help to give the new quarter its own focus and identity. The course of the new axes carves out four urban blocks, whose subdivision responds to historic plot structures and changes in the terrain, thereby continuing the historic grain of the inner city.
Which material, structural and other techniques are available to architects seeking to achieve a similarly impressive impact?
Though brick is the traditional material in Aachen, we wouldn’t want to see it used everywhere. It will look monolithic and unnatural employed on such a large scale. We are drawing upon the spatial experience of the historic city, not so much the architecture. The quarter will benefit from a mixed palate of materials and styles.
What considerations are important when regenerating a historic city centre such as Taranto’s?
In addition to creating strong, natural links, and an attractive spatial experience which continues the qualities of the historic city, a dense and colourful mix of uses is required to ensure the new quarter stays lively day and night. Only uses that activate the street should be allowed at ground level. In Aachen we have retail, services and gastronomy. Above, there are offices, medical practices, a kindergarten and residential, which makes up 50 per cent of the GBA and covers the full spectrum from social housing to luxury apartments with rooftop views over Aachen. This mix creates life, variety and authenticity.
Any large regeneration project will take years to plan and build. Politicians, market conditions, developers and public opinion may change along the way. Any regeneration plan needs to be flexible and robust in order to ensure that its qualities don’t get lost along the way. Simple solutions whose logic is readily understood best achieve this.