The Vicenza Arts and Craft School was designed to generate 4200 sq metres of multi-purpose space and offer a path to education in traditional Vicenzan techniques of jewellery design and production as well as contemporary courses in graphic and technology based design. The complex was also designed to accommodate a portion of the Vicenzaoro Expo during out of term times, as well as other major events and gatherings. The site is situated within a five minute walk of the city centre.
Contrà Pedemuro S. Biagio, Vicenza, Italy
Mar 2019
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The city of Vicenza, like many Italian cities found in the Veneto region, retains its traditional aesthetic by successfully preserving its historic artefacts and delivering on its UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage title. Unfortunately, those same accolades have hindered aspects of its development causing previously thriving industries to move to the periphery. The city too often feels like a museum with only the buzz of tourism sustaining it. 

Like Venice before it, Vicenza no longer resembles a functioning city but instead a city tasked with accommodating visitors rather than its citizens. With the advent of Diesel, Bvlgari, Gucci, among others, Vicenza has become a brand name for luxury wear at the expense of its residents.

It is time for Vicenza to embrace its bright future while still celebrating its past. We envision Vicenza as the heart of design and craft focused on teaching programs which celebrate the region's proud traditions of craft to both its residents and internationally. An academic and economic driver integrated into the social and cultural centre of Vicenza.

The buildings of the Vicenza Art College are treated as robust tools used to enhance life, leisure and work, catering to the aspirations of the user. If the form limits the function (failing to deliver on those aspirations) then, just like the worn tools of a skilled carpenter, it will inhibit the creative. If the form limits the user or worse hinders them, then the building cannot be deemed successful regardless of the architectural language.

A truly successful building delivers on architectural principles which enhance function and vice versa. Design moves must complement one another creating a homogeneous design avoiding contradictions (i.e. grouping components such as walls, storage, ventilation, etc. into singular elements). The studio building accomplishes this through its ventilation, seating and services all contained in one singular element which can fold to give way to open space. When a building is inherently easy to understand it allows the program to thrive.

Adaptability allows the user to activate the space before returning it to an unstimulated configuration. This offers freedom of space, delivering a ‘tool’ that can be borrowed, then returned. It is not only timeless through the principles of minimalism, delivering clarity, but also through function offering unparalleled flexibility.

From the early stages there was a draw to create a distinctly modern campus. An area of revitalization offering a contrasting yet complimentary experience to the traditional atmosphere of Vicenza. Much like the master plan of Palladio, injecting new character into a city fallen on hard times, the traditional context must be respected but it should not hinder the city’s growth.

“In the traditional city, the city of memory, there is no final, perfect state, only a continuum that remembers the past but is open to the future.” Aldo Rossi

The three volumes were a constant throughout each iteration of the design. The knowledge derived from Aldo Rossi’s theory of “urban artefacts” emphasised hierarchy and the study of the urban grain. The new school will act as a landmark location (primary artefact) within the city, the scale comparable to several pre-existing artefacts spread across Vicenza.

An area designated for parking, and originally disconnected from the core by the historic city wall, could now offer an opportunity. Not only moving from the periphery of the city but becoming its heart.

A key delivery would not only be creating a successful series of buildings but a successful landscape strategy. One that would address sustainability, outdoor activities, the building’s footprint, materiality, balancing public and private space, the relationship to the historic wall and showcasing artwork. The landscaping would act as an extension of the lower interior spaces tying the development together.

A line was struck through the site creating a separation between the public and private. This is articulated with a staggered Corten wall. The structure still allows permeability and exploration while defining boundaries. The public realm offers a large plaza running to the river, bordered by the monastery (renovated for artists in residence) on the western edge. A sculpture park sits within the semi-private domain with scattered blocks of local quarried stone acting as plinths for artwork. The landscape's natural slope towards the river is preserved. 

Above the landscape sit three masses each perched delicately on stone slabs which carry the colossal weight of the structure achieving a 12-meter truss cantilever. These are the only points of connection between the structure and the earth. This same detail is articulated within the interior through the separation of the floor slab and free-standing utility cores. These tensile volumes act in a similar manner to the artwork, only making contact through the plinths and standing as sculptures in the landscape.

The structural acrobatics have become vital as the project has developed. It is essential that the levels inside tie back to the perimeter structure of trusses. This has informed major design moves and offered certain restrictions. A clear inspiration has been the Christian Kerez Leutschenbach School.

Within each of these structures a different program resides, the cores adapt to each scenario holding the integral fixed components allowing the in-between space to be clear of structure and utilities. This has allowed for three active and evolving forms. The studio features adaptive staging through its heart. The workshop has all its hardware consolidated into two elements that can be cleared when needed and the library offers shelving that can float above the void space when stored.

Current condition

The site currently hosts a car park capable of holding 400 cars. The entirety of the site is tarmacked with several industrial buildings to the northern edge. In its current condition the site possesses a significant issue regarding runoff, displacing over 13 million litres of water every year. It also creates a severe suntrap increasing the temperature of the surrounding environment by several degrees. By exploring the surrounding city, it is clear that the site is the largest of several anomalies in the urban fabric. Research has shown that the site is already highlighted in the PU12 municipality of Vicenza development plan and has been proposed to undergo a 20-million-euro renovation.


The Vicenza Arts and Craft School will offer 4200 sq meters of multi-purpose space and offer a path to education in traditional Vicenzan techniques of jewellery design and production as well as contemporary courses in graphic and technology-based design. The building will also accommodate a portion of the Vicenzaoro Expo when classes are not in session as well as other major events and gatherings. The site offers the advantage of being positioned within a 5-minute walk of the city centre unlike many of the current venues. This proposal will be in addition to the 26000 sq meter expansion proposed for the Fiera di Vicenza Exhibition Centre. A clear sign of the Veneto region's jewellery growth.

The construction will host three distinct programs:

A Research Centre and community accessible library and archive with facilities for group meetings and community activities. The flexibility and open plan of the lower level offers 600 sq meters of unobstructed space and an additional 200 sq meters split over half levels. The upper floor offers another 600 sq meters with the option of an open configuration by retracting the bookshelves over the void. The upper level also includes a small courtyard at its centre which can aid with direct ventilation through the summer months and provide a pleasant atmosphere for users who wish to take advantage of an outdoor space. The façade, like the other two buildings, is a double skin construction. In this instance the glazing system is coupled with a polycarbonate inner layer to combat the effects of glare; this is accomplished by diffusing the light offering a uniformed lighting condition. This also reduces the need for artificial lighting during the day, shrinking its carbon footprint. In addition, it is lighter than a second glazing layer and helps combat the effects of solar gain by reflecting a portion of the infrared light. This is then optimised with an outer layer of solar controlled glazing with transparent solar cells applied on both the South Eastern and South Western façades. The solar gain within the cavity induces a flow of air between the two glazing systems offering a means of natural ventilation. This will be coupled with a mechanical air recovery system that benefits from the residual heat of a ground source heat pump. This could offer as high as a 70% carbon reduction. The mechanical extract system along with the artificial lighting is concealed behind sound absorbing timber baffles in the ceiling retaining its clean aesthetic. The air supply system is embedded in the floor slab offering the most efficient means of ventilation and heating through displacement.

A Workshop boasting 800 sq meters of double height space for large scale art sculptures and architecture projects. An additional 220 sq meters resides below ground level hosting print and textile facilities as well as jewellery and craft stations. The workshop can be cleared for large events as part of the three-piece master plan in which the Research Centre, Workshop and Design Studio create a continuous stretch of exhibition space down to the riverfront. It achieves this by consolidating all the heavy machinery into two elements one of which can be sunk into the ground slab when needed and the other closed to offer wall space. The heat recovery and ventilation system is similar to that of the library, however, it features more significant extraction and supply systems as well as direct supply to much of the machinery. The façade is again composed of a double skin of glazing; however, it instead contains a system of sliding timer panels within the cavity. This is used as a shading device as there is a reduced need for light at the upper level of the structure however it can be opened to allow in extra light, especially daylight from the north. This choice is ideal for exhibitions, workshops, and tutorials where concentration of light is essential. The skin similarly uses heat gain to draw natural ventilation with the addition of a Trombe wall running the length of the southern façade used to aid in heating the building through thermal mass and convection. The roof contains a series of pitches sporting photovoltaic panels.

A Studio environment capable of easily accommodating 40 students with plenty of room to expand especially on the lower level, currently open for use as review and tutorial space. At the centre of the building sits an auditorium which cuts between both floors through the central void. This path then unites with a series of steps running towards the river. The upper level of seating is entirely retractable, offering valuable workspace. The Carrara Marble substrate, locally sourced, stretches beyond the building’s footprint from the river to the old city wall creating a vast public avenue cutting directly through the ground level of the building when in public use. It is the focal point of the scheme tying together the two key influences on site, the river and the historic wall, through the new development. The façade system once again is double skin; however, mechanically controlled timber louvres allow for the most precise control of light, essential for studio work. Another Trombe wall is present as part of the upper-level services. The positioning of the building is particularly effective in contributing towards the natural ventilation system. On particularly warm days the perimeter doors can be fully retracted, allowing air to be drawn in over the river helping cool the air before being pulled through the central void and out through the raised skylight. The studio building also allows for roof access where smaller sculpture and art works can be displayed with a greater deal of security. It also provides a space for students to relax in a fully private setting.

In addition, accommodation for 20 students will be developed on site completing the neighbouring block including retail and dining on the ground level.


The mass of the building is contextually appropriate as it mirrors both the dimensions of neighbouring blocks as well as picking up on proportions and scale from the existing Monastery on site. The new grain laid out by the grid creates a contrast to the traditional flow of the streets. This grid is established in response to the primary building on site, the Monastery. As part of the master plan and redevelopment it is crucial that the composition relates to the neighbouring program and generates a coherent design. Additionally, the contrast between the earlier 15th century development and the new 21st century is one that enhances the area through diversity of space, style, and atmosphere, Integral when re-branding the district from industrial edge to centre of creation, innovation, and design.


The landscaping solution acts as the fourth and final factor tying the three singular elements together. It offers exhibition space from large to small scale including an area to the south for collaboration between artists and architects in the form of an annual pavilion designed by both schools and fabricated in the central workshop. The landscaping also offers a solution to several issues of sustainability in the surrounding area as it cools the immediate environment, helps protect against flooding, protects against sound pollution and helps combat CO2 emissions. The landscaping is not only a counter measure, but actively engages with the river, a condition almost entirely absent from the rest of Vicenza.


This proposal aims to deliver a series of new possibilities and opportunities for the City of Vicenza and its residents with modern facilities designed to aid in education based around the heritage of Vicenza whilst embracing new development. It possesses the tools to bring industry back to the centre, enticing new entities through venues and events. It is the proposal for a consolidated district of innovation and design in the heart of Vicenza.


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