Today’s headquarters of the Department of Architecture were a former monastery dedicated to Saint Teresa and then a prison in Florence. The original complex dates back to 1620, when Maria Francesca Guardi assigned some sparsely built plots falling in Santa Croce district within the 14th century wall ring for the construction of a nunnery. The church and the convent were designed by the Florentine architect Giovanni Coccapani.
In 1808 the convent was suppressed by the French government only to be reopened eight years later and partially accommodate a municipal school. In 1865, the monastery was finally suppressed and converted into a remand prison.

The complex was then subject to further alterations, with three new blocks added in the former kitchen garden parallel to via della Mattonaia between 1866 and 1897. The central building was reserved to the inmates’ cells, while the wings accommodated a carpenter’s, a shoemaker’s and a machine workshop. Between 1984 and 1985 the inmates were permanently moved to the new prison of Sollicciano and the former prison was handed over to the University of Florence by the Municipality of Florence. Since 1992, the complex has undergone a number of works aimed at refunctionalizing the spaces. Because the former prison was endowed with large halls capable of accommodating a high number of people, it proved particularly adapted to be converted into university premises.

The original layout, subsequently altered with several interventions for re-use, is now ideally fit to house such a relevant didactic centre as the Faculty of Architecture. Its use for teaching purposes amplifies the social relevance of these buildings, which from a monastery and then a prison are now rather romantically turned into space for open and free activities. The complex is now the headquarters of the Degree Courses of Architectural Sciences, Bachelor’s Degree of Architecture, the didactic services of DIDA Department and the School of Architecture, the Architectural Model Laboratory (LMA), teachers’ rooms, class- rooms and student common areas.

The first step of the works left visible the function of the central building as a former prison, with the inmates’ cells being maintained. The second step, executed by Cooperativa Archeologia, enhanced the project with three important interventions, that is, the functional reorganization, the restoration and the conservative rehabilitation of the historic buildings, which have been blended together in one harmonious, functional and efficient complex with the addition of a new block. This new block, which plays the role of the new entrance to the Faculty of Architecture, is an innovative structure for the choice of materials, building methods and plant engineering, so that it makes a modern and architecturally interesting solution.

The contract was awarded to the most economically advantageous tender offered by ATI Cooperativa Archeologia as leading partner – Mida – CTC, which were able to contribute improvements to the original project. The final works make an important result and add another piece to the professional mosaic of the business of Cooperativa Archeologia, which has worked in the sector of the rehabilitation of Cultural Historic Heritage since 1981. In Santa Teresa too, with their commitment to careful work and social needs, the constructive synergy between the Company, the Site Engineer and the Designer enabled to hand back to the community an important historic monument, which has been endowed with new form and function, respectful of the principles of conservative restoration, to experience a new modern life.

The design essentially concentrates on the transverse block lying perpendicular to the three blocks of the 19th century extension of the prison (which are in turn perpendicular to the north of the most ancient area of the monastery), currently granted for use to the Faculty of Architecture. The design develops the distribution system of the whole academic complex with a new glazed block I, directly connected to the old blocks B – A – D and to the new blocks F and G. Here lies the main access of the whole university complex, with a large corten steel entrance from Via della Mattonaia introducing straight to the main axis of distribution.
Block  I is a newly built structure and makes the main spine of the whole complex. It is directly connected to the main entrance and stretches along the northern side of the former cloister.

The executive project includes carefully defined steps, as follows:

_Demolition of all the elements that were added over time to connect the three blocks to the rest of the prison facilities, including the complete demolition of the floors and of the former cells in block F. The resulting space will enable to build the new block I and to create four large classrooms and other facilities for teaching activities.

_Construction of the new structure – Block I – with steel beams and pillars totally independent from the other blocks. A reinforced concrete block for vertical connections, including two lifts and stairs for the new complex, is accommodated to the western end of this distribution axis. Towards the Faculty courtyard, the new block features a fullheight glazed curtain wall (about 15m high) made with aluminum beams and posts anchored to the new floors. The inner floors remain detached from the facade. To the opposite side too, along the former northern side of the convent, all floors lying above the first story remain at some 1.10m away from the existing wall, so that the continuity of the glazed curtain wall is not interrupted. The connection with block F is guaranteed by walkways located at relevant access areas. The size of the facade partitions is conceived so as to adjust to the existing structures (the three blocks lying perpendicular to block I) that are connected to the new system of distribution.

_Construction of a new block of distribution G. Located to the eastern end of block F, block G contains the second block for vertical connections, for instance lift and stairs (the first block is found in block I, as mentioned above). This block, structurally similar to the other one, is created inside what is now a small courtyard. The new staircase is connected to the teaching facilities by means of a smoke-proof filter area and of a block for toilets. The technical equipment rooms are located above the terraced roof.

_The plant engineering design includes a mixed summer/winter air conditioning system  with radiant  floor heating and fan coil units. Lighting is ensured by builtin ceiling pipes, while block I is provided with valuable suspended lights. Plant engineering included the execution of a number of works, and namely: construction of the new Cooling and Heating Unit; construction of the main supply network for heat transfer fluids; water unit and firefighting supply system; rehabilitation and adjustment of existing sewage system; enlargement of power transformer cabinet; reorganization of main power supply system  and secondary power supply system.

The project acquired form and function based on the principles of Conservative Restoration, following the simple but essential notion of “Restoring by adding without subtracting”. The whole complex proves to be enhanced by the addition of modern structural and architectural elements, like the steel and glass curtain wall with exposed tubular bearing elements finished with modern sophisticated intumescent  paints; coloured wrought steel and glass parapets. Such additions ideally match the conservatively restored historic wooden trusses and the consolidated ancient plasters, coupled with the ultimate modern design of non-traditional seismic joints integrated with the interior design.
Santa Teresa is now an “Open Architecture”. There is still a lot of work to do to complete the restoration and refunctionalization of the whole complex. In fact, the wing E of the prison, as well as the church and cloister, with their garden and portico, are still kept on hold. The missing interventions have been already partially planned and will make part of the third allotment, for which tenders still need to be called.

[by Alessia Lorenzi]