Volterra International Design Workshop 2015 – Project statement

The objective of the project is to explore the theme of the relationship between society and technology through the design of a new urban district focused on the celebration of the natural resources in Volterra, environmental principles, and the development of more sustainable practices in urban living. The “Foro Ecologico” project aims to amplify the balance between urban form and its natural surroundings found in traditional Italian hill towns such as Volterra.

The project is located in the city of Volterra, on a site currently occupied by a parking lot on the north side of the city. The core area for the project is clearly delineated by the medieval defensive wall on the south and west side, Viale Francesco Ferrucci on the north side, and the ruins of the Roman Theater (1st Century BC) on the east side. (Red line on the site plan on page 2). The site was part of the old Etruscan and Roman city, contained within the defensive walls from IV BC. It was left outside of the new smaller ring of walls built in XIII AD, only to become part of the city again during XIX and XX century developments. The site was used for some time as a sports field, and more recently has been turned into a municipal parking lot.


The Foro Ecologico project will respond to some of the current needs and problems of Volterra and will also illustrate possible directions for development of the city, in harmony with the natural environment, and with a responsible and creative use of its resources. The project does not seek to replace the civic activities currently concentrated in the historic center of Volterra, but to compliment them with new functions based on the opportunities offered by the selected location. True to the general purpose of the project, proximity to the historic center, and the nature of the urban fabric of Volterra, the project should place primary emphasis on the quality of public spaces and their integration into the city.

The urban fabric of Volterra has been undergoing continuous changes in both function and form since the beginning of human settlement in the area some three thousand years ago. The physical artifact of the city traces many changes from antiquity forward, all of which contribute to the richness of present day Volterra. The relationship to the city’s past is one of the primary questions architects need to ask themselves in such an historical context. What is the value of tradition, what is its meaning for our generation, and what will it be for generations to come? How should the project react to the regional and local traditions and how should it create new qualities for the future?

The orientation of the medieval walls should be carefully addressed as a significant part of the environmental conditions of the site. The city walls shade a large area of the site, particularly during the winter months. This factor should be considered for the placement of the program functions on the site. Similarly, site ventilation may be an issue. Because of its lower elevation relative to the surrounding areas, the site retains its winter moisture longer than the rest of the city, which can contribute to the deterioration of the ancient stone structures.

The medieval defense system, together with the change of elevation between the city center and the area outside the walls creates a significant barrier for pedestrian circulation in many parts of Volterra. As in the middle ages, residents of the city walk through the few gates that still channel traffic as they did seven hundred years ago. The connection of the Foro Ecologico with the center of Volterra along the Viale Francesco Ferrucci is limited by the needs of vehicular traffic around the city. Therefore, providing a new direct vertical connection from the project up to the adjacent neighborhood, which is 26m above, will provide significant relief for the daily needs of pedestrian traffic between the city center and this new district.

Viale Francesco Ferrucci, which is the northern border of the project site, is currently a vehicular circulation lifeline for Volterra north of the medieval wall. The deep valley (called Vallebuona) that cuts into the city just north of this street makes it difficult to connect between its sides until much further down the hill. The location and the form of the Roman Theater, which is orientated along the axis of the Vallebuona, indicates clearly that the valley was intentionally celebrated as part of the formal composition connecting the city with its surrounding environment. This dramatic connection, together with its environmental qualities, is now lost in favor of the needs of the vehicular traffic around Volterra. It is recommended that teams consider potential sectional changes for the existing roadway. Although the final scheme must preserve vehicular passage along this route, it may be helpful initially to imagine that the existing road does not exist in its current form, so that new design proposals can freely consider alternatives for the elevation and configuration of the road.

The site and its context offer a rich nexus of influences. In addition to redeveloping the core site itself, teams should carefully consider the potential for a direct vertical connection to the centro, the views and potential new access points to the Roman Theatre, a potential reconfiguration of Viale Francesco Ferrucci, and a stronger connection to the Vallebuona (Zone 2 on the site plan and the valley below). In concert proposals that successfully create a comprehensive response to all these conditions have the potential to benefit Volterra well beyond the specific project boundaries.


The functional program for the project has two components: the Common Functional Program (see below) and the Team-proposed Functional Program. In addition to the general site considerations noted above, all teams must address the Common Functional Program, although keep in mind that the design process always demands the careful evaluation of program requirements. As you would with a client, don’t simply take the program requirements at face value without applying your critical thinking skills to the challenges and other opportunities that the project may present relative to programming.

Each team must also propose one or two additional component(s) for the project based on conclusions from the research conducted at the beginning of the workshop, responding to both the particular qualities of the site and the universal environmental qualities from the overall theme of the workshop: “Society and Technology: Water, Food, Waste, and Energy.”

Ecological Market (Mercato Biologico)
Provide a permanent, covered (but may be open-air) ecological food market. It should allow for up to 25 stands (of up to 4x4m) for each food vendor, with appropriate internal circulation space provided. Integrated into the market should be several permanent enclosed shops as well, all of which will focus on sustainably produced food products. The project must also provide space suitable for the expansion of the permanent market on Saturday mornings for the weekly market (Mercato Settimanale) currently held on the site. The expanded area for the Saturday market may include occupation of the Viale Francesco Ferrucci or other areas that might still be devoted to surface parking on weekdays, if such spaces exist in the design proposal.

Electric Car Rental and Public Parking
Provide an area for a membership-based electric car rental service for the citizens of Volterra with space for up to 20 electric cars available for rent. This service would also be available to tourists (without membership, but at a higher rental price). With a range of about 80-90 miles (135-150 km), an electric car is capable of providing convenient and efficient transportation within the ring of the nearest major cities around Volterra (Pisa, Siena, Florence, Ceccina). Volterra currently has a significant problem with parking for the cars of the city residents and tourists, and research indicates that one shared vehicle can replace as many as eight to fifteen privately owned cars.

Currently the project site provides about 250 parking spaces, and it is seen by many as the most convenient parking outside of the city walls. The new project must include a minimum of 180 parking spaces within the site boundaries. 20 of these spaces will be used for the Electric Car Rental. Up to 80% of this public parking requirement can be accommodated below grade as the project design allows. Keep in mind that car parking is a significant issue that affects all of Volterra. As an example of systemic thinking, if it is possible to provide more parking at this location (perhaps with a larger parking deck below grade for example) this could provide a much broader benefit to the city if other areas of existing surface parking throughout the city could be removed.

Public Baths (Aqua della Natura)
Within the project, provide a modern public bath/spa. This facility will take advantage of local water resources. Different types of water will be available for use in the baths: harvested filtered rainwater, salt water (from Saline di Volterra) and thermal baths (using local geothermal energy) along with an outdoor garden and an indoor exercise area. Total area of the bath interior: 1000 m2. The baths should include an open garden area of approximately 500 m2. The garden should be integrated into the rainwater harvesting system. Exterior space associated with the spa might also include the integration of other recreational activities.

Sustainable Housing
Integrated into the market, electric car rental, and public bath will be at least twenty housing units of various sizes designed with the most advanced resource efficient techniques. The apartments would be available freely on the market, but might provide housing for people directly involved in the other functions of the Foro Ecologico. It is also possible to propose that some of the apartments will be used by the political refugees currently seeking temporary housing in Volterra. Since they are not allowed to work while they wait for the decision on their political asylum status, their stay at the Foro Ecologico can be part of an educational program as well.

Civic Space (Il Foro)
In order to stitch together all the components of the program, including the one or two additional components to be proposed by each team, teams should consider the fact that all exterior space in a typical Italian hill town contributes to a seamless flow of public space. In addition, the tradition of the ancient Roman forum should be considered.

Worldwide, and over time, the word “forum” became synonymous with social activity and not necessarily an urban form. However, in the context of Italian architecture, where so much of the tradition is still based on the culture of the Roman Republic and Empire, the word “forum” still preserves its original meaning. The most famous Forum Romanum (as well as the fora of many other Roman cities) was a large district of the city composed of multiple buildings built in different times, different styles and for different purposes. These complexes offered indoor as well as outdoor spaces for civic activity. Similarly, every Roman military camp (castrum) had its own small forum, the remnants of which are still clearly visible in many cities whose origins reach back to the period of the Roman conquest. These fora did not develop gradually over time like the
Forum in Rome, but they contributed greatly to the proliferation of the Roman idea of civic life across the Mediterranean region and a good part of Western Europe. The name “forum” is still used it today’s architecture for buildings and complexes which aspire to house a variety of civic functions. However, the contemporary scale and pace of urban development will never have the same effect as the hundreds of years of history built into the substance of the Roman Forum.

Keep in mind that the contemporary interpretation of civic space in this case might include the provision of recreational space, or other amenities the team believes would be an asset to Volterra.
The underlying meaning of the word “forum” is unity within diversity; a common goal, where individual articulation and opinion are freely expressed in the context of civic life. In the spirit of the idea of the forum, the “Foro Ecologico” will therefore become an urban district with multiple functions and forms and a single objective: to become an urban environment supporting the goal of sustainable living in Volterra.