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FLOATING PATH TOWARDS ART
The Piscina Mirabilis is an ancient Roman reservoir built in the 1st century AD on the Bacoli hill at the Gulf of Naples, southern Italy, in order to feed with drinking water the headquarter of his western Mediterranean war fleet. The cistern is one of the largest and most important cistern of the ancient world, and although it may be possible to visit the site, the building needs maintenance, and it is underutilized despite the historical and cultural value for the community of Bacoli.
We believe it is possible to bring life back to the cistern being transformed into an art museum that not only protect and make the building a focal point of revitalization but also would highlight the potential of its territory.
Cesare Brandi’s principle of distinguishability (1963) guides our design, which reassures the former cistern unique architectural features while adding new elements to generate a spatial setting for viewing art. The series of voids resulting from the poche of the cruciform pillars supporting the vaulted structure of the cistern becomes a design force: a new floating path resembling the Augustan aqueduct, from Miseno to Serino, is placed in between the prominent piers, now immersed into a reflective pool, softening these massive elements.
The architectural promenade inside the building begins by the main entrance door that leads to a glass bridge above the former inlet water staircase, which is connected to a cantilevered platform over steel structure, where the reception desk and elevator are located. This suspended lobby is visually integrated to the street through the glass in-filled arched openings, unfolding into a staircase that allows visitors to start immersing in the space below. Upon descending, visitors are directed towards the high-ceiling atrium below street level, from where they reach a floating path.
As a metaphor to the shorter branches of the historic aqueduct, visitors encounter whimsical staircases along the floating path, which they can climb to view the space from a different height. The path ultimately leads to a new exhibition space below the ruin’s footprint, partially revealed through the underwater circular skylights.
This new space houses the conference room and toilets in two soft-edge translucent volumes. Framed by a sinusoidal concrete slab that rests on concrete columns and retaining walls that safeguard the existing foundation. After exploring this space, visitors are led back to the atrium created below Via Mirabile NW, where water cascades down the reflective pool above, enhancing the immersive spatial experience. The atrium leads visitors towards the bookshop or to the bar/café mezzanine, accessible both from a staircase and a lift, offering new views of the art and the former cistern.
The ruin’s rooftop is turned into a public space featuring a winding pool that responds to the mimicked aqueduct path from below by having its walkable surface replaced with water, and inclined planes representing the old aqueduct’s branched configuration, a playful element that could also help cooling high temperatures down.
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