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The shelter / monument of the villa in Piazza Armerina is in danger!
Fani Mallouchou-Tufano, Dr. archaeologist

A historical shelter, that of the well-known mosaics of the Late-roman villa of Casale in Piazza Armerina in Italy, which covers an area of 2000 m2, is in danger. The shelter has been a milestone in the history of the protection of monuments through shelters, both for the new ideas that it expressed, and for its wide impact. The prerequisites and the character of the shelter had been set by Cesare Brandi, an imposing personality in the domain of the monuments’ conservation in the post war period in Italy, as well as by the architect Franco Minissi: it was designed as an unobtrusive, “modest” shelter of protection, light and reversible, made of modern materials which were clearly distinguishable from the ancient remains, a shelter that would not obstruct or alter the ruins or the mosaics, nor would it block their view, but on the contrary would protect them, while at the same time it would contribute to their on-site didactic presentation. A shelter which, having a form deriving from real data, would hint at the volumes, the geometry and the plan of the monument protected.
The shelter was constructed in 1957, by use of materials of the latest technology - a light and elegant framework of stainless steel, walls and ceilings made of transparent plastic (Perspex) - which allude to the original spatial arrangement and volumes of the Villa. The vertical supports of the roofs and the visitor passages, which develop along the internal walls of the building complex, are based on contemporary additions to the ancient walls, which are easily distinguishable from the ancient material. A second, interior, pseudo-ceiling made of non-transparent plastic under the roof of the various rooms, insures the air vacuum which is necessary in order to compete the heat, while at the same time it obstructs the reflection of the metal infrastructure on the mosaics. Similarly, in order to assure natural air-conditioning and ventilation, a great part of the lateral walls were constructed as blinds.
Missini’s shelter, a bold and pioneer construction of its time, opened new pathways for the use of modern construction materials for structures in archaeological sites and monuments, as well as for the construction of shelters and on-site museums. However, the rest of its history does not correspond to its importance.
In the fifty years that followed the shelter did not receive any conservation and, worst of all, it bears interventions that have immediate side-effects on its function. The non-transparent ceilings are being removed, a fact that causes a reflection of the shadow of the metal infrastructure on the mosaics, while the lateral blinds are being replaced with stable, uniform glass panels, an intervention that is responsible for the greenhouse phenomenon that had been developed under the shelter and caused the deterioration of the mosaics. The wear and tear of the mosaics was further accelerated by a flood that occurred in 1991 and by vandalism actions from the part of the visitors.
The confrontation of this situation today seems not only imperative, but inevitable as well. However, instead of a radical renovation of the existing shelter, as one would expect, or even its replacement by a new shelter made of materials of the latest technology in the spirit of the original designing, the solution that is being advanced is one of entirely different philosophy, promoting the construction of a new, closed shelter, with artificially controlled micro-clima conditions. The shelter will be recreating the design and the forms of the villa in “traditional” materials, such as gypsum boards coated with (sprayed) plaster and a wooden ceiling covered in bronze sheets. It is rather evident that the solution promoted departs from the idea of an abstract and schematic - in essence intellectual - restoration of the monument, which was representative of the trend for “critical restoration”, dominant in the 1960s, towards a visual representation, in the spirit of the more “realistic”, didactic reconstructions, which are becoming the most popular means of mass interpretation and presentation of the monuments, in beginning of the 21st c.
The new solution that is being promoted will destroy a shelter-monument emblematic of a whole era. It should not be accepted. Join your voice, together with hundreds other voices, in an international appeal for the maintenance of the shelter, which you will find at www.unipa.it/monumentodocumento

Sign the appeal!

fanitufano@gmail.com

15/11/2007
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