The project for the Palazzo dei Diamanti consists of an organic series of interventions aimed at restoring and enhancing the 16th-century complex and adapting both the interior and exterior spaces for exhibition purposes.
The project is driven by the belief that architecture, unlike painting, sculpture, or other art forms, is a living art that cannot only be contemplated for its beauty, but an art that to continue to exist must be experienced and, if necessary, reinterpreted. This has always been the case throughout the history of architecture, except for the tendency that, in recent times, has often seen the logic of pure conservation prevail over the possibility of rewriting and enriching the monuments that have been passed down to us from the past.
Even the Palazzo dei Diamanti, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance designed by Biagio Rossetti in 1492, has had a complex history over the centuries that makes it a wonderful palimpsest, made up of reconsiderations, subsequent additions, and unfinished parts. A building that, except for the external facades, lacks a comprehensive unity, as also evidenced by its current articulated use: the main floor, which includes the grand hall and the 16th-century apartment of Virginia de' Medici, houses the National Picture Gallery of Ferrara, while since 1991 the ground floor has been used as a venue for temporary exhibitions by the Ferrara Art Foundation. Palazzo dei Diamanti is therefore not a monument in itself, but an architecture destined to host public activities that consolidate its role and presence in the culture of our country; it is a testimony not only to the enormous heritage that has been passed down to us from the past, but also an opportunity to continue producing and conveying culture in the future.
Within this context, the interventions described below should be understood as an organic complex of actions aimed both at preserving the historic building, its spatiality, its intrinsic quality, and at adapting its spaces to the needs of a modern exhibition space.
Restoration and preliminary works
After analyzing and studying the ancient documents to distinguish the original parts from the later additions, the first task was to verify the state of conservation of the existing building envelope.
The project involved removing the old plasterboard linings, which were installed in the past to protect the original walls. Once removed, it was clear that the state of conservation was rather fragile: some walls had numerous and wide gaps resulting from the presence of old air conditioning systems; others had widespread damage resulting partly from the age of the building and partly from the presence of old unrepaired perforations. It was therefore necessary to initially proceed with a work of reconstruction of the flaws and consolidation of the damage before proceeding with the remaining work. The conservation status of the building required numerous "stitching and unstitching" interventions, injections of mortar, and repairs in order to restore the wall continuity and ensure a more general restoration.
Along with these restoration and consolidation works on the walls, a modern floor was removed - in the portion of the building that used to house the Risorgimento Museum - corresponding to the new bookshop, with the aim of restoring the original double-height space of the room. To this end, significant consolidation work was performed on the original wooden beam.
Finally, during the works, constantly supervised by the Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape Superintendence, a 15th-century "Este sauna" was found, restored and brought to light.
The design of the exhibition spaces
Once the restoration work was completed, the exhibition path was created, mainly in the areas previously designated for exhibition, namely the Rossetti Wing and the Tisi Wing.
All the rooms have been equipped with new highly technological and resistant surfaces, behind which equipment has been concealed. The new surfaces, which cover the ancient walls without altering their texture, hide the most advanced systems designed to ensure the thermo-hygrometric performance required for a contemporary art museum. In the Rossetti Wing, new Venetian terrazzo floors were installed. New burnished brass portals were inserted in both wings to accentuate the spatial sequence of the Renaissance palace.
The second intervention involved the spaces of the former Risorgimento Museum, completely restored, where new functions have been allocated to support the exhibition activity: coffee shop, bookshop, educational room and multipurpose space. In addition, the internal courtyards were renovated, equipped with new terracotta paving: conceived as real outdoor rooms, they have become an integral part of the museum itinerary, thus enhancing the peculiarity of the Palace which alternates between solids and voids, indoor spaces and enclosed outdoor areas.
The design of the pathways
The third intervention concerned the continuity of pathways – a central theme for an exhibition space – both inside and outside.
Regarding the internal pathways, a significant connection was reopened that had been interrupted over time between the former Museum of the Risorgimento and the main court. Additionally, access through the small loggia that faces the main court was improved, making it an essential part of the visitor's route.
The most significant intervention is the creation in the garden of a connection between the two wings of the Palace. As is well known, the main body of the building has an open-plan development, featuring a main courtyard adjacent to the access portico, which overlooks directly onto the rear garden (originally the "brolo"), filtered only by a two-dimensional partition that serves as a perspective backdrop.
The new project to connect the two wings, which was already envisioned in Andrea Bolzoni's 18th-century prints (1782), consists of a lightweight, trilithic wooden structure – partially glazed – which extends into the garden, highlighting its main geometries.
Consistent with the spatial structure of the Palace, characterized by an alternation of solids and voids, the new intervention defines new outdoor rooms in the garden that extend its logic, amplifying the sequence.
Its position in relation to the wall that defines the main court, axial and distanced from it, in fact, confirms the intention to leave an empty space, a sort of buffer zone, thereby reaffirming its role as a filter between two external spaces, a condition that it has maintained until the present day.
The structure, made of charred wood, is able to ensure good durability over time and low maintenance; the sliding glass panels, which protect the walkway during less favorable seasons, allow for a complete opening in order to restore the physical continuity between the Renaissance courtyard and the rear garden. The new structure, in fact, not only connects the two wings of the palace but, precisely because of its ephemeral nature, belongs to the garden, which has also been completely redeveloped.
The project of the garden
The project of the garden aims to reveal the arrangement of the ancient "brolo," which was divided into squares and rectangles as attested by Bolzoni's prints (1782) and attested by the 1843 survey.
The proposed intervention can therefore be considered as a new project on a historic site: in fact, it is neither a conservation of an existing garden, nor a pure restoration of a precise historical situation. The pre-existing trees, arranged in the "English style", have been preserved and intersect with the orthogonal layouts of the ancient “brolo”. This aesthetic coexistence of two opposing natures, regular and irregular, reveals the stratigraphy of different historical periods.
Two new elements complete the garden: the quincunx (an agricultural prescription handed down to us by Roman treatises to ensure rational cultivation with staggered rows) of holm oaks that creates a filter between the garden and the palace, and the body of water, a simple circular basin, that reflects the sky and invites the visitor to the far end of the garden.
Architect from the Municipal Office in charge of the process
Architectural Project and Site Construction Management
Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori (LABICS)
Structural and mechanical engineering
3TI progetti italia
Project of the restoration works
Project of the set-up works
Giovanni de Vito
Garden light design