A Fortress in Favignana
Two miles off the coast of Sicily sits a small island in the Mediterranean that’s rich in Italian heritage. From turquoise waters and coastal cliffs to ancient history and architecture, the island of Favignana is home to few, but plays host to many, including the 2018 Young Architects Competition.
Titled “Art Prison,” the competition brief challenged participants to transform the Fortress of Santa Caterina, a long-abandoned prison atop the island’s peak, into a centerpiece of contemporary art.
Robin Ault, Clutch Design Studio’s Director of Design—architect and artist—has a deep appreciation for Italian culture thanks to his previous studies in Rome. He channeled this love into his competition entry, creating a wholly unique design defined by purpose and place.
Since the fortress itself had long been abandoned, Robin turned the ancient structure into its own art exhibit using a circular design that would give visitors 360° views of the old prison.
“The structure is hundreds of years old,” says Robin. “I wanted something to circulate the historic buildings without interacting with them too much.”
The design includes plans for a gallery, luxury hotel, restaurant, lounge, spa, pool, helicopter pad and all of the high-end luxuries demanded by the world’s most prestigious centers of art and culture.
Tourists and locals alike can walk around the ring and engage with the exhibit, hotel and conference center, all while taking in new perspectives of the existing fortress.
“I wanted a clean, minimalist design that preserved and heightened the historic quality of the fortress through 21st-century contrast.” By juxtaposing views of antiquity with those of contemporary, Ault was able to bring new life to the old prison.
When asked about the biggest challenges he faced during his design process, Robin replied that it was the atmospheric vacuum that architecture competitions create. “You don’t get to bounce your ideas off of people,” he says. “I like to talk with clients about everything from the program to the materials, and in a competitive environment, asking too many questions is a double-edged sword. Ask too few and the task at hand is unclear. Ask too many, and you’ll give away your direction.”
Despite many upsides—beautiful scenery, historic surroundings, different cultures and the like—working internationally has its challenges as well. “Most international projects use the metric system, for one,” says Robin, “and visualizing in millimeters and meters is different than feet and inches. It’s like a switch in your head that you have to turn on and off.”
The other big hurdle Robin faced? The language barrier. “No matter how good a translation is, there is usually something that gets lost. But I stand by the saying ‘Good design is good design;’ it’s a universal thing.”
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