Urban color plan

Martinengo, Bergamo, Italy

The built-up town is the “material” historical memory, a record of time going by. Taking care of it implies a great responsibility. 

Conservation and reclamation of urban areas are part of the correct process to be implemented in order to get a successful outcome.

Planning makes use of many instruments, analysis, plans, directives, which, once linked and based on knowledge, allow the safeguard of the present and plan development of improvement of urban quality.

These guidelines want to be part of these instruments, as a result of experience recently achieved in several Italian towns.

Plans and timely works carried on until today reveal problems, suggesting a debate aimed at the increase of sensitivity of this issue and, on the other hand, at the enrichment of following plans and projects, trying to get an answer to complex argumentation and to a plurality of points of view.

This work provides Martinengo with the opportunity to manage tools and objective operational criteria focussed on the reclamation and safeguard of the building and architectural heritage of the historical centre.

The main target of this work is the definition of guidelines aimed at the valuation of physical scenes of the old town, at the implementation of a shared sense of beauty of colour, at the readiness and identification of different urban levels. Guidelines as a tool for monitoring and controlling activities within respect of modification works, within conservation of distinctive characters of local identity and their reclamation.

In the historical centre of Martinengo, a project schedule on painter and façades refining takes paramount importance with regard to image restoration and valuation of its urban patrimony. This process is even more important for what concerns most damaged and ruined buildings, compared to the ones which have maintained a more homogeneous link with original structures.

The consideration for materials and their correct use come from a strict compliance with compatibility of wall structure, plaster, and whitewashing, sometimes limited within the stratigraphy of works across time. In this perspective, the correct use of finishing materials (plastering and dyeing) should be considered as part of building quality.

Fundamental procedures of approach and intervention will be restored with a proper chromatic table, a correct technological use of materials and elements which form a façade, both in traditional and modern systems.

This project also provides the Administration with an implementation tool for standardisation and control of public characters of building area, in order to prevent private discretionary power from fragmenting the visual course of places, where the object and/or decoration choice are studied part of each work, each property, with no reference to the environmental and organized urban scene in a whole.

Each citizen has the right to live at ease in a familiar circle within his town: the “human scale” places, urban decoration, urban quality are subjects for lengthy town planning discussions. These places (either extant or to be realized) should show quality and environmental assonance specifications and should trace back to a general expectation of the urban scope.

The project is marked by the formulation of guidelines rather than limitation directives.  Guidelines are a coordination tool for maintenance, reclamation, and restoration works, inclusive of surface and constituents of different architectural projects. Guidelines will regulate chromatic nuances, aiming at creating a perceptive system of the urban scene, at the same time consistent and distinctive, inclusive of all the constituents of a façade.

The operational tool is made of technical performance directives to guide designers in the choice of compatible solutions in the history of the building and its morphology and typology traits.

The historical centre of Martinengo should reveal, just as an open book, which must be read, but first of all must be able to tell its own story… its images, its history, its peculiarities must be catched by anyone while walking through it. Its resources shall not be collected in reserved archives, but shall be offered to the community. This is the reason why I reckon the image of a town centre should not be a spot restyling, due to fashion or economical reasons, but should pass through a careful project considering the extant and the history of each building and urban frame.

The outcome of analysis and method is a single work procedure for all buildings; the building itself will articulate and set the action. Guidelines provide each work is the result of a specific project, drafted using the provided forms.

The chromatic table is the catalogue of historical colours retrieved from surveys and iconographical period sources, codified with the numbering Natural Colour System NCS™.

The research developed two linked and inseparable approaches, the historic-architectural one and the technical-material one.

The extent of this research is the heart of the town centre, where the commercial and social life of historical Martinengo concentrates: Piazza Maggiore, the main square and significant portion of the surrounding streets to the walls limit. The perimeter was defined in the scope of identification of a valuable and diversified survey samples. Guidelines will be applied to the whole historical centre through suitable and appropriate operational devices. 

For a correct approach to the themes of urban decoration and maintenance of historical façades we shall undoubtedly start from the acknowledgement of materials and of traditional building techniques, through the reconstruction of the historical evolution path of the realization and decoration styles applied to the building fronts.

With this regard, the historical centre of Martinengo offers a very rich and complex background, both for variety and works stratigraphy. In this sense the analysis of historical and environmental valence was performed with surveys on the very rare iconography and on archive information.

In the process of re-reading of architectural and environmental context, the analysis of current situation and dynamics of recent modifications or confirmations of material and ornamental characters played a paramount role.

The historical and architectural approach of this survey led to a closer examination of patterns and history of buildings, materials, and construction techniques across time; the technical and material approach led to closer examination of intrinsic characters of materials and of their origin. In parallel, the buildings’ façades have been subject to a fieldwork.

The historical iconography is important evidence of the centre ornament, thanks to concrete images (paintings, drawings, prints, period pictures, et cetera). The twentieth-century iconography is basically made up of both black-and-white and colour pictures of the historical centre. The recent historical iconography (period black-and-white pictures of the early twentieth century and colour picture of the second half of last century) confirms a blend of rural and middle-class characters of the centre, but provides poor information on the usage of colours. Though in grey shades, façades depicted in period b/w pictures are interesting in showing false windows, painted signs, street plates, and so on. Notwithstanding their indeterminateness of colour details, the iconographic documents are to be considered as good starting point for the acknowledgement of the building and its outline. Through their interpretation and critical valuation (in a continuous comparison with information directly gathered from physical reality) they can be revealing.

Through direct observation of buildings subject to the assessment, a fundamental attention to urban decoration in more or less correct ways, with respect of architectural characters of buildings, was remarked, also within transformation and adjustment processes based on property changes or on the taste of people living in it.

On the other side, a trend to insert and modify openings in buildings’ fronts with indiscriminate composition led to a loss of figurative identity of the building system.

Moreover, the introduction and replacement with new inaccurate materials (for type and production) are a major risk factor.

In this sense, a relevant role is played from inconsistent little changes and, most of all, from their sum, by degrees distorting the image and historical character of the place.

The vulnerability of this context is very high, in consideration of modern and several applications for physical modification of the territory, both inside and outside the historical centre, by different actors of social and economical life of Martinengo. Therefore these conditions imply definite directives and precautions for change works.


Massimiliano Gamba


Martinengo Municipality


Project: 2010


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