Citadel of health

Ponteranica, Bergamo, Italy

The municipal administration of Ponteranica has identified the need to understand and address the problems of the elderly emerged on its territory as the element of its social policy.

The project of a multifunctional residential area aims to integration within the territory, in consideration of a deep-rooted purpose not to marginalize and isolate the senior citizens.

Since its conception, the new structure even anticipates the operational settlements of next social and health services concept, called to be service points and territorial prevention available to the whole population.

This marked multi-functional structure, which is composed of unrestricted spaces, and available to social, health and cultural heritage, embedded in residential areas, will raise the new Citadel of health to benchmark for diversification and the wide range of services made available to the senior population.

With its downtown location, the new facility is designed for a natural interaction with social environment, providing health and social prevention services and opening interiors to users, in a continuous interchange between social and residential areas.

The facility will provide a residence for the elderly, Third Age day care centre, medical services and basic nursing, a specialist clinic and a rehabilitation physio-kinesis therapy area, open daily to all territorial users.

The recently occurred transformations in social affairs and family structures have not spared the condition of “aged individual”, as a  new identity bearing resources and not only needs.

A lack of self-sufficiency does not always coincide with a deficiency in autonomy, intended as inability to self-determination, to make decisions, live their lives, with or without health problems.

Although Healthcare homes are essential as dignified solution for  persons in poor health conditions, they can not be the only solution for aging related problems. This is not just for economical and accommodation reasons, but also for logistics ones and for a lifestyle option.

As a matter of fact, an increasing portion of senior population can benefit from a charitable project, which engages willpower, thinking skills, emotional life, desires, rather than a project in a sheltered facility, even though they can or want to live alone.

As the Third Age condition is subject to continual modification of the personal overall situation, it requires a good deal of flexibility in dealing with altered needs.

The available data confirm what follows: a complex and diversified  framework of of different degrees of autonomy  and consequently correlated needs; the demand  evolution in aging; an increasing capacity in domestic protection,that becomes movable to different living spaces; insufficient Healthcare homes as only senior residential model.

The design general principle for this new residential structure is that the primary task of Authorities is to ensure the well-being of all citizens, in respect of  economical, social and health welfare. This  target should be pursued by placing it within the demographic, epidemiological and socio-cultural reference scenario.

The new structure is designed as a home: pleasant and peaceful place to living space as well as Healthcare facility. Therefore it must ensure the guests have both the right to reside  and the right to be cared for. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that the facility is not dragged to a “small hospital” model.

The proposed model is focused on  promoting the senior user’s  welfare  with improved functional level without any kind of stress. Furthermore it allows  a constant deal  with the irreversible loss of mental and physical capacity, without sacrificing setting goals, but also without considering unrealistic performance.

The model that  here we  call “adjuvant”, means the noise not as a symptom of disease, but as a sign of stress, finding its cause in the gap between what the person can give and what the environment continuously requires.

The reduction of any interference causing discomfort and the increase of personal and social well-being of the guest, family members and professionals are the main purpose of this project.

The physical space, must then ensure safety in order to be “adjuvant”. Hence each safety element must result in the liberty hall for the guest, favoring a lower containment and surveillance and ensuring familiarity, flexibility and clarity of messages use of space. It must also contribute to a homely environment, using low technology instead of a high-tech location. The new residence thus becomes a living place, a space of relationship, “home”, and not the place of healthcare (hospital).

The proposed project involves the construction of a new Citadel of health, which consists primarily of a residential facility, an elderly day care centre with a gymnasium, an allocation of specialist clinics, a new square and an underground garage.

The residence is a facility intended  to senior users with different levels of autonomy, yet with stable medical cases and diverse needs, psychological, relational, welfare, health and society, beyond the need of a living space.

The aim is to enhance the role of the family and the local networks of solidarity, diversifying the answers in accordance with the elderly needs, without resorting to inappropriate recovery, also offering temporary solutions of relief to families.

In consideration of the fragile environmental context an architectural project has been drawn up adapting, even from the preliminary design stage, a scale of project sufficient and useful to warrant the effects induced by the proposed intervention, and to demonstrate its compatibility with the context.

An improved and a more valid effectiveness was reached by establishing a relationship between the involved public and private stakeholders in the planning schema that was reached in concordance and by participation, with appropriate and effective interventions aiming to promote the requalification of the new Citadel of health.

The design process aims to the respect of structural characters of the context and the assonance with the morphological peculiarities of the place as main objectives. The existing physique in its totality has represented the objective condition of design. The project considers the landscape elements which are available on site and takes them on. This aspect characterizes its course of study and will also characterize all next stages, of its different parts’ in-depth analysis.

From a morphological and compositional point of view, the new architecture is clearly contemporary. It draws upon a personal formal and figurative repertory that discerns the compositional material for the design. From the framework of the distinctive context character claiming its own design poetry and consistency with a constant course of research and experimentation.

The project analysis pays attention both to the environmental/structural aspects of the landscape and to the aspects of the quote and the design of spaces and typical sites.  The land topography has been the strongest restriction and the greatest opportunity to arrive at a resolving composition of open spaces, paths and buildings, which are strongly related to each other.

The analysis of the premises condition  and project  objectives  led to the displacement of a building articulate according to an open courtyard vertically developed on four levels in compliance with  the functional program shared by the local administration. All levels are served by three stairwells equipped with stretcher.

The architecture of the new residence, of the elderly day care centre and of the gymnasium consists in a single building, although the elderly day care centre and the gymnasium form an independent volume. Within the overall composition, this body slightly rotated compared to the orthogonal axes of the residence, directs the design of outdoor spaces and solves the junction with the axis of via Libertà.

This “split”in the building breaks the regular conformation of the open court, denying a classic and ordinary architectural trim in favor of a “complexity” of composition.

This building houses the elderly day care centre on the ground floor, which is an open and flexible environment, organized in order to accommodate conversation and reading rooms, areas for social activities, a space so-called “calm“ to seclude and enjoy a quiet and private location.

All areas on ground floor are open and connected, so that the elderly day centre is adjoining the residence at the end of a complete socialization and functional integration.

On the first floor there is the gymnasium for rehabilitative physio-kinesis therapy. The building is “open“ to the new square, with its generous height glass wall that characterizes the front facing downstream, thus establishing  a relationship of transparency and communication between the inside and the outside, not only from a visual perspective The proposed architecture aims to dialogue with the location and get its genius loci; therefore the use of simple and transparent volumes, treated with green roof, suitably fit the buildings in the context.

The choice of materials for the characterization of the facades and outdoor spaces follows the subtraction and simplification rule. As a consequence, there only six materials: stone, concrete, wood, bronze, weathering steel, and glass.

The opaque parts in the facades are composed of ventilated walls, with external stone cladding. There are large bronze framed glass walls.

Each room is provided with a balcony. This element amounts to a series of projections on different fronts. The set of balconies which forms the projecting body is rational. Here the material typifies these elements, treated differently than other portions of the facade. The inner facing that defines the balcony is covered with wood paneling and wooden floor, to highlight, with different colors and materials, the contrast between internal and external surfaces. The projections framework is made of reinforced concrete in view. The balcony bulwarks are made of three sheets of glass. The balconies are also equipped with sliding sunshade bronze elements easy to be independently placed in the desired position by the user, thus creating an interesting alternation of empty and full spaces on the external facade, overlapping the regular composition of the balcony.

The spatial configuration of buildings comes from requirements of simplicity and rationality, as well as a design poetry where variously modulated, natural and artificial light, is used as the constituent element of space.

The project thus aims to define an open, bright, transparent and flexible ambience.

A comfortable space, characterized by a careful color, material and construction detail analysis, with a varying relationship between solids and voids throughout the day. The identifiable character of the space is in fact founded upon the changing relationship between transparency and matter. The light, both natural and artificial, the transparency and the visual permeability of space assume a primary role through the exploitation of the use of glass. The use of glass for the exterior facade, interior partition walls of the offices located behind the front desk, and, again, for the external facade behind, at the ground floor entrance, allows a fantastic transparency and visual permeability to the scenographic natural landscape to the south. Here the outdoor landscape becomes characteristic element of the interior design.

The spirit of the design proposal aims to enable the patients to enjoy an extraordinary relational space to improve their condition during their stay at the new residence. 

An articulated system of ramps, stairways and sloping planes, is the base on which the building stands and it represents a sort of “threshold“ separating the internal from the external room.

The new volumes articulation defines external routes by creating a new and distinctive series of open spaces on four levels along the via Libertà.

The new square is formed as well as the courtyard of the building, open towards via Libertà and the City Hall, and as a public space of articulated terraces on different levels connected by stairways and by the new sidewalk along via Libertà. The junction of via Libertà and the new square is solved thanks to a green edge, modeled according to a trend variable geometry of planar portions which are inclined and mutually connected in order to compose an effectual grass origami. All this design fits into the landscape architecture in an adequate and integrated perspective.


Massimiliano Gamba


Ponteranica Municipality

Dimensional data

Intervention area: 8,723 m2

Gross floor area: 6,500 m2

Volume: 20,000 m3


Master plan: 2013

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