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Spaces for Civic Use: Terme di Montepulciano

Part 1 Project 2010
Sanae Mizushima
University of East London London | UK
The point of departure of the project is thermal bathing intended as a civic activity, the notion of “civicness” as generosity of a public building towards the city.

The project is set in Montepulciano, medieval and renaissance fortified hilltop town sitting on a limestone ridge in Tuscany. The area comprised between Via del Corso, main civic spine of the Renaissance city, and the outer city wall was chosen for the new Terme di Montepulciano. This part of the city constituted service areas for the palaces on Via del Corso, forming today a balcony looking out towards the landscape of Val di Chiana, area rich in thermal waters.

The public bath establishes a wider urban strategy connecting the eastern gate and the historic city. The building becomes an entrance piece that indicates a pedestrian path rising into the town. The path is configured by a series of separate volumes providing further cuts allowing views and alternative routes. The geometric configuration of the pathways and the volumes choreograph the gradual journey of entering the city centre via a viewing square.

The organization and character of the proposed thermal baths originate from local bathing traditions that go as far as the Etruscans bathing in natural springs and the Roman baths that organized the bathing ritual around rooms for specific bathing experiences. The proposed bathing facilities are located at the base of the building organized into rooms holding specific bathing characters defined by variations in light, temperature and relation with the landscape. The open structure of room-to-room interconnected spaces enhances the feeling of one being in a room that is part of a bigger whole.

The room-to-room order of spaces also dictates the structural order of the building: concrete walls provide the primary structure, faced with local limestone for both internal lining and external cladding. Large polished limestone panels in various sizes are hung from the concrete walls on the inside. As in Renaissance palaces, the façade of the building is defined by a rusticated base implementing rough limestone on edge with sunk joints to elevate the much finer clad upper volumes.

Sanae Mizushima

Spaces for Civic Use:
Terme di Montepulciano, Tuscany

Walking 100km through the UNESCO World Heritage Landscape of the Val’Orcia in Tuscany, a region of exceptional artistic value and rich in thermal waters, resulted in the student choosing to work in the fortified town of Montepulciano.
The slowness of the pace gave the opportunity to explore a working landscape of hills and the relationship between territory and city structures, with the student developing a particular interest in city gates; how one enters the historic city from the landscape, elaborating a thesis for a phenomenology of Italian townscape. The notion of “entrance” becomes the starting point for the student of a clear spatial and tectonic strategy for the new public thermal baths in Montepulciano.
The strength of the project resides in the understanding of the civic value of the proposed building as a public piece that belongs to the city. The student develops the notion of civicness as an opportunity for the thermal baths to become a piece of city that goes beyond being a facility for public use. The proposal acknowledges and becomes routed in the urban structure and topography, providing an entrance piece to the historic city and clearly contributing to the shape of the city. Civicness is understood as generosity to the public and towards the city.
The project manages an appropriate relationship between “urban move” and spatial organization of the building, interpreting precedents of Etruscan and Roman thermae, resulting in a bathing experience based in a room-to-room sequence dictated by variations in temperature, light and the presence of the landscape.
The depth achieved by the work finds its origin in a profound comprehension and careful description of the landscape and its constructions. Precedent and study of traditional methods of construction are reinterpreted by the student that, utilizing contemporary techniques of realization, develops a proposal that becomes part of the delicate historical and artistic context where it belongs. The student combines sensibility and analysis in the development of material and construction strategies that aim for a spatial and tectonic clarity, resulting in an architecture of inner calmness and simplicity.


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