The San Paolo complex sits adjacent to the San Geminiano campus of the university’s Faculty of Law. Part of the San Paolo complex has been given over to the faculty library, which is managed by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, while the structure also houses a number of state facilities – such as a nursery school, a family centre and a reading room – and a number of commercial enterprises managed by the city council. The oratory, which will be managed by the provincial authorities, was to be used as an exhibition space.
It was immediately apparent that the central challenge in this project was that of integrating a group of apparently disparate elements, each managed by a different institution, with distinct aims, in such a way as to generate a synergistic relationship between them. And to do this in a manner that would not compromise the visual and structural qualities of a building that retains – and can present to the world – the stratified traces of over five centuries of history.
Bolstered by a thorough analysis of the existing condition of the building, itself supported by extensive historical research, the project would incorporate work to restore and stabilise the structure to the point that it satisfied existing requirements in terms of safety and comfort without compromising the delicate balance it had reached over time. It also sought to capitalise on the building’s rich inherent potential, removing inappropriate elements left over from relatively recent interventions and using recovered materials analogous to those typical to traditional local building practices.