A new public space has recently been restored to the town of Macerata. The Orto dei Pensatori (Thinker's Vegetable Garden) is a square located between two historical structures, the University of Macerata Humanities Department and the tall city walls. The new name given to the area reflects the different uses it has been put to over the centuries. In fact, the area began as an ecclesiastical vegetable garden, but is now a meeting place and cultural space at the service of the town's university. This courtyard was originally built in the 1600s on top of an early medieval structure inside the vast Convent of Saint Clare, but in 1808, during the Napoleonic era, the whole area was converted into a courthouse and prison. Later in the same century, though, the complex fell into disuse.
So from being a hortus conclusus (walled garden) for the Order of St. Clare nuns to becoming the courtyard of a male and female penitentiary, this historical space has always been a no go area for the town and was used only by a very few in a very limited way. It is this secret, almost mystical character of the square that has dominated the design choices made by Ascenzi and Rocchi, the two architects entrusted with redesigning it. Accordingly, the focus of their new design rests on the heritage-protected boundary wall that has become a pretext for maintaining the area's historically enclosed character. They describe it as "an indoor room without a roof" and it is deliberately designed to host university cultural initiatives and other events. Its ground plan and elevations, featuring an irregular 900 m2 layout covering a series of different levels, were the inspiration for its elegant, minimalist design that is deliberately structured so it can adapt to a wide range of uses. For this reason, the high-efficiency lighting system - installed mainly to enhance the monumental character of the old city wall and the surrounding buildings - is also extremely adaptable. In fact, it features luminaires with dimmable LED lamps controlled by a DALI system. The main entrance to the area, in via Illuminati, is indicated by Linealuce Mini recessed luminaires. Then, an accessible ramp, graphically marked out by Underscore Ledstrip tubes, leads to the courtyard. The grassy areas of the square are lit with Light Up Orbit ground-recessed luminaires, while Platea Pro devices positioned on the string-course of the buildings provide grazing light over the facades to enhance the textures of their ancient walls. The light produced by Platea Pro luminaires also blends with the direct beams from the Maxi Woody floodlights to produce a general light effect that creates a sense of unity in the square, as well as enhancing the colours of the different materials that range from brick and stone to wood and weathering steel.
This project, launched with the aim of creating an increased level of interplay between the university and the local community, has succeeded in using light and architecture to create a sense of social identification. At the same time an important and central area of the town of Macerata has been restored to the people. All this has been made possible thanks to the contribution of the Marches Regional Council.
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