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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Fortress of Franzenfeste in Italy by Markus Scherer, Meran with Walter Dietl, Schlanders Designed using Microstation

September 25th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Markus Scherer, Meran with Walter Dietl, Schlanders

“Begun under Francis I in the year 1833 – completed by Ferdinand I in the year 1838”, reads the Latin inscription over the gate of the fortress. In just five years, over 6,000 workers and soldiers built a blocking position at one of the narrowest points in the Eisack valley. It has the dimensions of a small town and, with a surface area of 20 hectares, is the largest fortification in the Alpine region. With this monumental defensive work the Habsburgs hoped to halt the advance of the revolutionary changes provoked by the French revolution.

Public main square (Images Courtesy René Riller)

  • Architect: Markus Scherer, Meran with Walter Dietl, Schlanders
  • Name of Project: Fortress of Franzenfeste
  • Location: Festung Franzensfeste, Franzensfeste, Italy
  • Client: Autonome Provinz Bozen
  • Project management: Arch. Josef March (main coordinator), Geom. Hans Peter Santer (Project leader), Hbpm Ingenieure – Ing. Julius Mühlögger, Ing. Gunnar Holzer (Project leader)
  • Photographers: Alessandra Chemollo, René Riller

Forecourt to entrance of the fortress (Images Courtesy René Riller)

  • Construction supervisor: Markus Scherer, Meran – Klaus Plattner, Bozen
  • Collaborator: Heike Kirnbauer, Elena Mezzanotte
  • Structural engineering: Baubüro-Klaus Plattner, Bozen
  • Safety coordinator: Günther Rienzner, Bozen
  • Electrical and domestic engineering: Planconsulting, Burgstall
  • Finishing: 05.2009
  • CAD-Program: Microstation V8

View of the public main square (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

Designed by regimental engineer Franz von Scholl, it consists of three autonomous sections: the upper, middle and lower fortress levels. It has clear and simple classicist lines; it is functional and impregnable. As the military threat did not materialise in the decades following its construction, however, the fortress rapidly lost its importance. By the end of the 19th century it was merely used as a powder depot. In 1918 Franzensfeste came under Italian rule and was used by the army until 2003.

View of the public main square from the terrace (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

Acquired by the province of South Tyrol, new opportunities for the preservation of this cultural monument have arisen: the former fortress is intended to become a place for meetings and cultural exchanges. In 2008 it was one of the four venues for the European biennale of contemporary art, Manifesta 7, and in 2009 it hosted the South Tyrolean regional exhibition.


View of the overlaid bridges from the artificial lake (Images Courtesy René Riller)

The Meran architect Markus Scherer prepared the lower fortress level for Manifesta 7, an exhibition surface area of over 3600 m². Preservation of the buildings and the character of the fortress was paramount. The huge granite blocks making up the walls were restored, the roofs waterproofed and the windows repaired. Walled-off spaces were opened up and later additions removed. The size and extent of the complex are not at first obvious from the courtyard behind the main gate. The monolithic structures with small, regularly spaced window apertures are on different levels around the compound, connected by ramps.


View of the overlaid bridges and the east wing (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

The lowest are lapped by the dark waters of the adjacent artificial lake. New galvanised steel railings and staircases have improved safety. Two windowless concrete towers with lifts and staircases link the buildings. The surfaces and the material used interpret the historical building method anew: they are concreted in irregular 30-70 cm sections, with a fine layer of sand between each. These layers were flushed out to produce an irregular horizontal joint pattern and granite sand was used to adapt the towers to the surrounding colour, with the surface roughened by sandblasting.


View of the overlaid bridges connecting the south wing (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

These objects, with their military numbering, now accommodate a visitor centre with a ticket office and shop, as well as a bar, restaurant, a play area for children and, last but not least, a large exhibition area. Visitors to Manifesta are greeted by a seemingly endless series of rooms. The carefully restored vaults of exposed brick-work and the plastered walls, some decorated with murals, have retained the aura of the past. On one of the walls can be read “Immer vorwärts!”, always forwards, understandable in every language spoken in the Empire: let modern art breathe fresh life over the walls! New items such as grilles, handrails, doors and the two free-floating bridges over the lake, connecting two buildings, are all constructed of galvanised, patinated steel: the existing elements form a pleasant context for their cloudy black coloration.


Exterior view of one of the two new towers (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

The existing tunnel, where the Bank of Italy’s stolen gold was found, was extended and a 22-metre long vertical shaft driven through the rock to connect the lower to the middle fortress. The black concrete stairway with its golden handrail (Kunst am Bau (The Art of Building) by Manfred Alois Mayr) spirals upwards like a sculpture.


Exterior view of the new towers (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

The stairs and lift end in the partially destroyed powder magazine. This was redesigned as the new entrance building, while the new adjacent building of compressed concrete (coloured to match the existing construction through the use of granite sand) provides the outside edges of the missing sections and contains all the sanitary and technical areas for the middle fortress. The remaining buildings have as far as possible been left as they were found. Only certain elements such as safety grilles, rails and ramps have been added and these, as in the lower fortress, are of galvanised, patinated steel.


Exterior view of the entrance of the new tower (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

Detail of the facade of the new tower (Images Courtesy René Riller)

Interior detail of the stairs of the new tower (Images Courtesy René Riller)

View of the external volume connecting to the new restrooms (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

View of the stairs and lift ending in the ancient powder magazine (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

Detail of the suspended walkway connecting the existing building (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

Detail of the suspended walkway and the golden handrail (Images Courtesy René Riller)

Interior view of the stairway from the existing tunnel (Images Courtesy Alessandra Chemollo)

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Categories: Microstation, National Monument

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