Adaptive reuse scenarios

Cittadella di Alessandria

The incremental recovery strategy, outlined in the research project La Cittadella di Alessandria_Scenari di riuso adattivo (Adaptive Reuse Scenarios for the Cittadella of Alessandria), developed in 2017 by the Department of Architecture and Design of the Polytechnic University of Turin on assignment for Compagnia di San Paolo, begins to redefine the boundaries and possibilities of reuse of this architecture that is resistant to change, deeply isolated, disused and oversized. The identification of three Cittadella landscapes and eight environments helps to establish an initial hierarchy of the 26 buildings inside and unveil the latent potentialities of a unitary but internally complex and heterogeneous building. The resulting image revealed an unclear spatial complexity, potentially able to house extremely different activities. The research identified an initial chart of flexible infrastructure devices that form the heart of a strategy aimed at minimal, almost light, intervention on historical artefacts that is still able to immediately reactivate the Cittadella, making it safe and usable.



Scientific director

Architectural project

Matteo Robiglio, Nicola Russi, Elena Vigliocco, with the participation of Mauro Berta

Management model definition

Cost evaluation and strategy set up


Chiara Iacovone, Alberto Valz Gris, Riccardo Ronzani

Operative coordinator




Research project

Publication available here:

The Citadel of Alessandria is a Savoy fortress that has survived undamaged. Until 2007 the Citadel was a military garrison but today it is part of the property of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo – Soprintendenza Belle Arti e Paesaggio delle province di Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, V.C.O. e Vercelli – interested in its cultural preservation and valorisation.At the beginning of ‘90s and before its dismantling, Government, Piedmont Region, Province of Alessandria and City of Alessandria launched a series of administrative and research initiatives aimed at enhancing the Citadel because of its relevant cultural value. Despite the efforts, the outcomes were not successful and the Citadel, emptied of all its original activities, seemed destined to an unstoppable decline: the season of the investments in lighthouse assets, such as the Reggia of Venaria Reale, was over. The main cause of the failure of these attempts is the interpretation of the Citadel as a unitary inviolable system. All the hypotheses of new uses and economic interventions crashed into the oversized dimension of the site. In parallel, spontaneously the Citadel has become a place where people love spending their free time. In 2012 it became a FAI Place of the heart and today some cultural activities and events have found place giving new life to these abandoned spaces. In 2016, MIBACT took over the ownership of the area and the process of renovation had a turning point: the new objective was no more the identification of a new use for the Citadel but its preservation through focused and efficient interventions of safeguard and restoration.
Thanks to the active participation of MIBACT, the research represents the first step of a complex sequence of safeguard interventions of this oversized cultural heritage.

The objectives of the research were (1), through an inclusive approach, to integrate diverse opinions – social, cultural, political – into a cohesive vision; (2) to translate that vision into a coherent plan of interventions and uses with a temporal progression developed according to the opportunities of urgency and financing; (3) to ensure the sustainable implementation of the plan.
Turning a shared vision into a reality – into a truly great place – means finding the patience to take small steps, to truly listen, and to see what works best in this particular context. For these reasons, the research included two moments of discussion with the involved stakeholders. Two workshops have taken place at the Citadel in two different moments of the research project with the aim of (1) collecting the requests and allowing the stakeholders to discuss and (2) returning the intermediate phase of the work in order to collect the feedback.
The case of the Citadel is a recurrent condition in the protection of vast heritage buildings with low patrimonial density: a huge military compendium in a peripheral context that cannot be capitalized through its simple conservation but not even used as an undifferentiated container or transformed through the selection of some elements to be preserved and the modification of the others. Because of its gigantic dimension, the research has identified an innovative approach that combines conservation needs, possible reuse and economic-management sustainability.

The previous iconographical and historical researches represented the “state of the art” and were the base on which the project layout was developed. The aim of the research was focused on the strategic aspects of the adaptive reuse process assuming the previous historical researches as scientific support but neglecting to deepen the material degradation of the buildings that could be explored by a successive knowledge phase.
The design research analysis has been developed both from a new interpretation of the architectural and landscape features of the Citadel of Alessandria and through a careful recognition of its contemporary uses. The investigated spatial aspects have been useful in identifying existing values, latent potentialities and criticalities, and have been the starting point for the elaboration of the strategic proposal which has a strict connection with the economical resources available and to its developing in time. Starting from the observation of people’s spontaneous repossession process described before, the developed placemaking capitalizes the local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating a renewed Citadel’s public space that could promote people’s well being.

The quantities that describe the gigantic dimension of the Citadel are:

Used surfaces:

Citadel extension area: 444.000 Sqm
Permeable area: 408.000 Sqm
Covered area: 36.000 Sqm
Constructed surfaces: 115.000 Sqm
7.000 Sqm
Wall bastion surface: 90.000 Sqm

To these numbers the research adds its interpretation that consists in three landscapes, eight main environments – that compose the historical complex – and 26 buildings that help to establish a first hierarchy of spaces. These numbers have unveiled the latent potentialities of this unitary but also articulated and heterogeneous complex: this new interpretation of the Citadel enriches the traditional image of a unitary architecture that, through its decomposition, reveals its specific, latent and non-visible potentialities. The resulting image of the Citadel shows its less evident spatial complexity, extremely rich and potentially able to accommodate activities and uses that are extremely different in consistency, function and size and that can be established at different times.
Because the preservation of the historical complex is the objective of the strategy designed, the project of adaptive reuse has identified (1) a first abacus of infrastructural devices that combines the most urgent structural operations of consolidation, (2) the main infrastructural backbones, (3) the new architectural mechanisms that can reactivate the Citadel making it safe, usable and open.
The research has (1) identified the interventions on the buildings and military infrastructures and (2) designed a series of flexible and (possible) reversible devices that were the main instrument of the action strategy aimed at intervening as little as possible on the material consistency of this historical complex. Combined to the temporal sequence of introduction of these devices, the approach to the Citadel evolved the architectural restoration project of the Citadel from a “static” horizon, durable but also rigid and expensive, into a “dynamic” process, renewable in time, a stage for multiple kinds of scenarios.
The strategy of intervention designed an incremental process where the Citadel becomes a design laboratory. The structural sequence of interventions brings together the ordinary restoration project of some buildings – that starts and ends in a limited time, has government grants and a defined use layout – and a series of interventions developed over time but brought together by a unitary design intention. In synthesis the research identified a new “active safeguard strategy”.

The gap between funds needed and funds available is enormous:

Restoration estimated cost: 200 M€
Economic Governmental available resources: 34 M€
Difference: 166 M€

The safeguard strategy was designed starting from the analysis of the last projects for the renovation of the Citadel. The analysis underlined that more than the big top-down projects – almost all stopped because of the disproportion between available and needed funds – small bottom-up initiatives have made the Citadel known by people, loved and protected by its users. Through the confirmation of the existing uses, the core of the first step of the strategy was the enhancement of the initiatives that made the Citadel a lively public place. On this assumption the research study proposed a light and agile management model. Through a minimal set of interventions, ranging from the simple preservation to the insertion of the devices necessary for the safe use of spaces, the sequence of incremental interventions was the core of this “active safeguard strategy”. The first tranche of funding (2017-2023) represents the trigger – with immediate effects – of the entire program of adaptive reuse that, governed by a sustainable management model, will be able to attract public and private operators. This first step consists in the definition of a punctual series of interventions aimed at halting the deterioration of the buildings and fortifications and activating a peaceful reconquest of the Citadel.

The strategy described concluded that (1) the subjective selection of architectural elements, and their consequent sacrifice, was not functional to the hypothesis of “actualization” of the Citadel – structures and buildings with a poor value were more interesting for a project of adaptive reuse because they can absorb humble uses such as stores or services; (2) it was necessary to introduce technological, material and infrastructural systems necessary to reactivate this historical heritage; (3) the “new” elements added by necessity must have a character of autonomy and clear legibility; (4) the adaptive reuse strategy must absorb local potentialities because of its objective was the enhancement of the place identity through the capitalization of the current resources.
To preserve this cultural heritage, the project did not “subtract” but “add”. These were the interpretative keys of the entire proposal and the challenges of the project.


  • M. Robliglio, N. Russi, E. Vigliocco, The Cittadella of Alessandria, project for an adaptive reuse, in A. Marotta, R. Spallone (a cura di), BOOK OF ABSTRACTS FORTMED2018. Defensive Architecture of the Mediterranean XV to XVIII centuries, Politecnico di Torino, Torino 2018, p. 119, ISBN 9788885745148.

  • M. Robliglio, N. Russi, E. Vigliocco, The Cittadella of Alessandria, project for an adaptive reuse, in A. Marotta, R. Spallone (a cura di), Defensive Architecture of the Mediterranean XV to XVIII centuries, Politecnico di Torino 2018, ISBN (printed version) 9788885745100, ISBN (online version) 9788885745124.

  • E. Vigliocco, Project of preservation. The case of Alessandria’s fortresses, in ReUSO 2018. L’intreccio dei saperi per rispettare il passato interpretare il presente salvaguardare il futuro, Università degli studi di Messina, Messina 2018, pp. 987-996, ISBN 9788849236590.

  • Report Workshop 2 (17/02/2017)_M. Robiglio, Alessandria e la Cittadella. Verso un restauro plurale. Final report_M. Robliglio, N. Russi, E. Vigliocco, Cittadella di Alessandria_Scenari di riuso adattivo, 2017.