A collaboration with architect Francesca Petta, “Staging the Precinct” was a proposal for the Young Architects Competition - Art Cathedral, and it was awarded a finalist mention.
“Staging the Precinct” uses art to bring new life among the ruins of Kells Priory. In order to bring out the universal sacrality of the space, that now lies dormant in a vast and undifferentiated sequence of low enclosures, we decided to use the program to create some accents while leaving the ruin untouched as much as possible. Following some of the most authoritative theories in conservation, the authenticity and integrity of the ruins are thus preserved, and the original stone is conserved and highlighted.
The design of the masterplan stems from the space of the cloister: the spiritual, functional and geographical core of Kells Priory. Four main program areas - the art cathedral; the artists’ residency; the food court; the entrance/office - are organised around the main cloister along the lines of the old priory functions. In each of these areas, one or more courtyards act as connectors between the new buildings and the central cloister, bringing back the circulation of the complex to the core of the Priory, in the path around the cloister that has been walked by generations for centuries.
As in old religious complexes developed over time to accomodate the various necessities of the community in the confined space of the original precinct, new architectural signs — walls, roofs, steps, paths — fill in the empty spaces, activating the enclosures of the ruin through a system of proximities and crossings. The new elements are designed following one of three rules: they run parallel to the existing lines keeping a respectful distance, they follow the traces of old builds that are not visible anymore, or they complete what remains of the existing walls but leaving enough of them untouched on both sides. The only exception is the auditorium, that disrupts the orthogonal logic of the site introducing a semicircular space covered by an oversized structure.
The Artists’ residence and the Food court are located respectively in the west and east areas of the site, following the original program of the priory, while the Art cathedral, the core of the program, is located in the most evocative and significant area, that of the old church.
The new structures are realised in a different language and material from the original so to create an immediate contrast between the new additions and the remaining of the old walls. The arches of the original structure are a clear inspiration for the design of the elevation: through morphological recombination and scaling, they help contribute to the evocative and playful interaction of the new with the old. Benches and platforms are added in the site to provide viewpoints along the walking path. The interventions are simply designed to look as if they are resting on the ground.
The project looks at the future of Kell’s Priory while keeping the past still alive for visitors and artists to enjoy, providing opportunities to walk, eat, enjoy exhibitions, perform, create and live among the ruins of a great medieval monument.