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Tuscan “Park of Angels” Inspired by Art and Flight

Rendering for the master plan of Parco Degli Angeli (Park of Angels) in the Tuscan town of Peccioli, Italy
A commission has been granted for the master plan of Parco Degli Angeli (Park of Angels) in the Tuscan town of Peccioli, Italy. The plan meshes modern design and historic influences by incorporating a “smart” climate-responsive design with silhouettes inspired both by renaissance art and flight. Courtesy of Asymptote Architecture

The sleek, modern designs in the master plan for the new Parco Degli Angeli—to be located near the Tuscan town of Peccioli, Italy—incorporate steel and fabric to create lightweight, soaring structures.

June 10, 2014—The commissioned master plan for Parco Degli Angeli, (Park of Angels), in the Tuscan town of Peccioli, Italy, is dominated by luminescent steel-and-fabric structures, combining modern design with historic influences by incorporating “smart” climate-responsive technologies with architectural silhouettes inspired both by renaissance art and images of flight. Once built, the park will host summer concert series, food and wine events, and museum visitors.

“Building in this region is a sensitive and delicate matter and finding the right approach is key,” said Hani Rashid, a principal and cofounder of New York City-based Asymptote Architecture. Rashid wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. Lise Anne Couture, AIA, also a principal and cofounder of the firm, was also closely involved in the design of the master plan, as was Asymptote’s project director for the master plan, Mo Zheng.

“On the one hand, artificial historical references and set designlike approaches can be shallow and artificial, while overtly modern and severe interventions can be seen as foreign and offensive to such a powerful landscape and place,” Rashid explained. “Therefore hitting the right note on technology, composition, form, materiality, and architectural quality was front and center in this design and approach.”

Four structures are included in the master plan for the park, the largest a 2,180 m2 roof that will stretch 18.5 m above an existing 800-seat amphitheater. Nestled beneath the roof—and seeming to float above the highest seats—will be a local heritage museum for Etruscan antiquities. Both structures are expected to be the first completed under the plan. Later phases of development will include a new community-based music center and music instrument museum designed in a manner similar to the amphitheater roof, and the Centro di Cultural Enogastronomica (Center for Tuscan Food and Wine Culture) will be located in a converted farmhouse.

Rashid said the design team was inspired by Tuscany’s natural landscape and surrounding environment. “I was interested in the interplay between the natural and the man-made, a preoccupation seen in the design of Italian Baroque gardens and specifically in the works of renaissance artists such as Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca,” he said.

“I also looked for abstract imagery in the surroundings, where falcons are frequently seen gliding about the valleys, so thought it apropos to allude to flight, plumes of air, and wings of flight,” Rashid noted. 

Another rendering of the park which displays a 2,180 m2 steel-and-fabric roof will stretch 18.5 m above an existing 800-seat amphitheater

Under the plan, a 2,180 m2 steel-and-fabric roof will stretch
18.5 m above an existing 800-seat amphitheater. Nestled beneath
the roof—and seemingly floating above the highest seats—will be
a local heritage museum for
Etruscan antiquities. Courtesy of
Asymptote Architecture

The amphitheater canopy is a steel diagrid, fabric-clad, cantilevering shell structure placed atop concrete block foundations. Although the detail design work has not yet be completed, the design for the roof was taken as far as possible to ensure it’s viability, according to Thorsten Helbig, Dipl.‐Ing., a partner at the Stuttgart, Germany-based structural engineering firm Knippers Helbig. The roof will consist of a double-curved frame comprising a ring beam and supports. Built-up plated steel elements will form the roof’s frame, which will provide support to the steel diagrid, which will act as the skeleton for the roof’s fabric membrane.

The fabric roof was developed to be responsive to weather conditions without the need for on-site technicians, Helbig explains. “We created a fabric roof with apertures and funnels and openings, which are basically oriented to the existing wind directions,” he says. “[The roof will] react to these weather conditions and not be controlled by a mechanism or a machine, but controlled by air temperature and air flow.”

Embedded photovoltaics in the fabric of the canopy roof will generate power that will be used for the structure’s lighting, according to the architects. The cells will also control the amount of solar gain in the structure by acting sunscreens.

Hauke Jungjohann, the director of the New York City office of Knippers Helbig, collaborated with engineers from the Stuttgart, Germany, and New York City offices of the climate engineering firm TransSolar to develop the design of the amphitheater roof.

A steel-and-glass museum with a U-shaped footprint will nestle beneath the amphitheater roof. Laurent Giampellegrini, Ph.D., a structural engineer in the Stuttgart office of Knippers Helbig, explained that the number of supports was minimized to “give a ‘free floating’ appearance to museum.”

“To achieve this, the museum structure is conceived as a single steel torsion box utilizing the full dimensions of the museum as structural depth so that the large distances can be spanned with minimal supports,” he explains. The details of the museum’s design are still being worked out, but one option includes framing the amphitheater canopy’s structural system to act as an additional support for the museum, so that the elevated building can appear to be as light as possible, he says.

Aerial view rendering of the park which displays the amphitheater's roof

Four structures are included in the master plan for the park: an
amphitheater roof, an antiquities museum beneath the roof,
a new
community-based music center and instrument museum, and a
center celebrating Tuscan food and wine.
Courtesy of Asymptote

Wind, seismic, and snow loading all needed to be carefully assessed for the amphitheater and museum, even at this early stage, according to Giampellegrini. “From a structural point of view, care had to be taken to generate enough stiffness [in] the canopy roof structure to avoid resonant dynamic vibration amplification due to wind excitation,” he says. “[Seismic] was in particular relevant for the museum since the large inertial forces have to be taken by a very limited number of supports and potentially the canopy main frame.”

If snow is allowed to accumulate in the roof’s fabric depressions, he explains, “The large local forces that arise as a consequence [could] cause the membrane skin to deflect significantly. This deflection has to be controlled to avoid a phenomenon called ‘ponding.’ [So] locally the membrane needs to have sufficient outward curvature to allow the melting snow to drain and not to progressively keep accumulating.”

The backdrop for the amphitheater stage is currently being conceptualized as a temporary steel-and-fabric structure that can be dismantled in the winter months, according to Helbig. As part of the project, the existing amphitheater seating will also be updated.

Currently, the hope is that the theater and stage will be open by summer 2016, according to Rashid. The project is being funded privately by Belvedere SPA, based in Peciolli, Italy.


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