Trieste - Memories of the Future -Trieste - Memories of the Future - 

Public bath “Pedocin”. (Picture Paola Corsini)


Architecture is the art of spatial relating. The more relationships it initiates, the more references it establishes, the richer it becomes. In addition to spatial references, architecture can also create temporal references. This can be done indirectly, as it were, by quoting historical forms, using traditional crafts or archaic materials, or incorporating spolia - or it can be done directly, by reusing buildings that are already there. These do not have to be monuments. Banal built substance is also worth preserving - as a starting point for an architectural transformation that can remain very close to the existing structure, but can also completely overshape it. There is a word in German for this transformation and appropriation in which both aspects come together: "Anverwandlung". We have all known for a long time that the further use of what is already there is an imperative of our time. But how architecture emerges from this is something we - as children of modernity - first have to find out again.

Recognise the versatile qualities of the existing building stock and use them for reuse. Conversion of a former wine warehouse into an apartment building by Esch Sintzel Architekten, 2023. Picture Philip Heckhausen


Trieste refuses simple categorisations. The city on the Adriatic Sea has a modest medieval core surrounded by a huge urban extension. This bears witness to the importance Trieste had in the days of the Danube monarchy: After all, it was the only port city of the huge multi-ethnic state. The city's life was correspondingly cosmopolitan, characterised by Italian culture as well as the Slovenian, Jewish, Austrian and German diaspora. The rich literary production of the city of these years (bringing forth writers such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba) tells of this climate. "The city was", as the writer Claudio Magris writes, "just like the Habsburg empire to which it belonged - a model of the contradictoriness of the whole of modern civilisation, devoid of a central foundation and a unified system of values". With the collapse of this empire at the end of World War I, Trieste became Italian. It lost not only the imperial dimension of its trade relations, but also its hinterland. This loss of importance deepened after the end of the Second World War and then again through the wars among the successor states of Yugoslavia. Cities cannot change their position; nevertheless, Trieste finds itself shifted, as it were, from the centre to the periphery of Europe. This dynamic has been very gradually overcome in recent years, as evidenced by the growth of some economic sectors (port and tourism). But the urban „tessuto“ is still too wide cut for the city, which means for the context of our work that the reuse of buildings is for once not under the premise of urban densification, but under the premise of vitalisation and reinvention of perspectives.

Areal view of Trieste. Google Earth


Ports connect remotely and separate spatially: they connect countries around the world, but they separate the city from the water. As customs borders, ports are particularly hermetic barriers between city and water. The change from a functional view of the sea (as infrastructure) to a touristic view of the sea (as a place of longing and recreation) requires an economic change that is only tentatively underway. The spatial implementation of this change takes a lot of time. In Trieste, too, this process of disentangling the harbour from the waterfront is far from complete. On the south-eastern edge of this waterfront, we are amazed at how a conglomerate of buildings awaits new perspectives in a prominent location: a large, empty railway station, the 'Stazione Campo Marzio', a barely used market hall, a former museum housed in a former military hospital. There are also two busy open-air swimming pools right next to a terminal for lorry ferries, a collapsed fun pool and an abandoned shipyard that has long since become a ruin, as well as an old lighthouse and a military base. What could this place become? To find out, we first have to understand how it became what it is today. We go in search of traces and analyse the place. We consider what it can offer the city and develop perspectives for the old buildings from the inner and outer potentials. The goal is not conservational correctness, but real utopia, not the feasible in the narrow sense, but the possible. Because good architecture always has a utopian dimension.

Train station Campo Marzio around 1910. New land fills enlarge the harbour. Picture Trieste di ieri e di oggi


  • Individual work

  • English and Italian

  • The wide project perimeter offers a rich selection of buildings from the 18th to the 21st century. These buildings will be analysed and documented together.
  • Then each student chooses a building to work on and develop in depth. On a case-by-case basis, buildings can be assigned to students if some buildings are in particularly high or low demand.
  • The use is developed individually. This is done depending on the potential of each building and the findings from the master plan. What demands does the existing building make on the use, and what demands does the future use make on the existing building?
  • The work should not aim at an equal mastering of all planning sub-aspects. Instead, the aim is to work out the peculiarities of each building and turn them into potentials. What remains, what must go? Which elements support the future life of the building, which hinder it? Cleverly chosen sections are worked on in depth and plausibilise the design strategy in an exemplary way.
  • The goal is not conservation correctness, but the development of an attitude that encounters the existing building with empathy and at the same time carries a utopian quality.


Week 1 - Introduction and short exercise
Week 2 - Excursion to Trieste
Week 3-5 - Analysis, development of basics and master plan for the area
Week 6-14 - Project
Week 9 - Midterm crits
Week 10 - 'Broadening horizons': excursion to Rovio and Riva San Vitale
Week 14 - final crits

Le Corbusier opening the CIAM 1933 in Athens.


Input presentations and critiques
  • Frédréric Bonnet, obras achitectures, Paris
  • Alessandro Bonizzoni, Fosbury Architecture, Milano
  • Lucia Macri, Richter Tobler Architecture, Basel
  • Thomas Padmanabhan, Lütjens Padmanabhan Architects, Zurich Giulio Polita, Trieste
  • Raoul Sigl, Conen Sigl Architects, Zurich
  • Michaela Türtscher, Schneider Türtscher, Zurich

Reading circle
  • In the course of the semester 2-3 key texts will be read and discussed.

Stazione Rogers, our homebase during the study trip in Trieste. Picture Paola Corsini

          Study trip

  • Trieste

  • Semester week 2, 27.09.2023 - 01.10.2023

  • in the mornings we will go on excursions accompanied by the Trieste architect Giulio Polita, in the afternoons there will be time for individual inspection of the planning area.
  • We will set up our studio for 4 days in the 'Stazione Rogers', a historic petrol station right next to the area under investigation, which was planned by Ernesto Nathan Rogers and which today serves as an architectural centre.
  • Wednesday afternoon: Arrival by train
  • Thursday: Excursion historical Trieste incl. Museo Revoltella
  • Friday: Excursion modern Trieste
  • Saturday: Monfalcone, visit of the Fincantieri shipyard, evening Cena dell'Atelier
  • Sunday afternoon: Journey home