Retrofitting detention buildings of historical-cultural interest. A case study in Italy


Penitentiary buildings in Italy include many buildings of undoubted historical and architectural importance. These have been, or will soon be, subject to structural changes necessary to adapt their spaces to the current regulations of prisons.
The idea of punishment itself has changed over the centuries, so it is a physiological necessity to adapt existing buildings accordingly. When, however, such buildings date back centuries, they should not be considered a mere container but a historical testimony rich in meaning for the entire nation. The characteristics of the materials, distribution, and what these buildings have represented for the city should be the object of study and protection, whereas, at present, their historical-architectural qualities are often ignored and distorted with interventions that should often be better studied and evaluated. The article takes its cue from the description of the recovery of a Sicilian prison that was built in the early twentieth century and which is considered emblematic. The type of construction and its distribution reflect a multitude of historical meanings, as evidence of architecture too often underestimated, that of prisons. The aim of this illustrated paper is to study methods and propose solutions to safeguard these buildings that, while respecting current regulations on detention, can also let everyone in the future “read” the history of our civilization through this important architectural heritage.