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Giuseppina Scavuzzo

Design and therapeutic freedom

The Parco Basaglia in Gorizia

The Psyachiatyric hospital Francesco Giuseppe I in 1911, the provincial Psychiatyric hospital in the 1930s, and the Parco Basaglia today. Models by the Seminar of architectural design 3, professor G. Scavuzzo

The Psyachiatyric hospital Francesco Giuseppe I in 1911, the provincial Psychiatyric hospital in the 1930s, and the Parco Basaglia today. Models by the Seminar of architectural design 3, professor G. Scavuzzo

The Parco Basaglia, the ex psychiatric hospital in Gorizia, is an emblematic site of the civic and medical revolution started in 1961 by Franco Basaglia, at his first appointment as director.
In the last few years the Park has been the subject of study and design at the BA Course in Architecture at the University of Trieste. One can design, inside and outside the University, if one believes to treat the space in abstract or quantitative terms, or if one starts with the analysis of the material and immaterial traces present on a site in order to imagine its possible and necessary future.
Given its history, the ex psychiatric hospital in Gorizia is not only a site in which one can exercise the different forms of a project, but it is also a cultural resource of critical thinking that can afford the School of Architecture with the opportunity to question some crucial issues: in a phase of post-critical architecture, how can one give form, represent and perhaps even learn from a battle of the critical thinking borne out of the psychiatry, but that warns against all the normalizing powers, the objectivity of subjectivity and the reduction of the un-problematic un-certainty?
The proximity of the park to the former Italian-Yugoslavian border, which was part of the iron curtain and nowadays is the more peaceful Italian-Slovenian border, the early twenty-century structure of the park, and the historic events that took place there, bring out central issues that one has to bear in mind for the project: the identity, the architecture and the inhabitants; the limit, in its material and immaterial meaning; the memory, the material consistence of the existing architecture and the civic, social and ethical battle for the freedom and the searching for oneself, even though in a problematic way. This is the only way to search truly, even in architecture.

The Psychiatric hospital Francesco Giuseppe I was inaugurated in the Austrian Gorizia on the 16th of February 1911.
The project followed what was then recommended for a Psychiatric hospital at the forefront: the pavilions were symmetrically arranged around the routes to the service areas and placed in a geometrically designed Park with informal additions and tree-lined areas. A model was the Steinhof, the psychiatric hospital in Wien, designed in 1907 by Otto Wagner, and more generally the model of the open door psychiatric hospital, exemplified on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century positivistic utopia of the Psychiatry. The architecture was then part of the therapeutic program, because it offered the patients the perception to live in a pleasant and protected area of the city.
The southeast area of Gorizia city center was chosen for the soil, the sheltered position from the wind and the abundance of water. These were all favorable conditions for the farmers’ colony that rendered the psychiatric hospital independent from the point of view of food. When it was opened it had 350 beds, two years later the number had increased to 500.
During the First World the activity of the psychiatric hospital war interrupted. The Hospital was severely damaged and was reconstructed by the Italian Government in the 1930s. The project of the Provincial Psychiatric hospital followed the first plan and reused the existing buildings. However, the photos taken at the moment of the inauguration showed a prevalence of closed courtyards and enclosures 1.
After the Second World War, even the “iron curtain” appeared among the walls surrounding the hospital’s Park, because the Italian-Yugoslavian border used to pass through the southeast edge of the Park. Afterwards, the life inside the hospital was the same as all psychiatric hospitals, and it has nothing to do with the so-called “open doors” of psychiatric hospitals inaugurated at the beginning of the twenty-century. In 1961 Franco Basaglia won the competition to be the director of the hospital. The Park became the theatre of a groundbreaking revolution that would have been completed in Trieste and that, with the adoption of the “Law 180”, would have closed the era of the psychiatric hospitals in Italy.
Paradoxically, it was the difficult beginning of that reform and the adjacency to the border that condemned the psychiatric hospital in Gorizia to a damnatio memoriae, making it a marginal and secluded site.
“Bad things happened there”, this is what many people in Gorizia still repeat. It is unclear whether the statement has to do with the living conditions denounced by Basaglia upon his arrival, or with the casualties that had happened during the exit permits granted to some patients.The following debates brought Basaglia to resign and to leave the Hospital, which went back to the conditions preceding his appointment.
In 1978, the approval of the “Law 180”, as it happened for all the parks that housed the ex psychiatric hospitals, introduced a demolition process of the Park in Gorizia that should have brought to a new phase combining scientific, social and cultural destinations. But it did not happen. There was a subdivision of the Park property between the Azienda Socio Sanitaria (the local Health and Social Care Service) and the Provincial administration, and thus the Park witnessed the dispersion of the structural elements of its identity.
The clarity of design is altered by the addition of new buildings and by the extension of the existing ones, which, without an overall design, appear inorganic and casual; the very layout of the Park is also deprived of a large north-east stretch with subsequent interventions on the areas divided up into lots. The large green areas and the considerable trees heritage are neglected.
Nowadays, the southeast area of the Park is property of the Local health Unit and houses administrative and health offices (Sert, Child Protective Services, Daily mental Healthcare Center) and the activities of some social co-operatives. The northwest buildings, property of the Provincial Administration, are instead underused or completely abandoned. Some of the buildings cannot be used unless they undergo some restoration works.
The elimination of the Italian-Slovenian border, after Slovenia joined the European Union and, in 2007, the Schengen agreement, gave a strategic value to the Park in Gorizia.
The new Mental Health Care Center was inaugurated in September 2016, and works in tandem with the Slovenian Health Care Services, as a cross-border point of reference for the care of mentally ill people as well as a training center for Slovenian Psychiatrists 2.
According to what has been stated by the Regional Administrators 3, it could become a workshop of innovative welfare models through a close collaboration between Italian and Slovenian citizens. Fore instance one could introduce bilingual services (nurseries, primary schools, youths and elderly centers), social gatherings to include frail people, thus exploiting the various social activities already included for the preservation and care of the green areas, and of what remains of the “agricultural colony” of the hospital.
Together with the Fondazione Basaglia in Venice, a new informative tour on the work done by Basaglia in Gorizia is being developed. We are also setting up an archive that preserves and highlights the material still kept in the ex Psychiatric Hospital, which can be not only of psychiatric value, but also historic one. This was indeed one of the few “revolutions”, if not the only one, that was carried out completely in Italy.
This is what pertains the possible future uses of the Park. However, the architecture must give new shape to a new identity of the Park as well as to its memory.
In the past two years, the Graduate Seminar of Architectural Design 3 at the University of Trieste has been looking at the Park as a project area.
The students’ works have been displayed together with the archival materials within the exhibition La libertà è terapeutica (Freedom is therapeutic), which was organized with the collaboration of the social co-operatives and the Department of Mental Health 4. Afterwards the same works were displayed in the Park itself, when the President of the Region inaugurated the new Center of Mental health 5.
The students 6 have assessed the conservation state of some of the Park’s buildings, and the works that are needed to use the buildings again. They have also developed a project that looks at the Park in its entirety and in relation with the City that designs the arrangement of the interiors and the installation of informative tours and the Study Center.
The seminar aims to make of study experience in the Parco Basaglia something that goes beyond the usual interpretation of a project area. Generally, one is concentrated on the existing materials and its possible uses, according to the needs of the patrons. This is an idea of architecture that pursues the social needs, but can be constrained by technical, functional, and economic limits set by the leading administration of the moment, in the near and more distant future. Far too often consideration of the past only looks at the conservation issues or the reorganization of existing buildings. This practice in the seminars of design mirrors the condition of contemporary architecture.
The University, however, should stimulate visionary and critical ideas, even and especially when the architecture that is practiced nowadays is losing them. To this end, the meeting with Basaglia’s thought is enlightening. The Park can be read as a priceless cultural resource and can assume a true central role in the rebirth of urban and cross borders, only by looking into these potentials.
Students have read some of Basaglia’s texts and accounts of his work in the hospital, in order to understand the values that constitute the tangible and intangible potentials of this place. These were the limits we took into account in the project, and not only those defined by the building and the urban regulations.
The Readings, which narrate the path to the recovery of the subjectivity of whoever has seen it negated, has constantly imposed students to remember, when preparing the project, that the scope of architecture is to let us live, meaning that we have to be in ourselves wherever we live. This condition often goes through the real experience that we make of a place. A project that aims to render the real experience of the Park as a result of visible and invisible traces can only place it in the broader system of traces that is the city.
The research started with the study of the historic cartography of Gorizia since its foundation 7.
Models of the different historic phases and projects of the city have been realized. One can then observe that before its construction in 1911, the Psychiatric Hospital and its Park appear already in a plan by Antonio Lasciac in 1905. The Goritian architect, who worked mainly in Egypt, conceived for to his hometown a development plan that followed the model of the garden city, but this plan was never executed. The Park is one of the few developed parts, and it seems to answer the therapeutic role not only for recalling the Viennese models, but also for its harmonious design integrated in the city.
Since then, however, the city grows without any urban and territorial plan, and the Park remains isolated like a survivor of a defeat, and as such it is excluded. Basaglia used the same characteristic to explain the madman: someone who has been excluded from society because he did not play by the same rules 8.
It is clear the memory of the Park cannot be only identified with the suffering of the patients, in order to oblige to its memory. Also, the Park itself cannot be made into a memorial of suffering, which would be reductive given the potential of the place.
The project should critically analyze the values of freedom and dignity that substantiate the fight against the normalizing institutions, and do it through the specific instruments of architecture.
Three themes have been identified: identity (of architecture and its inhabitants), limit (material and immaterial), and memory (of the human events, but also of the buildings as factories). Some symbolic images served to understand and to synthetize the relationship between these themes.
The first act of Basaglia, as Director of the hospital, even before the abolition of the electro-shocks, straitjackets, cage beds, metal grids and nets, was the restitution of the nightstand to the patients. Until then every personal belonging had been confiscated at the moment of the hospitalization. These small elements of furniture, small-scale architectures according to the poetic vision of Bachelard’s space, allowed patients to preserve their personal memories and objects, recognizing a protected and limited space to that identity, which had been hitherto negated.
The Park also teaches the ambivalence of the limit, which can be necessary, looked for or imposed. In the Psychiatric Hospital, everyone’s limit is violated (not only what we call privacy, but people’s physical integrity. They are undressed, searched and frisked), while every possible limit is introduced: cage beds, metallic grids and nets. Even when these material borders are dismantled, the invisible ones continue to divide the world of the normal people from that of the “mad”.
Equally the border, which marked for years the world’s division in two opposite parts, and had painfully divided what was formerly one single city, was demolished as a wall, but has left unresolved the comparision between two identities that have become different. This limit’s ambivalence does not have nowadays a form that can fully express its complexity. The wall that surrounded the Park was demolished: nowadays the border is an anonym metallic net that encloses the south side.
The students’ projects share the hypothesis the Park can be a design model for the city, by developing the themes of identity, memory and limit. They also transfer Basaglia’s lesson on the value of subjectivity against the disinterest of the governing institutions.
There is also the Psychiatric hospital among these institutions, but also all the institutions that impose to comply with technical-specialist perfectionism” 9. To reflect on what concerns the University, the School of Architecture and the Architecture itself, also means to understand the challenge Basaglia had well beyond the limits of the psychiatric practice.
Each project proposal has looked at different ways to achieve this objective. One has looked at the limits to give back to the Park the urban form that had been compromised by the scattering of its new limits. Two edges have been emphasized with some level’s differences: the main entrance towards the city and the border, a clear division in which the entrance of a aware openness; the edges towards the new residential neighborhoods (which have been constructed on areas that once belonged to the hospital) and towards the agricultural areas, have been treated like permeable limits that allow to read the Park’ interior.
The overlapping of old and new paths has also been analyzed to resolve the actual absence of a hierarchy in the Park’s routes, and to let surface the stratification of the signs of the first project (the gardens’ designs), the functional management based on the medical classification of the patients (which were defined as calm, agitated, criminal, and divided by sex), of the second project, and the new signs, which identify the new possible role of the Park.
The presence of water, for which the area was originally chosen, lays out a new system of gardens and then streams into the irrigations channels of the community vegetable gardens, which are placed where there was once a farmers’ colony, where some of the patients, who could, worked. The water tower – the only work that given its height, signal the Park even from a distance – was the subject of transformation, colonization, serialization, and chosen as a strong characterizing element of the Park.
With regard to the interiors, one has looked especially to the “restraining rooms” still existing and intact in the Criminal and Agitated Pavillion. The isolation rooms (emblematic of the imposed limit) have been transformed, using a wooden shell that is exemplified on the Renaissance studioli, in places to foster the solitude and search for oneself (within chosen limits), outside the urge to follow the idea of normality and productivity imposed by modern Society.
The research on the Park, in partnership with the social workers who are involved in its rebirth and with the psychologists and psychiatrists of the Mental Health Care Center, who were often present during the lessons as ideal patrons and guides to deal with problems that are beyond the specific field of architecture, is still underway.
It is still an early stage to review the results, but by observing this place of memory of a civil battle for the dignity of whoever is not in harmony with the world and looks for oneself also in a problematic way, it seems the architecture has the challenge to be again a critical practice that can indicate possibilities and needs also against the opinion of the majority. 10

1 L’ospedale psichiatrico provinciale di Gorizia (reprint of the original edition, Tipografia sociale 1933), Grafica goriziana, Gorizia 1996.
2 In Slovenia there is not a legislation that can be compared with the Italian Law 180, and the process of discharge from hospitals of mentally ill people is still underway.
3 Press release of the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia on 23.04.14
4 The exhibition “La libertà è terapeutica” was at the Trgovski Dom in Gorizia il 19-22 of May 2016, during the international story festival “èStoria” that takes place every year in Gorizia.
5 The Opening of the new Center for Mental Health was on 30th of September 2016.
6 The Workshop combines the course of architectural and urban design and the curse of interior architecture held by professor Giuseppina Scavuzzo, and the course of restoration held by professor Sergio Pratali Maffei.
7 A precious text is A. Marin, Gorizia. Piani e progetti per una città di confine, Casamassima Libri, Udine 2007.
8 F. Basaglia ed., L’istituzione negata, Dalai editore, Milan 2010, pag. 144.
9 F. Basaglia, ed., L’istituzione negata, op. cit. pag. 116
10 “The real architects start with a critic to the contradictions of the present, with a research of the truth’s fragments (not an absolute truth, but a historic one), on which one can possibly and necessarily build a new approach: even against the opinion of the majority”. V. Gregotti, Architettura, giustizia più libertà, in “Corriere della sera”, pag. 33, 4 September 2016.

Giuseppina Scavuzzo
Architect, she graduated with honors at the University Iuav of Venice. In 2004 fellow of the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris and in 2005 PhD in Architectural and Urban Design at the Iuav University of Venice.She is currently Assistant Professor in Architectural and Urban Design at the Department of Engineering and Architecture, University of Trieste and editor of FAMagazine.Among his publications: La spada di Corbu (in Architettura. I pregiudicati, Mimesis, Milano-Udine 2016); Il caffè: interno urbano con figure (in Uno spazio del caffè, EUT, Trieste 2016); John Hejduk or the passion to learn (in Soundings: John Hejduk, Aión, Firenze 2015).