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Maria Pia Amore

A project for a complex

The former psychiatric hospital "Leonardo Bianchi" in Naples

M.P. Amore, A. Arrenga, Dissertation in Architecture, CdL Arc5UE, University of Naples Federico II, a.a. 2012-2013; supervisor R. Amirante, A. D’Agostino. The hypogeous spaces of the project. Design of the thesis

M.P. Amore, A. Arrenga, Dissertation in Architecture, CdL Arc5UE, University of Naples Federico II, a.a. 2012-2013; supervisor R. Amirante, A. D’Agostino. The hypogeous spaces of the project. Design of the thesis


“Leonardo Bianchi” hospital in Naples provided us with the occasion to reflect on the value and importance of a specific form of abandoned cultural heritage and its remembrance within the modern, contemporary city. The specific issue of this project, a “transformation of something already existing”, was discussed trying to preserve – in relation to Rem Koolhaas’ provocative theoretic positions – the architectural, typological, structural and functional features of the built environment, which determine the uniqueness of the identity of this heritage in decay. In a context of processual logic and through specific actions, we obtained a plausible transformation that could establish a relation among spaces and, at the same time, preserve connections to memory and architectural features, thus activating modifying dynamics on different scales. Its position at the outskirts of the city, the particularly insurmountable nature of the enclosures, the functional complexity of the area and its connection to the surrounding environment, the whole structure, the relation between open and closed spaces, the rhythm and repetition of all its elements, the internal sequences and the hierarchy of spaces: all these factors, together, create the identity of a legacy which is given new meanings in this dissertation.


This thesis in Architectural and Urban Planning[1], which focuses on the former provincial mental hospital of Naples, belongs to a wider work of research and uses various, multidisciplinary sources. The specific case of study granted the opportunity to deal with the valuation and weight of the memory of a peculiar form of cultural heritage in decay within the contemporary city; a case we consider emblematic if compared to a series of other themes that, nowadays, involve the alternation of stability and transformation. Inside a contradictory space, typical of the modern geography, two different tendencies struggle to prevail – the first one misinterprets memory and legacy as mere dimensions of conservative paralysis; the second one on the other hand is a true, indiscriminate assault to memory, a transformation that turns into indifferent destruction of the urban past. Therefore, we developed a planning strategy that could positively take care of the preservation of a heritage which will be vulnerable to an inevitable dimension of change, regardless.

The “Leonardo Bianchi” is a colossal, almost entirely abandoned complex that rises up on a tableland North-West from the ancient city centre in its nearest suburbs, an area delimited by Albergo dei Poveri, the slope of Parco di Capodimonte and the international airport of Naples “Capodichino”; it represents a settled element within the city, separated from the urban texture. The area of the original structure can be inscribed in a square whose side measures 370 m; its main entrance is placed in front of Calata Capodichino, whereas a secondary entrance is positioned on the opposite side, at street level. The implant’s strongly symmetric squared framework consists in a central service centre and two lateral rectangles that used to host recovery pavilions. Symbolically, this outline represented a “ritual” path, starting immediately after the height difference from Calata Capodichino, which marks the boundary between the “city of the healthy” and the “city of the sick”, the outside and the inside of a unitary system. Two expansion phases – the first one, coherent with the characteristics and layout of the original structure; the second one, massive and discordant –, followed by a long period of dereliction starting immediately following the Law no. 180, 1978, led to its current, deplorable condition. The complex is almost completely neglected: the main building includes the scientific library and the archive centre; while “Michele Sciuti” pavilion, built during the second expansion phase on the opposite front of Calata Capodichino, is the location of some offices and a parking area for ambulances in the yard.

Given the impossibility of defining an integral and/or univocal restauration project, our intervention logic pursued the aim of disassembling the rigid implant of the “Bianchi” and using it for health purposes in the broader sense, thus suggesting a sequence of development phases that are compatible with completion times and economic resources. Relevant to architect Rem Koolhaas’ post-modern theories, we focused on the upper limit of the interval [non-intervention; transformation], suggesting modification as an active conservation strategy within an innovative perspective of “reconstruction”.

Three operations became delineated to put this modification into practice: reinventing the idea of cure; inverting the “full-empty” correlation; dismantling the hierarchical logic of the implant.


Because of the difficulties in imagining generic dismantlement for this complex, we looked for as close a dimension as possible to the original. While selecting a new function, we speculated about placing the structure in the network of medical-healthcare equipment again: in a wider perspective, a kind of equipment that is oriented to wellness and psychophysical health, through therapeutic, recreational and social work activities. Our aim is to transform a mental hospital complex into a new form of healthcare structure: a “city of health”, which addresses a series of diversified disabilities and not exclusively the mental ones. The assumption is this “city” can grow and build itself through following phases, economic resources of its owners permitting. This input was provided by the Local Health Authority Naples 1, which pursues the establishment of a Regional Bank of Human Tissues within the “Sciuti” pavilion – a public sanitary structure that conserves and distributes tissues to transplant, thus certifying their suitability and safety. To convert the spaces within the “Sciuti” – realised during the second expansion phase of the “Bianchi” with typological and technological features different from the previous pavilions, on the area outside the enclosure of the original construction – to its new Bank function, after evincing the dimensioning and distribution criteria from manuals and this sector’s normative, each layer was split into an essentially clinical area, which consists in two laboratories and the respective banks for the preservation of the specific human tissues, and an area intended for public interaction. The ground floor continues providing space for Police offices and, at the same time, is aimed at research and awareness activities for transplants and donations. The parking area for ambulances is placed North of the building to free its inner yard.


After photographing the “Bianchi” in its current condition – the vegetation completely dominates its architecture, where originally used to be green, manicured gardens that therapeutically helped keeping the disorder inside the sick minds under control –, we prioritized interventions on open spaces and temporarily attenuated the building’s role. The entire complex, once the restoration activities through the fulfilment of Bank of Human Tissues have been launched, could be reinvented through the use of its external areas for different purposes: from social agriculture to therapeutic gardens, from game to sport. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity as well as healthy eating, a specific task for the Health Authority, can then meet a urban and social dimension. Besides, retrieving the flora of the “Bianchi” – thus reconnecting the urban complex with the area of the whole system that involves Bosco di Capodimonte, the Botanical Garden, the Vallone San Rocco of Parco delle Colline – turns out to be a less economically demanding operation compared to the intervention on the whole complex, despite the green areas occupying a broader section. All the functions for individual health we described are going to be placed within the spaces of the “Bianchi” depending on their accessibility and the internal construction possibilities.

As a consequence of the re-use of open spaces, we have good possibilities of re-using part of the construction as well. Concerning the corridors, there are two different intervention procedures: the walkways branching off the main building – the one hosting the archive – will be regularly restored, thus strengthening its “keeper of memory” role; the remaining walkways will be secured and left to ruin. As for the pavilions, we chose to intervene first on those belonging to the original structure. Furthermore, we distinguished between two ways of converting the green areas, based on their designated purpose. The first one is about “re-functionalizing” them and placing compatible – for instance, residential – functions within pre-existing architectures, so that the buildings in the area close to the border delimited by Via Umberto Maddalena can also be reused; the second one includes minimal intervention operations in order to support the innovative using of these spaces – taking the Matadero in Madrid and Parco Dora in Turin as main models –, as well as a new interpretation through new project proposals, of the existing as available material that is no longer tied to history. As an example, one pavilion inside the urban garden area could be designated to function as a terminal market and/or warehouse: the recovery action is again perceived as “reuse” and the pavilions are interpreted as expansion of the open space, thus making them available for further contemporary and/or temporary uses. They are “open” and yet indoors, without window/door fixtures or climatization.


While attempting to alter the whole structure perception – which in its strict original conformation forces an obligated path on the visitors, a path that is thus perceived as a progressive prospect – we defined a new entrance system with its main access on the ground layer on Calata Capodichino, which allows freer transit within the whole complex and creates a more direct bond with the surrounding context. It is possible to access the building using the new entrance through two paths that are both under the “Sciuti” – the Bank of Human Tissues – and the kitchen building, which belongs to the original structure and is placed in the middle of the lot, thus revolutionizing the hierarchical transit logic of the implant. An idea is also added to the minimal intervention to create the two straight paths: realizing subterranean spaces to enrich the transit and giving it a new recreational, cultural function, which is on one side (kitchen) dedicated to the human body and on the other side (“Sciuti”) to wellness and leisure activities. These cavities represent the negative of the empty spaces above so that, if the subterranean space permits estrangement and separation from the inhibitory legacy of the “Bianchi” on one hand, on the other hand this relation between the shapes of the floors grants their correlation. Some of the subterranean rooms are, in fact, courtyards placed under the planking level of the ”Bianchi” and, in addition to offering innovative points of view of the whole structure, they grant lighting and aeration conditions otherwise impossible to achieve. Furthermore, many pavilions in the former mental hospital have a basement and we cannot exclude the possibility to use these layers to reach the upper levels.

To sum up, we can state the project to restore the former psychiatric institution “Leonardo Bianchi” illustrated in this thesis pursues the aim of change, which is inserted in the Neapolitan urban context through the idea of porousness: this means, porousness in the treatment through activities in the garden areas as well as in the “Sciuti” pavilion: physical porousness in the architectural complex, both through the realisation of subterranean spaces and the restoring modes of the building; porousness in the economic and social aspects, already (or to be) involved in the following phases of the research work.


Maria Pia Amore is an architect. She graduated summa cum laude in 2014 and since 2015 she is a PhD student in Architectural and Urban Design at the Department of Architecture of University of Naples “Federico II” whit a research about the relationship between former psychiatric hospital and the contemporary city. She is tutor at Laboratory of Architectural and Urban design. She took part at several academic researches, design workshops and conferences.

[1] The present work mentions the project’s notheworthy points, written with the contribution of A. Arrenga for the dissertation in Architecture, CdL Arc5UE, University of Naples Federico II, a.a. 2012-2013; supervisor R. Amirante. A. D’Agostino, administrator of the journal and author of ”…” and “Le città dimenticate. Da città per la cura a cura per la città. Un progetto aperto per gli ex ospedali psichiartrici”, performed as co-supervisor. This text can be considered an in-depth, projectual analysis of the topics formerly dealt with by A. D’Agostino in the previous papers; therefore, shared authors and/or text are not listed in the bibliography.

Concept of intervention modes for covered paths and pavillions. Design of the thesis - ZOOM

Concept of intervention modes for covered paths and pavillions. Design of the thesis