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The architect who loves writing. Interview to Antonella Barbara Caldini

Connections: an interview to Architect Antonella Caldini

We are now launching "Connections", a new section to talk about building and restoration industry by way of the interviews to its main characters.

The first one is with the architect Antonella Barbara Caldini from the Studio "A.R.C. Architettura Restauro e Conservazione" in Acqui Terme (Alessandria). We have known her from the beginning of 2000 on the occasion of the restoration of the Church of San Vito in Morsasco (in the province of Alessandria). At that time she was young and inexperienced, now she is the owner of the Studio A.R.C., dealing with design and historic buildings restoration.

From 2009 she is part of the editorial staff of the quarterly magazine “Progetto Restauro” ("Il Prato Editore"). She is the author of an architecture handbook which contains the guidelines for rural building renovation of 39 municipalities in the province of Alessandria, part of the G.A.L. (Local Action Group) Borba. She is a consultant for the website inforestauro.org and the creator of restauroeconservazione.info, a portal offering services for restoration and preservation of historic and cultural heritage.

Welcome back Antonella. What have you been doing these years?

From 2002, opening year of my office, I've always been working on architectural and artistic restoration on significant protected buildings but also on local small buildings.

The experience prompted me to always pay close attention to the early stages of the restoration, therefore the diagnostic phase, giving due importance to relief "on site", the subsequent graphical depiction of the phases, the surfaces coating and the analysis of crack patterns for structural assessment of the artifacts.

I have always put knowledge on site side by side with experience, through the careful study of documentary sources that often provides relevant information about the history of the building. This brings to the restoration project and the definition of the phases of intervention.

Looking at your activities you could be defined as a versatile person with a passion for art, aren't you?

The passion for art is a legacy of the family: my father was headmaster of an art institute, he is a sculptor, and my mother is an accomplished painter and owner of an art gallery. I have always had an innate proclivity for beautiful things and, above all, for ancient things. This is why I decided to specialise in restoration of monuments and open a technical study in Acqui Terme, that mainly deals with building restoration.

The works in the office goes together with my passion for writing, which led me to publish in miscellaneous works, magazines and on the web.

Antonella Caldini - Studio A.R.C. Acqui Terme

You are also doing consulting to companies willing to participate in tenders in the field of restoration. What about the current situation?

In a restoration site, especially when the public, the designer or project manager not only deal with customer, superintendents and the enterprises but, above all, with the strict scheduling of the contract and with the bureaucratic and economic logic. The site, therefore, works only if one of the parties involved will reach complete harmony for the achievement of a common goal: the success of the restoration. But unfortunately it is not always so.

For instance, dealing mainly with restoration of private Cultural Heritage, it is common to ask for subsidy,following the artt.35-37 D.lgs 42 / 2004. These are specific subsidy for holders of restricted properties that agree to start recovery intervention. For several years, however, the MiBACT stopped subsidies and liquidate instances still outstanding.

In my case this block has had some negative impacts because it has curbed those who had planned to start a restoration wishing a return in economic terms, convincing them that "the abandonment of the properties" is preferable to issues related to an expensive restoration and constantly monitored. 

Protection of past and modern functional requirements. In a restoration project how can you combine these two concepts?

The theme of "reuse" linked to the restoration is always current and I can be defined as a faithful advocate of the preservation associated with new functional and technological needs. In 2010 I was commissioned to restore an ancient medieval toll tower abandoned, giving it a new residential destination. Well, the restoration project included the consolidation of the masonry shell weakened over the years.

For this reason, together with a significant structural engineer expert in the topic of recovery, we proposed the implementation of a new self-supporting steel structure with the consolidation function of the existing masonry characterized by steel slabs and wood acoustically isolated. This choice was trying to reconcile the demands of the primary properties preserving the historical image of the tower adapting it to the need to make it a comfortable home and functional to the needs of everyday life.

Sampling on fresco for chemical investigation. Photogallery Arch. Caldini

What are the trends and the materials which can reach a greater development in the future?

Today the field of restoration is one of the most popular and the companies that provide materials for the restoration are ever more numerous. Many of them, born as leader in the civil sector, now are converted to restoration and make great promotional marketing operations. But I do not love those solutions that are presented to me as the panacea for all ills.

And what do you better pay attention to?

In a restoration site the plaster is, after the structure, one of the first things to protect. The plaster should be analyzed, investigated at a chemical level, compared because it can give a lot of information about the history of the building and preserved as much as possible. Yet every time I get contacted by a private owner who wants to preserve its old plaster I always find a contractor willing to propose the demolition for rebuilding.

I love the old lime plaster and I think that through punctual consolidation injections we can keep the old plaster, linking it to the new component made with the same material and petrographic. I did it many times and my clients have really been satisfied.

There are many different materials used for consolidation but not all have the so-called "conservative" properties. In 2002, for instance, on the occasion of the anti-seismic consolidation of the apse of The Church of San Vito in Morsasco, I proposed the use of carbon fibre. The customers were really uncertain, they believed that this intervention was expensive and unnecessary. Yet, years later, that intervention was effective (and, indeed, other parts of the church would need a similar action).

St. Vitus Church in Morsasco, in the province of Alessandria.
The Church of San Vito in Morsasco, in the province of Alessandria.

Have you got a dream or a specific goal for the near future?

Yes, I have one like almost everybody and is tied in some way to the architecture handbook I wrote in 2012 for the G.A.L. Borba. Its preparation took more than a year of local census with data storage and collection of images of farms, agricultural artifacts, small religious buildings and rural buildings needing preservation.

Well, my dream is to have the chance to commit myself in the rural building renovation by putting into practice the suggestions in the handbook, starting with the consolidation of the structure to get to the preservation of individual architectural elements, paying the same attention and passion I have always paid to "significant" cultural heritage and even the so-called "minor" artifacts.

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