Alessandro Verona Studio’s ambitious restoration and redevelopment project has breathed new life into the Tower of Santa Maria, a thirteenth-century marvel nestled within the architectural grandeur of Palazzo Torriani in Udine, Northern Italy. This metamorphosis transcends conventional restoration, as the tower seamlessly melds memory and knowledge, becoming a conduit for the essence of local material culture and the remarkable ingenuity propelling its industry.

Tower of Santa Maria Facade
Tower of Santa Maria Facade
Tower of Santa Maria Facade

The intervention not only meticulously restores the ancient arches but also establishes novel connections between the city and this historic structure. The concept of accessibility is elevated to new heights, extending beyond the ground floor to encompass all five levels of the tower. The external staircase yields to a more efficient elevator, ensuring seamless mobility throughout the entire edifice.

Alessandro Verona’s vision for “La vetrina dell’Ingegno” (The Showcase of Ingenuity) ingeniously establishes a critical distance between historical memory and contemporary intervention. The new elevator’s structure, resembling an abstract blade, deliberately contrasts with the tower, standing out as a sleek surface against the solid stone mass.

Tower of Santa Maria Facade in the evening

After a 15-year hiatus, the Tower of Santa Maria in Udine welcomes the public once again, now housing “La vetrina dell’Ingegno,” a museum complex dedicated to showcasing the rich history and unique industrial activities of Northern Italy.

AV/S Alessandro Verona Studio‘s architectural prowess seamlessly integrates new functional elements, not only ensuring accessibility to the monumental structures but also establishing a critical distance from the meticulously renovated existing features.

courtyard in the evening

Situated in the historic center of Udine, along the fourth ring of walls, the tower holds immense defensive significance for the city. Its history, evolving from a defensive structure to a private residence, and later a shop, art studio, and even the “Museum of the City” in the 1980s, reflects its multifaceted journey.

In 2017, Confindustria Udine, the custodian of this historic gem, entrusted Alessandro Verona with the task of restoring and renovating the Tower of Santa Maria. The objective was to transform it into the permanent headquarters of a new museum. The project, initiated in October 2020, culminated in the inauguration of La Vetrina dell’Ingegno in December 2022.

Santa Maria Tower at night
Santa Maria Tower at night

The project focused on two pivotal elements: designing new spaces on the ground floor and repurposing the tower. A new building encloses the existing courtyard, expanding the ground floor to include a hall, presentation and workshop space, and an exhibition area. Simultaneously, the tower’s restoration removes architectural barriers and replaces the external staircase with a more functional elevator.

On the ground floor, the Tower’s original arches are meticulously restored, and 1990s additions like pedestals and grids are removed to enhance street visibility. The main entrance arch, internally situated and providing direct access to the hall, is accentuated, transforming the external courtyard into an inviting interior space.

Santa Maria Tower frontage
Santa Maria Tower interior
Tower of Santa Maria interior
Tower of Santa Maria museum
Tower of Santa Maria museum

The relationship between the hall’s ceiling and existing structures is artfully resolved with a joint of metal and frosted glass, allowing light to permeate and accommodating geometric differences between the new intervention and the historic building.

main entrance
Tower of Santa Maria museum interior

The new structure on the ground floor remains discreet from the outside, with only the visible elevator element adjacent to the tower. Its roof, serving as an emergency exit and event terrace, provides a vantage point overlooking the garden of Palazzo Torriani.

Tower of Santa Maria entrance
Tower of Santa Maria museum

The rear garden elevation orchestrates a striking interplay of contemporary design against the historic walls, creating a visually compelling contrast. The entrance to the hall, with necessary installations for new activities, features a structure that bridges the old and the new, appearing suspended and marked by a distinctive tympanum-like feature.

Alessandro Verona’s vision deliberately distances itself from the existing context, aiming for a dialogue between contemporary design and history. “Our objective was to spark a meaningful conversation between contemporary design and history,” says Alessandro Verona, emphasizing the interplay of shape and material without intermediaries.

product display
product display

“La Vetrina dell’Ingegno” houses a permanent exhibition on the history of the Udine Industrial Association and a ground-floor meeting space. Across the tower’s five floors, temporary exhibitions unfold, each dedicated to one of the eleven product sectors of Confindustria Udine. The top floor hosts an installation providing an extraordinary new perspective of the city.

The exhibition design, inspired by the Quaranta series, establishes a flexible system for showcasing sector-specific exhibitions over time. On the ground floor, in addition to Palazzo Torriani’s history, presentations highlight Confindustria Udine’s journey and various product sectors, focusing on outstanding entrepreneurs.

The upper floors feature carefully curated audiovisual documentation, presenting annual showcases of industrial activities aligning with Confindustria Udine’s product sectors. These presentations celebrate the local area and city’s industrial history, fostering a connection between the past and the present that La Vetrina dell’Ingegno wholeheartedly embraces.

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Photography by Massimo Crivellari

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