Gabellini Sheppard Associates won an international competition for the redesign of Piazza Isolo in Verona, Italy, sponsored by the City of Verona and the USA Institute. The site occupies an important intersection between the original Roman town and an area of expansion during the Renaissance. Historically, Piazza Isolo existed as an island between the right and left banks of the river Adige. Surrounded by the river and the Canale Acqua Morta, Piazza Isolo was a place accessible only by bridges and used as a commercial customs checkpoint for goods being transported from Vienna to Venice and on to the orient. Within the context of the urban spaces of Verona, Piazza Isolo completes a pedestrian route composed of urban corridors, open air markets, cathedrals, and other piazzas. In the late-nineteenth century, after a devastating flood, the river’s edges were significantly altered by perimeter retaining walls and the current site was landfilled. In the 1930’s it became a bus station, local market, and parking lot before its proposed reconfiguration today.
The programmatic requirements for this 240,000 square-foot urban redevelopment project consists of a two-level, underground parking garage for five hundred cars, a garden park at the base of a new pedestrian bridge spanning the River Adige, and the Piazza Isolo itself, which is to be transformed into a marketplace and performance center within the context of the annual Verona music festival.
Gabellini Sheppard Associates’ design concept for the new urban center utilizes water as a metaphorical trace through the site’s history, recalling its former existence as an island. The new spaces conceive Isolo’s public square and marketplace as two trapezoidal ‘islands’ one concave and one convex—surrounded by a shallow moat that makes the Piazza appear to float within a pool of water. A new pedestrian bridge, designed by Gabellini Sheppard Associates, strengthens the existing connections to the old city across the Ponte Navi and Ponte Nuovo. The ground plane of the Piazza serves as the roof of the garage. A continuous incision around the perimeter of the site allows for both ventilation and the filtering of light into the underground spaces, creating shimmering reflections and atmospheric veils of light that vary in intensity from day until evening. Stairways located throughout the ground plane of the Piazza allow for passage down into the garage.
Water cascades down the stairway walls as well as the sloping perimeter walls of the curvilinear underground spaces, bringing reflected light and the sound of falling water into the two parking levels. In addition, the “islands” are punctuated by thousands of miniature light slots that by day will hold umbrellas for the market and by night will project rays of light from its surface, creating an illuminated ‘forest’ in the center of the old city.