TerraViva Competitions launches Wildlife Pavilions, an international architecture competition that explores the potentialities of Torbiere del Sebino nature reserve. The goal of the initiative, supported by Provincia di Brescia and Comunità Montana del Sebino, is to come up with creative design proposals focused on nature.
Photo Giacomo Feroldi
Located in the North of Italy between the provinces of Brescia and Bergamo, Lake Iseo – also known as “Sebino” – is the seventh lake by extension in the country and the fourth in Lombardy region. With its stunning landscape, particularly rich in naturalistic and historical heritage, this territory represents one of the most beautiful areas in Italy, as well as one of the most popular among visitors and tourists.
Towards the southern edge of the lake, it is situated the famous wine region known as “Franciacorta”: a precious land characterised by a hilly topography sprinkled with small villages and covered by wonderful vineyards, where the presence of man perfectly blends with nature. Besides, the Sebino is home to Monte Isola, the largest and highest lakeside island in Europe.
The formation of Lake Iseo is linked not only to the glacial action, which profoundly shaped the contemporary landscape, but also to the fluvial activity that between 5 and 6 million years ago, due to the drastic lowering of the Mediterranean Sea level, has accentuated the excavation of its bed.
Today, numerous footprints left by the glacier are still clearly visible and one of the most significant, located on the southern coast, is where the sediments left after its retreat rise to form a morainic amphitheatre. The encounter between this area and the lake’s shore gives life to an extraordinary ecosystem of unique environmental value: the “Torbiere del Sebino” Nature Reserve.
THE PEAT BOG
The history of the Peat Bog started at the end of the last glaciation, between seventy thousand and ten thousand years ago: the withdrawal of the glacier left a swampy depression characterised by marshy expanses, later called Torbiera.
Over the millennia, the growth of flourishing vegetation allowed the formation of a thick layer of peat, which gradually replaced the water and led to the transformation of the area into an extension of wet meadows.
At the end of the 18th century, the discovery that peat – once dry – had a higher caloric yield than wood, triggered its massive extraction. With the rise of the first industrial activities related to silk, it began to be used not only for domestic use, but also as an efficient fuel in the spinning mills of Iseo.
Over the years, before the advent of oil and electricity, peat became a precious material for the region’s economy, as it was able to almost completely replace the use of coal which was extremely expensive to import.
The reduction of interest in this fuel occurred around 1950 when, after a long period of intensive exploitation, the local landscape and the autochthonous wildlife were completely transformed. During the seventies, the extraction activities ceased completely after the introduction of the first environmental safeguard restrictions, which later led to the foundation of the Sebino Nature Reserve in 1984.
Photo Giacomo Feroldi
THE NATURE RESERVE
Declared as “Biotope of Extraordinary Importance” according to the Ramsar Convention and “Site of Community Interest” of the Natura 2000 Network, the Sebino Nature Reserve is today considered a priority biodiversity area in Lombardy region.
Covering a breath-taking landscape of 360 hectares, it consists mainly of reeds and stretches of water surrounded by cultivated fields and small-scale urban settlements.
The park includes a large extension of water mirrors outlined by embankments (Lame) – result of the excavation of the peat deposit – and a series of peaty lagoons on the northern side (Lametta). Besides, it comprises 10 to 15 meters deep pools with a clearer appearance on the South and West areas – outcome of old excavations of clay deposits – where in some cases fishing is still allowed.
Due to the presence of a wide variety of precious habitats and species, some of which are rare or even at risk of extinction, The Reserve is the most significant wetland in terms of extension and ecological importance within the entire province of Brescia.
Accessible through three paths – Central, South and North – the entire complex is conceived as a sanctuary for the local natural ecosystem. Therefore, the trails that allow visitors to walk across the Torbiere are predisposed to avoid any disturbance to the fauna or damage to the autochthonous flora.
FLORA & FAUNA
The current overall situation of the flora at the Reserve is very different from what it used to be about a century ago, when the landscape represented a uniform environment formed by a humid prairie and a thick cane thicket with residual mirrors.
The excavation of peat has radically altered the original vegetation and due to the reduction of its habitat, it put in crisis numerous native species. However, it has also contributed to the generation of a new set of minor environments that intersect each other, giving rise to a complex ecological mosaic of great biological value.
Water depth is the factor that mostly affects the ecosystem of the park and consequently the species that live in it. In fairly deep basins submerged vegetation is found, whereas in those of medium depth, floating and ground cover species are mostly present. Finally, in shallow waters and near the banks, the typical and most widespread flora is that dominated by the marsh reed.
Regarding fauna, the area is particularly important for nesting, wintering and migratory water birds, being home to 31 protected species. Besides, micro-mammals such as shrews, rice paddy mice and bats are residents of the Peat Bog, as well as a vast fish population, including both native protected species and others introduced in more recent times.
Last but not least, amphibians and reptiles inhabit the Reserve together with a prehistorical insect that has lived for over 250 million years in marshy lands, often in contact with ponds exploited by man: the dragonfly.
The conservation of this complex and peculiar ecosystem, rich both in history and wildlife variety, must not only be preserved, but also enjoyed by its visitors in a nature-respectful manner.
Photo Sergio Di Giacomo
Three different trails surround and go across the Sebino’s Reserve, allowing people to immerse into the wild. A landscape full of water reflections and nuances of colour characterise the experience of those adventurers curious to discover the wetlands.
Taking the “Southern Path” from San Pietro in Lamosa’s Monastery, visitors can walk through cultivated fields and traits of forest where, at a certain point, the first stretches of water are visible. After crossing the panoramic birdwatching terrace and some tanks where fishing is still allowed, it is possible to reach another area with wooden walkways suspended over the water.
Known for being the most evocative, the “Central Path” winds directly into the heart of the Reserve. Through a series of suggestive wooden platforms, it connects the different strips of land between the pools, offering a full view of such a breath-taking landscape.
Finally, the “Northern Path” starts from the Visitor Centre, meandering on the border between Lama and Lametta, near the provincial highway which is buffered by rows of trees and native vegetation. The rest of the route passes between hygrophilous forests and Franciacorta vineyards.
One special feature of this northern trail is the Birdwatching Tower: accessible in a few minutes on foot from the Visitor Centre, from where it is possible to contemplate the full panorama immersed in complete silence.
Photo Stefano Bonalumi
Living in a historical period in which natural catastrophes and ecological disasters are becoming more frequent and of greater intensity, building in nature could be considered a great contradiction. Human presence in protected areas is an issue that must be approached with special sensitivity and particular attention in order to ensure the preservation of the environment.
Today more than ever, the awareness of landscape as a precious heritage to be safeguarded for future generations must be a principle to follow when facing new projects. It is vital therefore, to understand the importance to find a balance between accessibility and conservation.
Wildlife Pavilions proposes a paradigm shift: an architecture conceived to coexist in harmony with the landscape, mainly thought for nature itself instead of for human beings. The goal of the competition is to think out of the box and to imagine inhabited structures designed for flora and fauna: micro-architectures where man meets wildlife just as a passing guest, as a respectful visitor or simply as an observer.
With the aim of challenging anthropocentric architecture and with the idea of experimenting a new creative process focused on nature, the contest requires the design of three small-scale pavilions immersed in the landscape of the Peat Bog.
Today, the only few structures present in the whole complex are just being used for bird watching, whereas these new devices will have to complement the existing ones with an additional feature: providing shelter to nature itself.
The intention is to go beyond the mere act of designing an observation cabin. In fact, it means much more than that: Wildlife Pavilions is about giving new shelters to reptiles, supports for bird nesting, containers to help the proliferation of autochthonous plants, insects hotels, sunbathing platforms and many more.
The key lies in being able to conceive a design proposal centred on nature, which, as a secondary function, allows visitors to observe wildlife in total respect of the ecosystem.
It is required to pay specific attention to the use of materials and textures, as it will be considered a highly important feature in the definition of the project. The choice of nature-based solutions, local materials and recycled elements may help these new pavilions to coexist and interact harmoniously with the context.
Photo Andrea Facchinetti
The program of the competition consists in the design of three structures immersed in the landscape of the Nature Reserve. They can be completely independent or they can be linked through other minor elements, such as floor surfaces, signs, floating platforms, or any other architectural device. However, they should all be somehow connected in terms of materiality and architectural language.
The three pavilions must provide at least one usable space for flora or fauna as their main function. At the same time, they have to guarantee the possibility for visitors to do birdwatching and to contemplate nature in complete harmony with the environment.
1) The first micro-architecture must be placed on the eastern access of the Central Path and it should be conceived as a connection link between two different existing ground levels. Surrounded by leafy trees, it can be imagined as a vertical tower, an open ramp, a volume embedded in the slope or any kind of shape that better suites the landscape and the topography.
2) The second structure has to be located anywhere along the Central Path. It could be leaning on the ground, in between the coast and the water, or fully detached from the soil. Make sure to take advantage of the magnificent panoramic views that this trail offers all along its way.
3) Finally, the third one can be positioned anywhere inside the complex of the “Torbiere del Sebino”. The exact location will be left to the decision of each participant. It might be floating, covered with vegetation or simply standing along the way. Be creative and do not be afraid of experimenting!
Pavilions may acquire the form of vertical barriers, shelters, dunes, sheds, small towers, frames, screens or floating platforms, as well as they can be provided with mobile openings for the observation of the fauna.
There are no restrictions regarding the squared meters to cover, however the maximum height allowed on the Central Path is 3,90 meters from the pedestrian floor surface (this height limit must be respected for the 2nd pavilion only). Remember though that when it comes to designing in a nature reserve: “Small is More”!
Further indications about each of the three pavilions will be available in the Download Package available on the TerraViva website.