The Building as a Palimpsest: Heritage, Memory and Adaptive Reuse Beyond Intervention. Insights from the San Girolamo Former Asylum in Volterra

Francesca Lanz*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Purpose (limit 100 words) This paper contributes to this special issue on the ethics and aesthetics of adaptive reuse with a reflection on the specific case of the reuse of those sites and buildings that can be regarded as ‘difficult’, ‘uncomfortable’, or ‘neglected’ heritage (Macdonal, 2009; Logan and Reeves, 2009; Pendlebury et al., 2018; Lanz, 2021). By doing so it is the author's intention to add to the most recent research-driven and theory-oriented strand of the contemporary architectural debate on adaptive reuse (Lanz and Pendlebury, 2022). They also intend to encourage increased research engagement within such a debate, both across disciplines and with methods and approaches that may be able to bring in greater critical consideration of the more-than-architectural aspects involved in adaptive reuse practices. Design/methodology/approach (limit 100 words) Building equally on literature on the subject and extensive field work, the paper works through one paradigmatic example – the San Girolamo mental asylum in Volterra, Italy – to discuss the ramifications of adaptive reuse processes in place-based memory and heritage practices. It deploys a hybrid format, in between a research paper and a visual essay, combining observations and field notes with theory-driven reflections complemented by a rich photographic apparatus. The main case study is introduced at the beginning of the paper, drawing on site visits, interviews, and archival research. It is then discussed via the metaphor of the building as palimpsest, paying key attention to its current status of abandonment, to explore the significance of this built heritage in both its materiality and meanings. Findings (limit 100 words) The paper concludes by expanding on how the case of the San Girolamo former asylum both showcases and advocates the need for developing more creative, explorative, transdisciplinary, and collaborative approaches and methodologies to the study and implementation of adaptive reuse ‘beyond intervention’. Originality/value (limit 100 words) This paper draws on and contributes to the more recent research-driven and theory-oriented corpus of studies focussing on adaptive reuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development
Early online date13 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Mar 2023


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