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Before the intervention. Once they were definitively closed, the installations presented a high degree of pollution, the result of almost a century’s accumulation of contaminating elements ranging from carbon residues through to asbestos fibres.  © Protezione Civile Nazionale © 2008


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previous state

For decades, the Italian army used some shipyards on the island of La Maddalena, of the Maddalena archipelago to the north of Sardinia, as a naval base known as L’Arsenale. Despite the stigma its military connotations might leave on collective consciousness, the installations, which were a major centre of strategic operations in the Mediterranean until the end of the Cold War, were also a significant driving force in the local economy. They represented more that eight hundred jobs in direct employment and gave work to people in a large number of trades indirectly related with naval activities, for example carpenters, mechanics, lathe operators, electricians and plumbers. Moreover, the hostelry trade and small business benefited very considerably from the presence of the military personnel. In brief, the influence of L’Arsenale on the island is very clearly reflected in the presence of the neighbouring Moneta, a settlement established at the same time as the naval base, which is now home to over half La Maddalena’s population.

In 1992, the Italian army began to cut back its presence in the zone, after which L’Arsenale was progressively dismantled. This brought with it a steep decline in a good part of the archipelago’s economy. Once they were definitively closed, the installations presented a high degree of pollution, the result of almost a century’s accumulation of contaminating elements ranging from carbon residues through to asbestos fibres. Also seriously affected were the waters of the dock, where the continuous sedimentation of fuel components had considerably reduced their depth, thus impeding the entry of big ships. The different buildings of the base, which at the time of its peak activity had come to a total surface of eighteen thousand square metres of offices and workshops, were in a very rundown state and many of them were used as unofficial dumping places for discarded vehicles and boats.

aim of the intervention

In 2008, with the imminent prospect that L’Arsenale would be hosting the G8 Summit the following year, the regional government of Sardinia pushed for swift renovation of the installations. Apart from this event, which finally did not take place on La Maddalena, the intervention aimed to make the most of the occasion to establish a new centre in the Moneta neighbourhood that would go beyond the associations of the old naval base and pave the way for an economic reactivation of the island. Understood as part of a holistic vision that sought to bring about recovery in the archipelago as a whole, the refurbishment of L’Arsenale was to constitute a model for other areas of Sardinia. In contrast to the brutal exploitation of many stretches of the Sardinian coastline, the newly-recovered space was to attract responsible tourism that is respectful of the environment. The exceptional beauty of the natural setting made it imperative to construct as little as possible in order to take maximum advantage of what was already there.


As the result of a process of design and construction that, with surprising speed, only took eighteen months, the renovation of L’Arsenale entailed an area of 155,000 square metres. The new complex is structured around a port of 128,000 square metres with a mooring capacity for seven hundred vessels. Its wharves, with a total perimeter of almost two kilometres, have pushed back the buildings that once impeded access so that they are now totally open to the public and organised around the dock, giving it the central role that a public square might have. A new conference centre of over two thousand square metres and a hotel have been built in this great port, which is understood as public space covering almost thirty thousand square metres of green zones. Other pre-existing structures have been reconverted in order to be used as business premises and for nautical events.

The operation has entailed the treatment of 62,000 tons of iron, oil and paraffin-contaminated land. 380 tons of asbestos fibre were collected, and 70,000 cubic metres of sediment were extracted when the dock was dredged. Both new and reformed buildings have heat exchange systems that cut back energy consumption in air-conditioning. They are also equipped with solar panels that are used to heat sanitary hot water, with photovoltaic plaques and with roof gardens that attenuate the effects of the sun and heat loss. Rainwater falling throughout the whole complex is collected and recycled for different uses, for example watering the gardens. These have been planted with local vegetation and are irrigated with systems that reduce water consumption to a minimum.


Fruit of the feat of a construction process that took only ten months, the renovation of L’Arsenale has managed to change the public image of La Maddalena, which is now a popular meeting place that can equally be the setting of everyday scenes or a venue for crowd-pulling events. The operation has established a public space that is not only relevant for its scale but also for its impact in collective memory. It now functions as a point of attraction for nautical activities that give a boost to tourism and, accordingly, to the economic life of the island. All of this has been made possible by means of a measured intervention that, far from ravaging the natural landscape or opting for any blank-slate policy, has accepted the awkward previous establishment as its departure point.

David Bravo │ Translation by Julie Wark

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technical sheet

CITY: La Maddalena (11,668 inhabitants)





AREA: 155,000 m2

COST: 41,755,100 €



Regione Sardegna


Comunicazione - Stefano Boeri Architetti