Scuola dei Desideri

2 min
3 min

©Walter Vecchio

Statement by Mario Cucinella, Founder & Design Director of MCA – Mario Cucinella Architects
"Designing a school tailored to the wishes of the children and the community means caring for an entire territory. It involves engaging in dialogue and in listening, to create a place that interprets diverse aspirations. Architecture has a social role because it educates and influences learning and relationships. By providing the younger generations with a school that is beautiful, safe, and innovative—designed for them and with them—we help our youngest children walk towards the future. We create spaces where they can live, have experiences, and discover and recognise themselves."

Statement by architect Daniel Caramanico, Co-Founder of LAP architettura
"The Scuoladei Desideri Mario Silvestri exemplifies how a project involving children, parents, teachers, and the broader community can be shaped autonomously by their ideas and hopes. For us, this project represented a school in its broadest sense, where we learned and applied the principles of participatory and sustainable design. The outcome is a building that seamlessly blends with the landscape of the Majella National Park, a UNESCO Geopark, making it both ecologically sound and forward-thinking. The school of dreams that becomes a reality.”

©Walter Vecchio

The context
Following the 2009 earthquake in Abruzzo, the citizens of Pacentro have eagerly awaited the new Scuoladei Desideri Mario Silvestri. It aims to provide the local community with a new, safe, sustainable, and innovative school building that serves as both a focal point for the children and a civic centre, where the entire community can 'come to life'. The site is in one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: the small municipality of Pacentro, in the province of L'Aquila in the hills of the Majella National Park, designated as a UNESCO Geopark. Since the 1960s, the population has gradually declined in Pacentro, leading to a significant reduction in the number of school-age children. In light of these circumstances and the aftermath of the earthquake, the new school presents an opportunity to breathe life into this small community. By attracting children from neighbouring municipalities, it aims to rejuvenate the area and restore a sense of territorial identity. The new building will be the home for a comprehensive educational complex comprising eight teaching levels: five for primary education and three for lower secondary education, catering to approximately 100 children in total.

A participatory project
The Scuoladei Desideri Mario Silvestri is the first educational complex to be built using the post-earthquake funds allocated under the “Scuolad’ Abruzzo – Il Futuro in Sicurezza” plan ["Abruzzo Schools - The Future in Safety"], and is the outcome of a participatory design process that began in August 2015 and was completed in December of that year. It was designed as a community-based architectural project led by MCA - Mario Cucinella Architects and LAP architettura, with the participation of the associations Viviamolaq, ActionAid, and INDIRE (National Institute for Documentation, Innovation, and Educational Research), along with more than 60 schoolchildren, 20 teachers and staff, and over 140 local residents. Through active participation in this process, everyone had the opportunity to voice their needs and aspirations, revealing both the strengths and weaknesses of the existing school system. This collaborative effort was instrumental in delineating the features of the future "School of Desires”: a school that the children described thus in a letter to Mario Cucinella: “we want our school to be colourful, like our emotions".

©Walter Vecchio

The concept
The project's inception transcended the conventional notion of school design, moving beyond mere compliance with regulatory parameters. Instead, it embraced a new vision aligned with the pedagogical theory of Learning Landscapes. In this approach, a school is envisioned as more than just a physical structure; it becomes an educator in its own right, influencing the cognitive, social, and affective development of the child. The school is not merely a venue for encounters and ideas exchange; it serves as a dynamic space that nurtures excellence and fosters a culture of change. In this project, the architectural design revolves around a circular plan, supported by a structure of reinforced concrete and steel framing. The circular base was deliberately designed to hark back to the primal form of the circle, in recollection of Bruno Munari’s observation that "the first thing a child draws looks like a circle”.

The spaces
The heart of the ScuoladeiDesideri Mario Silvestri is a large covered piazza measuring 15 metres across: a bright, colourful space for the varied activities of both the school and the local community, with the ability to embrace and shield all individuals, preventing social stratification by consistently fostering connections among all individuals and their surrounding environment. The central agora space encourages sharing and interaction, and has tiered seating for gatherings. The bookshelving along the back wall, designed by MCA and LAP architecture, forms a continuous library. All the spaces of the school are centred around the main piazza, with large curving glass walls defining 'bubbles' that contain classrooms and offices. The teaching and learning areas, which include ateliers for practical workshops, depart from traditional classroom layouts. The sliding walls enclosing these areas provide exceptional flexibility, allowing for easy reconfiguration to meet the dynamic needs of school life. The floor features a resin finish, with warm yellow tones in the piazza and light grey in other parts of the building.

The new schools complex also includes a canteen that is designed to be open, with glass walls that enable it to be used as a food atelier that promotes learning and cultivates an appreciation for culinary culture in the children.

©Walter Vecchio

The roof
The defining feature of the Scuoladei Desideri Mario Silvestri is its unique roof: a disc-shaped garden covered with vegetation, including resilient sedums, which can withstand both biotic and abiotic stresses.

Designed following bioclimatic principles, the roof includes a 6-metre overhang on the south side. This effectively blocks intense summer radiation whilst allowing solar radiation to enter during the winter, which aids the heating of the interior. In addition, there are numerous skylights that are intended to evoke the idea of a "starry sky," fulfilling the wish of the children of Pacentro to be able to see the night sky from inside their school.

The dialogue with the outside world
The building is designed to harmonise and interact with its surrounding environment. An artificial "dune" encircles it like a ring, partially hiding the structure within the terrain. This dune shelters the building from the wind and gradually reveals the structure to those approaching along the entrance path.

There is strong integration between the internal and external spaces, conceived as a continuous whole. Nature enters the piazza, guiding the gaze, while the trees filter the light. Their changing colours and tones mark the passage of the seasons. The rhythm of the continuous wall of extra-clear glass is punctuated by window frames that mimic the texture of a mountain forest, serving as a filter with the Apennine landscape. The glazed French doors provide direct access to the outdoor garden, facilitating outdoor teaching.

©Walter Vecchio

Client: Municipality of Pacentro
Project: MCA - Mario Cucinella Architects and LAP architettura (preliminary project and final project); DunamisArchitettura (working drawings, specifications, and construction documents)

Project team
MCA – Mario Cucinella Architects
LAP architettura: Daniel Caramanico, Federico Sorgi, Simone Esposito, Mauro D’Angelo, Stefano Mont Girbes, Matteo De Marco, Andrea Ciammetti

Structural design: Giovanni Accili
Services design: Marco Santangelo, Rino Antonelli
Participation Workshops: ActionAid, Viviamolaq
Visuals: MCA Visual, LAP architecture, Dunamis
Photography: Walter Vecchio

diagramma scenario atelier by LAP

Diagramma Bioclimatico by MCA