Over time, our presence on Earth has left traces that have been added to the countless geological marks in the territory, configuring cultural landscapes in constant evolution. Each intervention adds a new layer, defines and redefines an ever-changing reality. The accumulation of these layers represents our memory, and when they are memorable, they become our heritage.

Heritage, understood as a place and a moment to be preserved, is an idea invented by modernity that implies isolating it from the fluid dynamics of time. New layers of meaning are no longer being added to those places, distancing them from the communities that generate these dynamics.

On the other hand, these places reveal a way of understanding the territory that we can no longer perceive; only if we look at them with a different gaze, can they become potential places of experimentation. Then we can learn from the past, to respond to the pressing problems of the present.


Sicily is such a region with many historical layers, being inhabited by Sicanians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and Austrians, only becoming part of Italy since 1860. However, in the last century, Sicily like thousands of small cities and towns, has undergone disinvestment and depopulation, raising questions about the future of productive landscapes, cultural heritage, urban-rural inequality, and social cohesion. The pace of change during this period of time has left these small towns almost paralyzed, and the attraction towards big cities increasingly stronger.

This trend has made much of the Italian countryside dependent on a tourism economy, turning them into museum pieces, undermining a rich, sustainable productive landscape and sharply reducing its diversity. The pandemic may have awoken interest for these towns, as remote workers envisioned new alternatives to living in large metropolitan centers, but not in a number and approach that could effectively change reality.

Yet, the potential of small towns in an ancestral landscape remains a big opportunity to rethink their role in the future. Can they become catalysts for change? Unlike cities, that are weighted by huge economic and political interests – the countryside can be a fertile field of experimentation if we are able to bring heritage, production, and culture together.

We will focus our gaze in Palazzolo Acreide, a historical town in the southeast of Sicily, which is in a quest to find innovative sustainable development models to rechart its urban environment and its community.


The studio will search for concrete and meaningful ways architecture can encourage new ways of living, anchored to their hinterland and historical memory. The ruins of Palazzolo’s castle and its abandoned neighborhood, once a Phoenician sacred place, will be the scene of our intervention.

Based on their interests, each student will identify existing or potential production systems (cultural, social, agricultural, industrial, or practical) that exist in the region or can be introduced in the locality. A cultural hub system, in its broad sense, will be developed from this specific production system to generate new dynamics that can bring a renewed meaning to heritage sites, and produce a density of activities that will favor the town’s re-inhabitation.


This is a design-based studio that will search for new relations between heritage, landscape, and culture, pushing the limits - and sometimes blurring them - between architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture, redefining connections between buildings, open-air spaces, ecologies and pre-existing conditions in a specific context.

Students will work in pairs developing a conceptual, programmatic, and organizational proposal that operates three distinct discourses – Critical Conservation, Production Systems, and Cultural Practices. Lectures by local experts and practitioners who have developed similar approaches will help find hints in each project.

We will travel to Sicily, visit the town of Palazzolo, meet with local scholars and subsequently travel around the island to understand the dynamics between heritage, landscape, and contemporary interventions. We will visit outstanding examples of the layering of Greek, Arab and Norman cultures, and contemporary interventions such as world-class Alvaro Siza’s interventions in Salemi and land-art pieces by Alberto Burri in Gibellina.

On returning, students will develop individual responses for a cultural hub system capable of catalyzing the three initial discourses. Each student will develop a component of the whole system, the size of which will depend on each one’s approach, varying from the small, detailed architectural scale to large landscape design.

While proposing contemporary solutions to our society’s challenges, the projects will draw from ancient knowledge to restore a new sacredness to these neglected places.

All Semesters

Fall 2022
Turtles All The Way Down
Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, Andrew Benner
Fall 2021
Advanced Design Studio: Potent Voids
Lina Ghotmeh, Surry Schlabs