The architectural restoration and renovation of the Teatro Donizetti is first and foremost the result of the need to bring it into line with contemporary safety and fire prevention standards; indeed, to this day, the building falls short of the suitability requirements as it lacks the necessary compartmentalisation, the systems are obsolete, and the furnishings and coverings do not have the necessary certifications.
Aside from this significant technical aspect of the job, the volume of the theatre itself – with the exception of the monumental façade – does not meet the decorative quality standards for the historical urban fabric of the ‘Lower City’ due to the various parts that have been added over the years without any coordinated plan, not to mention the presence of the unfinished volume of the fly tower.
As such, alongside efforts to bring the theatre up to regulatory standards and streamline its functions, it is also necessary to carry out an overarching architectural intervention capable of breathing new life into this prominent public landmark.
The functional renovation
The primary restoration work will, of course, be focused on the theatre hall, the system of entrances and foyers, and the connections of all floors open to the public; furthermore, major transformations of the basement level will allow for a complete redesign of the audience toilet areas beneath the stalls, the creation of rehearsal and dressing rooms for the orchestra adjacent to the orchestra pit, and the upgrading of the carpentry, facilities and dressing rooms connected to the understage area. In terms of functions, the project mainly involves the extension of the cluster of dressing rooms attached to the stage on the Piazza Cavour side, as well as the relocation of all the offices into the west wing (both the theatre offices and those of the Donizetti Foundation, along with their reception rooms and archives). The garden side of Piazza Cavour will also be home to the new box office/bookshop, with a brand-new bar opening onto the gardens and new flights of emergency stairs also being added on both sides of the historical building. In the west wing, on the upper terrace of the Ridotto dei Pizzigoni, there will be a glass pavilion to be used as a multipurpose hall for banquets and events of various kinds, which will allow for the historical halls on the first floor to be freed up as much as possible. Inside the theatre, the new distribution of the functions will result in a substantial improvement in both the typology and the uses of the various service and audience sections, although there are currently no plans for the creation of new stage machinery in the complex.

The renovation of the external façades
The side elevations have been designed in the pursuit of formal coherence between the existing volumes and the new additions so as to make the theatre’s architectural image homogeneous and contemporary, respecting the historical parts and, at the same time – as far as possible – the existing openings by standardising their shape. As such, the architectural image will largely be that of simple volumetric masses, with the lower sections of the buildings clad with local grey stone (Ceppo or similar) laid in a brickwork pattern for the base and vertically diversified on the upper floors by using light, matte modular elements (in a reconstituted porcelain material such as Kerlite) in pinkish hues similar to the existing structure and alternated in line with the openings; the order of the façades will effectively be redesigned to include the new stairwells, thus covering up the irregularities of the ramps. In particular, the façade facing Piazza Cavour is being redesigned to mark out the presence of the auditorium and rehearsal rooms, as well as the entrance to the box office and new bar, creating a sense of continuity that also embraces the new dressing room cluster by means of a regular, ordered series of doors and windows and ‘pilasters’ marked only by the stringcourses. In the design proposal, the volume housing the stage will be regularised and clad in colourful fibre cement panels, also incorporating the existing sloping pitches by way of a lightweight continuous external roof set at the maximum height of the smoke vent skylight. With this, the entire tower will be given a simple yet unique image within the urban context, marked only by strips of soft light installed flush with the wall. The space of the new pavilion/restaurant, built on the flat roof of the Ridotto, will be lent a certain lightness in the form of a bright, transparent glasshouse that complements the terrace with the pergola.

The restoration work
The planned works involve the restoration and conservation of all the monumental parts of the building, with a particular focus on the theatre hall and the entrance foyer and not including the historical monumental façades, which were only recently restored separately. The theatre hall will have to be brought into line with regulatory standards in terms of fire safety. As such, the intention is to undertake a complete restoration of all the furnishings, including the fixed seats in the stalls and the movable seats in the boxes, which are currently a variety of types. All the upholstery in the boxes, along with the carpets, curtains and trimmings, will also be replaced. The wooden floors must be treated with suitable impregnating agents to ensure that they fall into the required fire resistance class. The fronts of the boxes overlooking the auditorium will undergo some minor cleaning work, as will the decorated ceiling, whilst there will be a comprehensive overhaul of all the light fixtures present – including the central chandelier – to bring them up to standard, preserving and adapting the historical ones whilst replacing the more recent installations. In much the same vein, the entrance foyer will also be restored with a relatively conservative approach.

The building systems
In the context of the theatre’s renovation, there are plans to overhaul all of its electrical and mechanical systems, with access and installation being as delicate as possible with regard to the historical volume.
AIR CONDITIONING: there are plans to install heat pumps for both warm and cool air, which will then be channelled through ducts distributed as widely as possible throughout the building. These same pumps will be used to heat the domestic hot water, thus reclaiming the heat dissipated by the cooling equipment in the summer months.
FIRE PREVENTION: the entire area covered by the works will be fitted with water-based fire extinguishing systems by installing a pressurisation unit and a water storage tank.
FM AND SPECIAL LIGHTING: the system will be redesigned by installing new, energy-efficient light fixtures and restoring the historical light features (such as the central chandelier).
MONITORING: a sophisticated remote monitoring network covering all the building systems will be installed, meaning that all the spaces can be managed more safely and effectively.
RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES: wherever possible, the installation of solar heating for domestic hot water and photovoltaic panels for the production of electricity will be the preferred option. The use of high-efficiency heat pumps with thermal energy recovery systems is nonetheless considered a renewable energy source and offers an excellent contribution to minimising CO2 emissions to the outside environment.
YEAR: 2006-2020
TIPOLOGY: Restoration and expansion of the theatre
CLIENT: City of Bergamo
WITH: Studio Berlucchi
COLLABORATORS: Elisa Codenotti, Maurizio Fagiuoli
Italy, Bergamo

Public Buildings