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The “invention of many works”. Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) and his building works.



Tedeschi L.


Navone N.



We would like to recount a story, one little known to the general public, of a successful example of emigration that involved notable architectural works and took many Ticino construction workers to new geographical destinations: the papal Rome of Sixtus V (1585 - 1590) and the Naples of the Spanish Viceroys (1590 - 1607). The main figures are the Ticino architect Domenico Fontana (Melide 1543 - Naples 1607), his highly prestigious building works and the workers that were involved with them. Project Agora is aimed at a non-specialist audience – lay people, in other words – and at the same time is designed for secondary school students and for a more specific public of architects, engineers, designers, artists, building technicians and students attending faculties of architecture, construction and the fine arts. A dialogue will be opened with the various audiences by integrating traditional and participatory means of communication: an interactive exhibition that will be held at the Giovanni Züst Cantonal Art Gallery in Rancate, one of the partners in the project (with the exhibition itself entrusted to a design studio from another partner in the project, the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture) and a participatory digital archiving platform that, on the one hand, will allow access to the contents of the exhibition and, on the other, through user-generated content and crowdsourcing practices, will be enriched with testimonies and documents, giving depth to a “bottom-up” narrative: a narrative that will come into being through the building of common ground, consisting of a synergistic interweaving of History and Public History. The aim is to be able to contribute, with the involvement of citizens and local and professional communities, to a Digital Public History while, at the same time, provoking a short circuit between innovation and tradition in reconnecting the past and present of professional practices – a positive contribution to the relaunch of local resources through virtuous production methods. Project Agora would like to communicate to the general public the results of the NFS research project “The Fontana company in the 16th and 17th centuries: operating methods, techniques and the role of its workers” (n. 100016_150268/1, 2014 - 2017). With this project, many will be able to discover Domenico Fontana and his brothers, Giovanni, Marsilio and Santino, and, through an immersive reality, experience the world of a 16th-century construction site with its structural interdisciplinarity, ingenious solutions and the huge number of professional skills involved in order to achieve a choral outcome, highlighting common characteristics and differences with contemporary design processes. The exhibition will feature an intertwined path of original 16th-century works and virtual installations capable of bringing to life Fontana’s building works and offering the restitution of these spaces, making it possible to pay a virtual visit to historic buildings that are usually inaccessible in an experience that is multi-sensorial, personalised and on demand. Visitors will be able to deepen their knowledge of a territory (the Canton of Ticino) and of historical events that have played a part in European history, taking on the role of this architect and his workers in the construction of famous monuments in Rome, Naples, Amalfi and Salerno and focusing, among other things, on the encounter between art and technology, on good management practices and on an open and proactive dialogue between different cultures. With these Agora objectives in mind, the project communication selected is based on a natural multi-stakeholder approach, with the structured deployment of networking skills and marketing and advertising initiatives utilised in a targeted manner. The project forms part of the activities dedicated to the “third mandate” of the Università della Svizzera italiana and falls within the scope of the Archivio del Moderno, a research centre that is part of the constellation of USI institutes. It confirms the synergistic relationship with the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture and its educational proposal and consolidates a multi-year partnership with the cantonal institutions responsible for the conservation and study of the patrimony and the raising of public awareness with regard to it. *Citation from Le vite de’ pittori scultori e architetti moderni, scritte da Gio: Pietro Bellori, Rome 1672.

Additional information

Start date
End date
24 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Agora