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by Hugo Shackleton, Emma Skelander

Lake Bolsena, Italy



A competition entry for the conceptual design of a pilgrim center located between Florence and Rome.

In an age of instant reward and pervasive digitalization, ancient pilgrimages offer relief, and a chance to recalibrate one’s relationship to the analog world. On a journey of introspection; natural wonders, historical relics and meaningful encounters help restore reverence for culture and inspire renewed action to sustain it.


The Pilgrim Center in Val di Lago refurbishes 16th century Chiesa di San Giovanni and places it at the heart of a new cultural venue. Equipped to host the overnight stay of Via Francigena pilgrims as well as larger events and seasonal tourism, the center is conceived as a rich pedagogical platform and a quiet haven nestled into its rural surroundings.

Acknowledging both the flood-prone agricultural, and formal ecclesiastical context of the site, a proposed planting of bay, cypress, holm oak, olive, hazelnut, borage and fig trees provide shade, year-round flower and a gentle framing of the center while intensifying its wilderness. The masterplan distinguishes two principal points of access to the site. A northern entrance greets visitor arrivals from San Lorenzo Nuovo with a water fountain, fruit trees and a view through to the chapel, while a south-western entrance offers an intuitive egress toward Lake Bolsena. 


The center’s programme is arranged around a central lawn, akin to a cloister, that maintains unobstructed views across the site while offering a play space for day-visitors and their children, as well as a flexible outdoor events area for seasonal ceremonies and farmer’s markets etc.

Functions are devised as a series of separate structures designed to materially and proportionally complement the chapel. Modulated rooms have a lighter structural footprint and allow for a varying degree of occupancy of the site while offering the potential for overlap between the more private pilgrims and more public day-visitors.


Three raised guesthouses, grouped to the south, sleep up to 12 pilgrims while several stone bathhouses across the site provide composting toilets and showers where necessary. A basic kitchen and vegetable allotment for pilgrims, to the east, is accompanied by an adjacent dining hall where larger indoor gatherings and informal mingling can take place between pilgrim and general public. These spaces of overlap make for a compelling opportunity to exchange and build the center’s cultural identity.

For outdoor lectures and other formal performances, an auditorium offers seating for up to 70 people to enjoy summer evening performances in front of the chapel’s south facade.

The chapel itself is topped in a timber-framed, terracotta cupola designed to merge the octagonal and circular domes of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Basilica Papale di San Pietro - a modest nod to the building’s architectural heritage and a promotion of contemporary craft. Repointed stonework is sealed with timber windows and doors while the chapel’s floor is reinstated in high-fired terracotta tile and a discrete timber stair carries visitors one level up, to views across Val di Lago.


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