Domus Vitae Winning Proposal / Tomas Ghisellini Architects

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Designed by Tomas Ghisellini Architects, the first prize winning proposal for the Domus Vitae, a new city morgue and social facilities complex, is aimed at being a new architectural presence with a continuous but porous body. The design includes balconies, porches, patios, terraces, overhangs and suspended volumes which capture, tame or magnify natural light. These features create spaces for which the atmospheric quality is supposed to be a decisive added value. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

A large green area, included between scenes and architectural settings, regenerates the fascination of the wonderful Delizie (marvelous country houses with huge gardens) of the Este Family, reinterpreting one of the urban issues perhaps more intimately rooted into the mental image that people keep of their city. The border wall is carved and made literally transparent; passersby, on foot or by bicycle, intrigued by the opportunity to spy on the large green space from the outside, becoming part of the experience. The historic walled garden, from a territory of separation and exclusion, evolves into a social space to meet, a collective and fluid urban carpet.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Flanked to one of the existing buildings along the southern edge, a plug-linear technology spine incorporates all the technical equipments and service functions necessary to the complex (deposits, storage spaces, technical boxes, toilets, plant rooms, vertical connections, service entrances) and the approach-gap conserved between old and new, illuminated by natural light raining from above, distributes the spaces reserved for the sole employees arousing the perceptive suggestion of a historic alley.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

The existing southern building shows to the inner distributions its north elevation. It hosts functions of acceptance, observation, analysis and storage of corpses, as well as the administrative, management and support to the personnel whose recreational facilities are strategically positioned on the east, close to a small public space, accessible from the outside, reserved to a coffee and snack bar. This cafeteria will also refresh mourners and occasional visitors to the citadel. Here, moreover, residents will gather in the evenings to chat, have a coffee, or just relax silently on the gardens.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

A large mineral outdoor patio embraces the old circular pit making it become the new composition’s center of gravity, and drawing here the most significant common meeting area for mourners on the outside. The ground floor hosts the reception and sets up the places for acceptance and movement, as well as ceremonial rooms used in the preparation of remains. Around the double-height foyer, facing the patio and the historic city defensive walls to the east, stairs and lifters blocks allow vertical displacements from the basement straight up to the highest nobel level without visitors and staff never come into contact.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Spaces for the wake, away from the hermetic character of the Western tradition, yet perfectly protected from any introspection are here conceived as rooms of light: an entire wall of glass opens the interior to beautiful sky-opened two levels secret patios with hanging gardens, flowers and tree species. The intimacy of each of these five emotional environments offers visitors a somewhat “comforting” experience of pain. Each of the secret patios welcomes the work of a contemporary artist; the mortuary builds sites of affective sharing, spaces to live poetically thanks to the language of art.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

An outside “path” in height, through the mineral patio, leads to a mysterious outdoor belvedere, otherwise unreachable, facing the garden and beyond the profile of the Renaissance city walls. This special meditative space is designed for individual isolation and contemplation. Suspended just opposite to the transparent main front and facing the rising sun, the architectural body surrounds the courtyard, floating on air, embracing the visitors.


The old circular pre-existing pit is a great place to house a sacred tree, a universal symbol of life and rebirth in all cultural and religious beliefs. So the Citadel will celebrate death not as an interruption, but as a simple transformation of life. Thus, for this reason it will be called Domus Vitae, home for life.

Architects: Tomas Ghisellini Architects
Location: Ferrara, Italy
Structures: Beatrice Bergamini
Plants and Fire Safety: Nicola Gallini
Sustainability and LEED® Evaluation: Violeta Archer
Collaborators: Michele Marchi, Alice Marzola
Client: Ferrara Municipality
Program: New city morgue and social facilities complex
Two-Phases Competition: May – November 2012 / First Prize
Project: 2013-2014
Building Construction: 2014-2016
Total Cost: 3,700,000 €

Cite: Furuto, Alison. "Domus Vitae Winning Proposal / Tomas Ghisellini Architects" 05 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • Jenny

    so poetic

    • Joe

      I don’t know. I like poetic visuals, but still this is an architecture project. I don’t understand this building, and word “poetic” is just as shallow, as this project.

  • Sally

    seems to give dignity to pain. excellent.