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Sitting rather outside of any conventional commission or even typology, the project to design a performance space within the Arcari caves – which used to supply Pietra di Vicenza stone until their closure – evolved through a long professional collaboration between David Chipperfield Architects and the Laboratorio Morseletto, who produce traditional artisanal Venetian stone and marble.

The caves are the result of 60 years of quarrying which left a cavernous space supported by irregular massive piers and largely filled with water underneath a wooded hill in Zovencedo, near Vicenza. Upon entering the caves, it is possible to experience space, material and structure as one unique entity, where nature and architecture seem to imitate each other. Recognising these extraordinary qualities, the Morseletto family had often used the space for informal events, which encouraged them to develop a more permanent solution.

The romantic and tectonic qualities of the quarry with the carved stone and the filtered water were already so strong that minimal interventions were required. The project reintroduces the typical white Vicenza stone into the space with a series of platforms, steps and ramps, reminiscent of Adolphe Appia’s stage sets. The platforms are known as Cavea, a reference to the stepped tiers in ancient Roman theatres. The intervention has created a dialogue between the accidental architecture of the caves and the formalised stage and seating platforms that represent occupation and performance.

Vicenza stone is the only material used in the project. The stone is both added and subtracted, and the project can be seen as a continuation of the historic quarrying done on the site. Both the ambient and stage lighting, designed by Viabizzuno, enhance the atmosphere, with the surrounding, water-filled chambers lit from below adding to the visual spectacle. The project has created a multifunctional space that preserves and emphasises the unique characteristics of the place.