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How we revived an abandoned Sicilian Fortress

Art Prison

For more than a century, the fortress of Monte Santa Caterina has been an abandoned prison. It is located on top of a mountain, above a sleepy fisherman village, on Favignana: a small island off coast of Sicily. Because it is largely surrounded by rock and vegetation, the place offers a strong sense of solitude and peaceful tranquility at the same time.
Now that the isle has become a international hotspot, the Young Architects Competitions, an association that aims to foster creativity in emerging designers by hosting competitions, has partnered with the local Italian Government and launched Art Prison. Who can dream up the structure's next character?


Transform Santa Caterina Fortress into one of the most meaningful centers of contemporary art of the Mediterranean. The briefing suggests the space should be “a sublime place of encounter, culture and creative research where artists will have the opportunity to relax and enjoy in an untouched place." The isle has to become a sacred site for "for artists, creative talents and curious people who wish to regain their mental and spiritual forces."


Landscape intervention: improving accessibility to the fortress is achieved by placing a new hillside elevator with adjacent stairway. A virtual straight line linking to the Marina square, and the shortest route possible connecting the lowest point of the pathway and the entrance to the Fort.

Fortress rehabilitation : Inviting everyone inside its historical walls, the fortress will be hosting the main function of the Arts’ Center, a museum for art exhibitions and cultural activities. The rooftop accommodates a panoramic cafe: an indulging end to the fortress experience, returning to the delightful sights and local tastes.

The building is rehabilitated to its original state, exposing the remaining of its original materials’ textures and colors. These rehabilitated spaces are ´flooded´ by “the morphing walkway”. A walking platform elevated above the original floor, which guides visitors through the intricated interiors.

The geometry of the new buildings is based on the footprints of the fortress, and results from a creative process that reverses volume vs. space values. The goal is to explore and reveal the fort’s geometrical attributes with a fresh new perspective, with that connecting old and new architectures with each other, and linking both intrinsically to the landscape.


A Fort inside out; Silent in its ruins. Majestic in its presence. Pure in its surroundings. Overviewing the city at its footsteps, while immersed in it’s own solitude on the top of the hill. A building that has lived many lives, and is yet to start a new one. An Arts’ Center is the proposed new resident to breath new life in and around the fortress of Santa Caterina. The project’s guiding principle is to preserve the local values, the splendid landscape, the existing pathway. Moreover, to preserve and celebrate the fortress.

nice to know

We didn’t win, but we were close. With over 500 contestants, we came out sixth. Also the celebrated jury honored Claessens Erdmann with an honorable mention for its contribution. This made us very proud.