Drawing from Ravenna’s early Christian baptisteries and postwar industrial history, Of Water & Spirit is a proposal for the conversion of decommissioned oil rigs off the coast of Ravenna, Italy into a Museum of Waters.
It expresses the hope of creating a public space that confronts visitors with the weight of its history, and inspires them by its connection to nature. The resulting spaces are monumental, as much an artefact of large-scale industrial machinery as they are a testament to the vastness of the universe.
Ravenna’s historic baptisteries are the inspiration for a building literally and symbolically centred around water: as figure and ground, architectural feature and religious sacrament.
As baptisteries are monuments to personal transformation, enacting a turning point from an old life to a new one, the architectural conversion of a decommissioned oil rig into a museum is itself a transformative rebirth: from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy; from an industrial to a cultural program; from a hazardous, proprietary space to a public and accessible one.
As industrially prefabricated, modular, self-contained developments, act as landmarks, even beacons, in the uncharted territory of the ocean, exemplifying the Metabolist tension between rampant technological progress and harmony with nature.
In being converted to a public museum, and therefore a cultural, social, and experiential destination, the rig combines the vastness of the ocean with a new human scale.
Preserved cranes from the oil rig become sculptural figures in their own right, recalling the dynamism of their industrial, mechanical roots. The incessant activity of machines is replaced by that of artistic production and cultural exchange.
Stacked modular concrete units are punctured alternately, with a single circular opening on their inner faces and stylized triple arches on their outer faces. These twin façades speak of a duality in Ravenna's history: a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its early Christian monuments, and a postwar industrial centre after the discovery of oil and gas fields in the 1960s, leading the Italian offshore oil and gas industry.
The oil rig is an ambiguous marker of conquest: of the human achievement of construction, and simultaneously a monument to humanity’s exploitation of the natural world. This history is not erased, but preserved, framed, and elaborated upon, in the hope of a transformed future.