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05.26.20 – MArch student Yahya Abdullah wins an international competition to redesign an Italian ghost town

Yahya Abdullah, a Master of Architecture student, took the year off from his studies at the Daniels Faculty in 2019. He travelled to Italy to take a course on architectural restoration. There, he met a new friend, Claudio Araya, an architecture student at the Universidad Finis Terrae, in Chile. Soon afterward, Yahya and Claudio both landed internships at OMA, the renowned Rotterdam-based architecture firm.

"As rigorous as OMA is, we found that we had some weekends where we needed something to do," Yahya says. "So we figured we'd enter a few competitions."

Eventually, Yahya and Claudio came upon a competition that seemed to play to their strengths: a Young Architects Competitions contest that called upon entrants to design a way to restore Craco, a medieval Italian town that was abandoned in the late 20th century as a result of natural disasters, and that now lingers on as a picturesque ruin, frequented by tourists and film crews but otherwise devoid of human life.

Yahya and Claudio had just been in Italy, studying restoration, no less. The brief seemed tailor-made for them. And yet, the ideas weren't flowing. They spent a week thinking about the problem with few results. They were considering giving up.

Then, finally, they hit upon what seemed like a workable concept. And in the end, it was more than just workable: their competition entry, titled "Traces," won first place, netting them a cash prize of 8,000 euros (approximately $12,000) and the esteem of a jury of prominent international architects.

Yahya (left) and Claudio (right).

Yahya and Claudio's design solution was intentionally minimal. Their goal was to provide amenities for visitors to Craco without dramatically altering any of the ruined buildings. "The town is so rooted in its history," Yahya says. "It would be a shame to take a modernist brush and get rid of a lot of the town's legacy. We didn't want to take away from that."

Yahya and Claudio's design proposes building guest accommodations within some of Craco's ruined homes. Their design calls for the homes to be stabilized with a "nesting" of wood frame and wire mesh. The smaller homes would become modest shelters for day trippers looking for places to relax. Some of the larger structures would have their interiors converted into villas — hotel-like environments where families or groups of friends could spend a few days in relative comfort.

A shelter structure, nested within one of Craco's ruined buildings.

The pair also designed a corridor of public amenity structures that revive the town's centre without erasing the damage wrought by years of abandonment. For example, a ruined church, with only minor upgrades, becomes a performance space:

Yahya and Claudio's site plan also includes a "gallery path" (a type of linear art gallery that runs through a series of ruined buildings), a restaurant, a library, and a wellness centre. They envisioned transforming the town's tallest structure, a small tower, into a scenic overlook. "We did studies on travel," Yahya says. "The idea was to not have people walk more than five minutes to get somewhere. We kept everything very close, while still maintaining levels of privacy."

A section showing the relationship between the tower overlook and the town below.

Now back in Toronto, Yahya is preparing to enter the third year of his Daniels Faculty MArch studies in the fall.