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Polo del '900: an inclusive, multi-functional cultural centre in downtown Turin (Italy)

The Polo del 900 is a foundation and cultural centre dedicated to the historical, social, economic and cultural research of the twentieth century. The centre contains a museum, library, cinema, performing art spaces and archives. The centre was born out of a private-public partnership between three major partners and 22 smaller institutions.

The model of the Polo del 900 proposes collaboration as a solution for institutional and cultural fragmentation which forms the core of a new ecology of creative cultural systems and puts community at the core of the contemporary reuse of historical buildings.

About the city of Turin

The city of Turin is an important business and cultural centre in Italy, and capital of the region of Piedmont. The city was the capital of the Duchy of Savoy between the 17th and 18th centuries; when the Royal House of Savoy became the rulers of the newly found Kingdom of Italy, the city became the nation’s first capital from 1861 to 1865.

The city of Turin contains several components of the World Heritage property Residences of the Royal House of Savoy. This serial site, comprising 11 properties in the city centre and 11 in the surrounding landscape, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 under criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (v). The listing highlights that “the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy is an outstanding example of European monumental architecture and town-planning in the 17th and 18th centuries that uses style, dimensions and space to illustrate in an exceptional way the prevailing doctrine of absolute monarchy in material terms.

The city had a large development during the late 19th and 20th centuries, when it became one of the main industrial centres of Europe. Since the mid-20th century, Turin has had a very active cultural panorama. Its new model of governance based on participation and collaboration between inter-institutional partners and museums, and a close relationship between the city, its wealth and its culture, based on the idea of culture as a catalyser for social processes.

Turin is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network as a Creative City of Design. The city is one of the most dynamic hubs for the cultural and creative field in Italy. The Creativity and culture field in Turin represents 9.1% of total Italian number of active bodies and companies, the third in Italy, with about 100,000 employees and people involved.

Polo del '900: an inclusive, multi-functional cultural centre

The Polo del '900 (in English, Centre of the 20th century) is a foundation and cultural centre located in downtown Turin (Italy), dedicated to the historical, social, economic and cultural research of the twentieth century. The centre was born out of a private-public partnership between three major partners and 22 smaller institutions. It provides a variety of public services including a museum, library, cinema, performing art spaces and archives. The model of the Polo del '900 proposes collaboration as a solution for institutional and cultural fragmentation, which forms the core of a new ecology of creative cultural systems.

Event in the courtyard of the cultural centre © Polo del '900
Interior view of the cultural centre © Polo del '900

While the centre was opened in 2016, the idea was born six years earlier as a project to merge the archives of several cultural institutions. Thanks to the involvement of the Region of Piedmont, the City of Turin and the banking foundation Compagnia di San Paolo, this initial idea was transformed into a much larger project to create a new cultural centre, which could be inclusive and host a larger number of institutions, shifting the focus from archiving to providing public services.

Therefore, the goal of the Polo is to create a multi-functional cultural centre and improve public services through conglomeration and labour sharing amongst the different institutions. The foundation makes the most of local labour laws which allows the employees of the different institutions to work part-time for the foundation. This creates a strong connection between the foundation and the smaller institutions and allows the continuous provision of free public access and services, 365 days a year, 9 am - 9 pm.

Reading areas © Polo del '900

The centre occupies two large historic buildings in the city centre, approximately 1 kilometre west from the Royal Palace. The buildings are part of an early 18th-century military complex designed by Filippo Juvarra, chief court architect of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, and who was also involved in the design of the Royal Residences. The buildings host 8,000 square metres of cultural centre and offices, as well as 9 kilometres of underground archives. By the end of the 20th century and after being used as a school, the buildings were left vacant. The city identified them for potential re-development due to their central location and large size, suitable for hosting different activities. The buildings surround a courtyard, which links the complex with the city and hosts the cafeteria and different activities during the summer.

External view of the historical buildings © Enrico Muraro
Outdoors event © Polo del '900

The Polo del '900 is funded by a private-public partnership between the City of Turin, the Regional Government of Piedmont, and the banking foundation Compagnia di San Paolo. The centre had a total budget of 2.2 million euros in 2019. Of these, ordinary contributions from founding members provided 1.2 million; the remaining 1 million euros were raised through fundraising activities, sponsors, donors and minor commercial activities, as well as the annual contribution of the smaller institutions (140.000 € in total). 

The governance of the Foundation Polo del '900 consists of two committees and an executive director. The Board of Trustees is in charge of approving budgets and activity plans and contains representatives of the three key partners (city, regional government and banking foundation). The Management Board is responsible for management decisions. It has five members: one representative of the City of Turin, one of the Region of Piedmont, two representatives of the banking foundation, and one representative of the Assembly of Participant Institutions. The executive director presents the activity plans to the Board of Trustees and the management board and oversees implementation. 

The Polo del '900 has had to address challenges regarding the management of stakeholders and partners, and the adaptive reuse of the historical buildings. 

  • The physical spaces occupied by the Centre required ongoing work and efforts to create a sense of place, as people used the space differently to how it was originally imagined. Changes were necessary to make the spaces more flexible and allow people to use the space freely. 
  • Given the number of stakeholders and partners involved in the project, the main challenges related to stakeholder management and engagement. Building a climate of trust and collaboration took time and continuous efforts. Ongoing commitment and coordination are necessary to avoid internal competition and ensure that each organisation has the opportunity to carry out their own projects and that the individual character of each institution is showcased and respected. 

The program of activities is designed to create projects where the voice of each institution can be heard. The Foundation Polo del '900 promotes four to six flagship projects per year, with a budget of 250,000€. These projects are co-financed by the Polo del ‘900 but must be co-created by the different institutions and led by one or more of the smaller institutions. This allows the Polo to feature a wide variety of events and cultural activities, including:

  • 900 Giovani: co-organised by Centro Studi Piero Gobetti, this activity recruits a young board to organise an annual, three-day youth-led festival in the Centre. Learn more (in Italian). 
  • DirittiBus: co-organised by the Landscape Museum of the Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights and Freedom, this project will transform the library-bus service into a “satellite” of the museum which brings special exhibitions and cultural activities to the different neighbourhoods. Learn more (in Italian). 
  • At-home delivery of library books: co-organised by the Rete di Italiana Cultura Popolare, the proximity services deliver books to residents while the libraries are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • Outdoor festivals: the Polo partners with external institutions such as the Lovers Film Festival and Festival CinemAmbiente to co-host part of their program. 

The Polo del '900 is not part of the World Heritage property Residences of the Royal House of Savoy.

Source: Alessandro Bollo, Director of Polo del ‘900, interview with the World Heritage Centre, November 2020.

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project is an innovative proposal for a cultural centre that joins 18th century historical buildings with modern culture and public services. It puts culture and heritage at the core of social and economic development, and could contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach thanks to its:

  • Reuse of underutilised historical buildings for appropriate community uses
  • Establishment of multi-stakeholder, private-public partnerships to promote heritage conservation and sustainable development

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Civic engagement tools Regulatory systems Financial tools

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

  • Target 4.7: the initiative aims to contribute to the dissemination of knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, by creating dedicated educational programs and exhibitions about issues such as human rights, gender equality and the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence
  • Target 4.a: the initiative aims to contribute to the provision of accessible and inclusive learning environments by implementing a continuous investment in public facilities that improve access to technology and culture

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • Target 5.5: the project aims to contribute to women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership through an ongoing commitment to professional development and training of staff

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

  • Target 8.5: the initiative aims to contribute to full and productive employment and decent work for all, by increasing private-public funding, establishing internship agreements with educational and training institutions, creating a network of collaboration and expanding the number of participating partners
  • Target 8.8: the project aims to contribute to protect labour rights through its governance structure and delivery of dedicated educational programs

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

  • Target 10.2: the initiative aims to contribute to the social, economic and political inclusion of all, through an extensive program of cultural and educational activities; providing free public access to learning spaces and cultural material 365 days a year, 9 am to 9pm; developing outreach programs beyond the centre and into the surrounding areas; and implementing a community engagement program with a special focus on youth engagement.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Target 11.4: the project aims to contribute to the safeguarding of the world’s cultural heritage, through the reuse and conservation of culturally significant buildings while respecting their heritage values, enabling the conservation of archival and bibliographic material, and developing educational programs for the dissemination and mise-en-valeur of cultural heritage.

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

  • Target 13.3: the initiative aims to improve education and awareness-raising on climate change through the delivery of dedicated educational programs and events, such as Festival CinemAmbiente

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

  • Target 17.17: the project aims to deliver and promote public-private and multi-stakeholder partnerships, through the creation of a network of collaboration, the implementation of a hybrid public-private governance structure, and the establishment of cultural partnerships throughout the city and region.

Contribution to the New Urban Agenda

At the same time, the initiative could be also in line with the principles and lines of actions set out in the New Urban Agenda, by aiming to:

  • Recognise and leverage culture, diversity and safety;
  • Provide public access to education and culture;
  • Provide safe, inclusive, accessible and quality public spaces as enablers; of socio-economic functions of the city;
  • Promote participation, civic engagement and engendering a sense of belonging and ownership among residents;
  • Enhance social interactions and cultural expressions; and
  • Foster social cohesion, inclusion and safety

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more
  • Visit the official website of the centre
  • Read the project review on the website of the National Institute of Urbanism
  • Browse the 2019 General Report (in Italian)

Polo del '900

Via del Carmine, 14, 10122 Torino TO www.polodel900.it Facebook Instagram

© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez.
External views of the Polo del '900 by Enrico Murano
All other images © Polo del '900

Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.