Tag: Piazza Navona

Roma 5 & 6 | Modernism and Modernity

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012
Montemartini detail Sketch

Montemartini detail Sketch

Route: metro to Statione Flaminio, took the mini tram to see Renzo Piano’s Auditorio de Musica and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI contemporary art gallery just north of the City Walls. Walked back to Villa Borghese (Rome’s Stanley Park), and visited Galleria d’arte Moderna in the park, Rome’s biggest modern art museum. Walked to Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis memorial to Augustus, gelato and wine in the afternoon shade, shopping in Trastevere, walked along the Tiber back to Piazza Navona for dinner. Tried to get back to Statione Barberini, got us lost. Stumbled upon Trevi Fountain at night. Serendipity.

Route: Metro line B to Pyramide, walk along Via Ostiense to Montemartini Art Centre, walk back, Metro line B to Metro line A, Metro line A to Flaminio, walk about Villa Borghese, read for two hours, then walked to Statione Spagna to get home.

Juxtaposition and Success

Friday and Saturday were a study of modernity in the city of ancients, as we visited some starchitecture within and around the city, and I read and summarized a 53 page reading on Modernism in Italy. What follows are my findings from the two journeys.

In sum. Romans have long pushed back against modernism because they are proud of their past, and the whole premise of modernism is rejection of the past and it’s associated values. I would also like to speculate that the strong presence of religion has also played a part in slowing the adoption of modernity into the city itself. But the rejection of modernism does not mean a rejection of modernity necessarily. In terms of transportation, conservation, and a history of reuse, Rome is in many ways much more modern and contemporary than most Canadian cities. Conservation of buildings and renovation over the building of new has a lot to do with the success of surviving artifacts and preservation of the historical fabric of Rome. Condominums atop of a 2000 year old theatre (Theatre of Marcellus, see Day 3)! Subsequently, modern architecture has had to work around this surviving fabric, literally at times.

Renzo Piano’s Auditorium Parco della Musica

During the construction of Renzo Piano’s Auditorium Parco della Musica, ancient ruins were discovered while digging for the foundations; a problem commonly “run into” for new building projects, especially Roman metro lines. In the case of Piano’s auditorium, they were preserved and turned into a featured dig roped off as part of the buildings themselves. The three buildings also reference the form of ancient outdoor Roman ampitheatres, as they all approach on a large outdoor seating space. MAXXI we visited another day when it was open, but we visited three other galleries over the two days that are excellent examples of the juxtaposition of old and new that are all extremely successful.

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna

Situated in the middle of old Borghese private property, the National Modern Art Gallery looks nothing like MAXXI, it’s other contemporary. Although it was built in 1911 at the height of modernism, it uses a neoclassical facade that fits in with the look and feel of the rest of the Villa, and is approached by a large descent that equals the ascent, giving it an imposing quality. It’s modernistic aspect comes from the most comprehensive collection of Italian modernist art in Italy housed inside.

The art itself is worth discussing in the “Modernism” section of these chronicles, because, like the building and other modernist architecture in Italy, it takes on new forms, new materials, and tries to struggle free from the holds of history and antiquity that steep and surround them. Marble sculptures in the vein of ancient and renaissance classics began to writhe and pull towards Rodin, set in a gallery with a broken mirrored floor. Experimentations with material and scale stand painfully beside the reminder of an arched doorway, rejecting the monochrome abstractions housed behind.

Why it works: because of the struggle that Italian modernists faced in both architecture and art, this museum stands as a testament and storehouse of a unique and complicated history.

Approach to the gallery.

Mirrored floor.

Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Augustae

One of my favourite spaces in Rome: Meier’s signature white concrete planes set beside a classical church facade and the ancient rotunda of Augustus’ Memorial. The straight planes were a welcome relief after having spent a week drawing column after column after column.

Inside, materiality felt consistent with the monument to peace that it housed, and it was extremely cool. Air conditioning! Ara Pacis refers to the era of peace brought about by Augustus, also known as Emperor Caesar. The monument to peace was discovered in the Augustus memorial (the brown rotunda), and placed outside for public visitation before it was determined that deterioration was inevitable and a building must be commissioned nearby to house the artifact.

Why it works: because it is a peaceful jewel of modernism that houses a jewel of ancient peace. It is non-confrontational but serenely bold. The colour palette breaks with Rome only insofar as it is white, carte blanche, tabula rasa.

Montemartini Art Centre

Again, located on the outskirts of the city, this time on the South side. Entry #6 in my travel book’s list of “Top Ten Beyond the City Walls” describes “Rome’s very first power station has been transformed into a remarkable showcase for Greek and Roman statues – parts of the Musei Capinolini collection…The effect is extraordinary, playing the monolithic might of modern technology off against the noble, human vulnerability of these ancient masterpieces.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The permanent exhibition, called Le Macchine e Gli Dei or “The Machines and the Gods” tells the narrative of the development of two kinds of power in Roman society: power through art and representation of important figures, and powering a city with resources. Against the stark contrast of black cast iron stand fragments of torsos, limbs, asses, all in white marble, shocked to find themselves surrounded by such heavy industry.

Why it works: because it is absolutely beautiful, surreal, and perfectly frozen in time.

Modernism failed in Italy for two reasons.

  1. It was mired by context and did not fit in with the palettes, forms, and shapes of the past.
  2. It was taken up by Fascism.

CIAM, the Congres Internationale d’Architecture Moderne formed by Corbusier and co. in the early 20th century, condemned Italian modernism for not breaking with the past. But with a history as strong as the Roman Empire, what reason did Italy have to reject it’s proud past? With the resurgence of powerful leadership under Mussolini, what choice did they have to really have in pursuit of a new world order? Rome especially found it’s out in the form of “The International Style” and in the proliferation of suburban low-income housing projects that Modernism became so famous for. Even today, commercialism remains the plague of Roman suburbs, leaving the historical centre clean and free from the apparent class divisions that Modernism claimed to want to solve.

One of the main goals of Team X following the dissolution of CIAM was equitable social housing for the masses. Although we passed through one of these suburbs, Garbatella, on our way to the EUR on the following Monday, we did not study them. It would appear that the suburbs are for the second-time traveller to visit and the full-time citizen to live in. They do, however, provide an interesting foil for exploring the historic core, to help define what a Roman Drift really means…

Roma 4 | Public Space & Public Water

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012

 

 

 

Material Transition between the contemporary road pavement and a pedestrian cobblestone-laid zone

Material Transition between the contemporary road pavement and a pedestrian cobblestone-laid zone

Res Publica

One thing you will notice in Europe is the extensive use and creation of public space. Not only is it available and there, people use every inch of it. Especially Italians. Italians are watchers and performers. Any given time of day in any place there will be a man standing in a doorway (who knows where it leads), smoking a cigarette, watching you as you watch him watch. Any given time of day, there is a young couple passionately kissing on the lawn of a public park. Any given time of day, people are seated high, low, mid-level, on the marble steps, on the wooden bench, on the fountain-side, chasing the shade of a small monument. The people and the activity give Rome’s streets purpose. They inspired intentless drifts and a sense of security.

This is in stark contrast to what we are used to in Vancouver: where a journey is from place to place, always somewhere to go and be, running from the rain. Dwelling in spaces occurs only on the beach in nice weather, and even then, we just stare at the mountains. We avoid the unsightly haunts in seek of a version of California.

Probably one of the biggest pieces of advice I got before this trip from my more well-travelled friends was to remember to take time to do absolutely nothing, sit, and watch. I sought out these moments in all the inbetween spaces each and every day, and I think they were the only way we could stop and stay sane. They were also the “situations” that I sought in our daily strolls, an attempt to drift within a framework.

Today, we met at Piazza Navona, and we ended up back at Piazza Navona at night. It is home to three of Rome’s most famous fountains and borders it’s most beautiful Baroque Borromini Church. It is also one of the best used public spaces I have ever witnessed. Situated just off of Via Vittorio Emauele, nestled between a slew of restaurants, the Piazza changes like a season.

In the morning, we saw artists sketching the Fountain of Four Rivers with intense focus, along with other artists setting up their sales stands for the day. As the day goes on, the live sketchers leave, and street performers and tourists move in. The cafes open. The restaurants turn over wine glasses. Ciao, bella.

The afternoon sun arrives overhead and people chase shadows as it moves around the obelisk, in search of the shade. They buy gelato and linger alongside the fountains, wondering whether they should put their feet in, knowing (or not) that it is illegal, not caring how uncomfortable the steel rail underneath them really is. Lovers fight, children play.

As evening rolls around, spectators and guests alike gather to participate in the best of Italian affairs: dinner. As the sun sets and the street lights come on, the fountains are surrounded by an aura of romance and illusion. The wide open eyes of the men representing the Nile, Tiber, Danube, and Platte grow eerie and ominous. The restaurants are open as late as the bars, and the visitors linger over the square that has remained the same through centuries, only a passerby. The Piazza never sleeps, it sits silently still as the stop motion of the days and centuries pass by.

Piazza Navona, 9am

Piazza Navona, night.

Between the 16-19th centuries, drains were plugged and Piazza Navona was flooded. Once a year, huge amounts of water up to 3 feet deep would fill the Piazza in a strange event in which the rich, with their carriages, would fly across lolling in fun, while the bystanding poor would watch or wade. There was a picture of this event on our apartment wall in Florence. All things lead to Rome, not just roads. The other astonishing public commodity in Rome, apart from the various Piazzas and Piazettas, was drinkable water. In every neighbourhood, near an open space anticipated by the widening of your view through a street during a walk, stood constantly flowing public fountains. They took on the shape of lion’s heads, spouts sticking out of walls, fish, and embellished faucets. It seems that Romans long ago figured out how to eliminate a need for Dasani along with their distaste for Starbucks. Every time we were thirsty, all we had to do was wander for five minutes until a fountain was found. Later, in Florence, I drank straight from a fountain that looked like ten babies’ heads spouting water out of their mouths, and I felt like I was kissing an old stone baby on the lips. American tourists passing by didn’t understand.

Icy cold, clean, from a fountain in the rocks of the Roman Forum.

In Europe, where things like dual flush toilets and automatic sensor lights are not touted as “green technology”, but more “common sense”, this evident “wasting” of water could be surprising. But like so many other things that made sense in Europe, you have to look at the source and longevity of these water sources. Many of the aqueducts carrying the water leading to these fountains have been fed for a few hundred to thousand years. The water keeps coming, free, as potable as ever. I like to think that the reason the water in Rome was so hard with minerals and made our hair feel dry and left residue in pots and pans is because it is enriched with a thousand years of pipe buildup.. Kind of like how the beer at the Calgary Saddledome is unlike any other in the world because the pipes to the kegs have never been cleaned.

In Vancouver we have an abundance of water from the sky, yet we have no public fountains. We have an abundance of beautiful outdoor spaces, but no density and desire to fill them with people. We need a new kind of architecture; a new kind of space, with this socialized European sensibility capable of breeding public tolerance and stronger communities. Covered public space that is unafraid of flooding: if they flood the streets on purpose in Rome for leisure, in Japan to cool the streets, what bad can it be to embrace the tides, the rainfall, the puddles? Mathew Soules’ Rain Architecture. Can we look towards an urban fabric that is not subservient to views of the natural landscape, but embraces it and it’s cycles, it’s systems?

Roma 3 | History

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012
My sketch of the Pantheon. I think I switched perspective points about three times so please forgive the awkwardness.. Still warming up.

My sketch of the Pantheon. I think I switched perspective points about three times so please forgive the awkwardness.. Still warming up.

Route: Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Piazza and Church), Pantheon |(tombs of Raphael and Vittoro Emanuel II, former King of Italy) and Piazza della Rotunda, Area salra Delargo de Argentina, Jewish Synagogue Museum, Temple to Hercules (formerly Vestal temple), Temple of Fortunes, Basilica di Santa Nicola in Carcare, Teatro di Marcello, Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin which holds the Bocca della Verita/Mouth of Truth, Circus Maximus, and later stumbled upon Campo dei Fiore and Piazza Navona on our way back to the Pantheon.

Roman Mornings was first published in 1956 by James Lees Milne. It recounts eight buildings in Rome as examples of certain eras of Roman history. They are mostly churches, and today the most significant historical sites we visited were two of those churches. In the vein of Roman Mornings, day three of Derive a Roma took us on a historical tour of the city, because if one is looking to read into the layered and conflicted history of a deeply religious and powerful empire, look no further than the buildings which house her faith.

Strata

In studio in January, we did a series of case studies based on the interpretation through lenses of stories, strata, and streets  “in such a way as to illuminate the dialectical character of the historical process: one that yields a specific built morphology and a truly unique built entity, and one that is to be found in only one place.” Rome is the perfect place to address through these lenses because it is full of myth, has a visibly layered historical strata, and winding streets that relate directly to papal planning processes. Today, I am interested in strata because it best depicts the multi-layered filo pastry that is Roma’s past. The strata of her churches begin on Pagan foundations overtaken by Christianity, converted from circles to crosses.

Although these churches tell the story of conquest and persecution of religion, faith is the reason that their structures are still so well preserved to this day. We began our day at the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the only Gothic church in Rome, and even then only on the interior. Lees-Milne explains:

“One of the most remarkable things about mediaeval architecture in Rome was its almost complete resistance to Gothic elements. This is the more strange when one recollects that the Gothic style is wholly derivative from Catholicism, of which the fount and seat was Rome itself… In the middle ages the city was still so rich in classical remains, in columns, entablatures, capitals and marble details of all sorts, legacies overlooked or spared by the succession of depredations made on classical monuments throughout the dark ages, that there was little need for builders to tax their creative powers. Through the long millenium there was very little new architecture at all and constant alteration and adaptation of old buildings.” — James Lees-Milne, Roman Mornings, Romanesque, Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Being a huge fan of Gothic churches, I was surprised by this fact, and pleased to know that there was at least one, even if it was built on an ancient temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The hint of what lies beneath comes from a Bernini obelisk in the adjacent piazza. The obelisk is carried by an elephant, seemingly happy to have found itself by the Pantheon on it’s way from Africa to the North Pole.

Bernini’s Obelisk outside the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva’s unassuming facade.

Two other churches we visited today explain Less-Milne’s point very well: Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin and Basilica Santa Maria Nicola in Carcare. Situated about a block apart from each other and separated by two carefully preserved ancient pagan temples, Carcare was also built on pagan foundations, and Cosmedin was “not truly Roman, Lombard, or Byzantine, but a protracted evolution of all three styles.” Caught in the transformation of a great empire between two religions, the churches illustrate a careful set of decisions to preserve and conserve specific pieces and versions of history, including remains, materials, and art.

Santa Maria in Carcare. Note the columns and porticoes still evident from the previous church.

The beautiful mosaics in the Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Interior shot of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin taken over the choral barrier. The wall used to separate those worthy of witnessing a worship from the common people and women during mass, which was usually given in latin, a language they did not understand.

Taking a step back, one block northwest of the small marble oliphant in Sopra Minerva lies one of the greatest architectural works standing to this day: the Pantheon. Originally built in the 2nd century AD as a pagan temple (hence the name Pantheon, or multiple) to the great Greco-Roman Gods of Venus and Jupiter alike, it was converted into a Christian church in 608, thereby preserving it’s beautifully domed structure and it’s famous keystone-free oculus. Lees-Milne uses the Pantheon to open his book as an example of Ancient Roman architecture, although the story it tells is much more than that of an ancient Rome. I presented Milne’s take on the Pantheon, and here were the most important/interesting facts:

  •  The structure mimics that of a cube, as it stands 140 ft. tall and 142 ft. in diameter. It can fit a perfect sphere inside.
  • The supporting circumference of concrete is in places, 20 ft. thick. It is actually not one continuous mass but instead eight separate piers with weight relieving arches.
  • The sixteen columns supporting the portico are monolithic Egyptian granite, meaning they are each made of one. Piece. of. Stone.
  • It appears bare because all of it’s valuable ornament has been stolen and repurposed into other structures. 60 years after it’s Christening, the gilded bronze in the dome was removed, not to be redone (without gilding) for 700 years. Bernini used bronze beams originally from the Pantheon’s portico to create the Baldiccino in St. Peter’s Cathedral.
  • The Pantheon also uses materials pilfered from other churches.
  • When it rains in the Pantheon, the water drains to the centre directly underneath the oculus to a small hole the width of my finger, but in extreme cases would likely drain to the circumference of the structure because the weight of the walls has depressed the ground they stand on over hundreds of years.

Approach to the Pantheon from behind, with scale.

The inside of the Pantheon’s domed roof.

My sketch of the Pantheon. I think I switched perspective points about three times so please forgive the awkwardness.. Still warming up.

The partial section elevation of the Pantheon from Roman Mornings

The way the light moves.

Where the water drains.

The Pantheon was not the beautiful Pagan church that I expected, where the sun would alight on specific gods and goddesses during the appropriate season. It was a Christian church without an apse; a tomb to two kings and a poet, with an eternal light more successful than any glass windowed church could ever hope to be. Two close, two quotes that I feel describe the magical aura that once existed and that I had hoped to see in the Pantheon:

“Whereas the gothic cathedrals of the Christian builders were aspirant — their pointed pinnacles and spires reaching to the highest heaven in joyous praise of a beneficent Almighty — the Pantheon was meant to be propitiatory. Instead of striving to epitomize in stone the supreme attributes of a single celestial god, the architect of the pagan shrine endeavoured to devise a worldly habitat which the elusive Roman deities might condescend to visit from time to time… a microcosm of that limited universe which the Roman civilization understood…” — James Less-Milnes, Roman Mornings, Ancient Roman, The Pantheon

“Here lies Raphael, whom Nature feared would outdo her while alive, but now that he is gone fears she, too, will die.” — Inscription on the tomb of the Artist Raphael