Tag: Rome

Roma 12 – Lived, Perceived, and Conceived Space

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012

3_Museo Vaticano

Route: walk to the column of Marcus Aurelius, through the Jewish quarter and Parione/Ponte neighbourhoods, then home.

Reflection.

When concluding any major life event it is customary to sit back and reflect on the experience as a whole. To zoom out and give perspective. What have I learned? What will I remember most? What can I take away from this experience? I began this project with a discussion of expectations, met and unmet. Now we end with a discussion of experience, lived, perceived, and conceived.

Henri Lefebvre was a contemporary and part time fan of the Situationists. Also Marxist, also Parisian. He is famous for his writings on spatial architectonics which are where I draw most of today’s material from. Fancy words aside, his theories are extremely relatable and relevant to every architectural practice. I will try my best to apply them to our dozen days in the eternal city.

Perceived

Perceived space is defined as the socio/political sphere of thought surrounding a space/object/place. An official representation. The Taj Mahal without any people in front of it. The intent behind the Roman planning principles or the architects who created St. Peter’s Cathedral. “Public opinion.” It is not a real space, because space requires a body in it to be created. It is the space of myth, of story, of representation, of spectacle.

Conceived

A personal perception made up of the spoken and written word of other members of society and your personal dissemination of them.

Lived

Experience. A mental image informed by your own experience, constantly in flux. My conception of the Coliseum made up of a series of perceptions of Rome were brought to light in the lived experience and active creation of monumental space. My empty conception of every other monument shaped a new perception based on lived experience to create my own, non-monumental space. Enough wordplay.

Monumentality

“A monumental work, like a musical one, does not have a “signified” (or ‘signifieds’); rather, it has a horizon of meaning: which now one, now another meaning comes momentarily to the fore” — Henri Lefebvre, Spatial Architectonics, XIV

To conclude, of memory and monument, there exists now, in my memories, a personal horizon of meaning made up of a layered multiplicity of lived, perceived, and conceived spaces and experiences. A condensation of meanings, a background conversation between the deeply personal and the highly perceptual. Disappointment when a friend shows me a picture of herself in front of what appears to be Trevi Fountain, only to remember she just returned from Las Vegas. Something raw and romanticized about the real thing that we spend our travelling lives chasing. About origins and learning that everything leads back to Rome… Perhaps even my future. Fleeting moments of happiness that you try to capture, but like butterflies in a jar, won’t last the way you want them to. The most we can ask is that we look back and feel them flying out towards us.

“The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content.”
Cities & Desire

“Memory is redundant: it repeats signs to that the city can begin to exist.”
Cities & Signs

“…the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.”
Cities & Memory
— Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Roma 11 – Cartography & Urban Plan

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012

Image (24)

Route: bus to Piazza Navona, then to Allan Ceen’s house/Piranesi museum near Campo dei Fiore. Walk up Via di Ripetta up through Villa Borghese. A search for the pond, to no avail. End up at Galleria Borghese. Lunch in Ludovisi, then over to Macro Contemporary Art Gallery. Metro from Barberini to Ottaviano to spend one last sunset beneath Bernini’s collonades in St. Peter’s Square, then south down Via della Lungara to Santa Maria in Trastevere for dinner and drinks. Walk home.

Today we took the most expanseful walk through the neighbourhoods of Rome and visited one of Daniel’s friends Allan Ceen to see a large collection of original Piranesi prints and to learn about the history of mapping in Rome. The successive urban plans of the city can be summarized as three eras that shape the current plan of Rome:

  • The main axis we travelled on the first day from Piazza del Popolo (1st Rome, Imperial, Constantine),
  • Roads winding down the seven hills and connecting also seven main churches: St. Peters, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Croce, San Sebastiano, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Paolo, and San Lorenzo (2nd Rome, Papal, Sixtus V),
  • The axis created by Mussolini leading up to St. Peter’s Square (3rd Rome, Imperial, Mussolini).

It was interesting to look back on these from an urban planning perspective when so far my whole experience of the city had been in serendipitous drifts. Now comes the realization that they cannot happen isolated from somebody else’s intent. I began to wonder what it would look like if each of these Popes and Emperors left a trace paper map of what they saw the city at and to lay them on top of each other. The result would likely be something experiential, because cartography technique and conception of space improved over time, and also look something really close to what Rome actually looks like today, a strata of streets laid one on top of another, gradually turning and twisting into present form.

It would so happen that we were about to visit a professor whose lifetime of work involves looking at one of the most accurate maps of the City of Rome to date. If Sir John Soane had a map room, if would probably look like Professor Ceen’s first floor gallery to his home. Littered with prints and maps, most of which were unobstructed by plastic sheets or glass cases as in museums. According to Ceen, a 1748 map called La Pianta Grande di Roma (the Grand Plan of Rome) created by Nolli rivals Google Maps for accuracy in city plan. You can take a look at it put together interactively in high res here on the UOregon website, where you can turn on and off features like fountains, city walls, and the river. No easy task, as the map originally was etched into six copper plates that put together, span 6×8 feet. We got to see the fully scanned and printed version of this map in extreme detail, along with other mapping projects by Piranesi.

La Pianta Grande di Roma, Nolli.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a Venetian architect who was extremely skilled at etching the real and imagined histories of Rome during the same lifetime as Nolli. The most interesting part of his work, to me and my memory project, were his imagined maps of the city based off of Nolli’s La Pianta Grande, but also on another map called Forma Urbis. 

Forma Urbis is a lost wall that used to stand in the Vespusian Forum that held a huge etching of Rome. As with most things in the city, it fell into ruin, it’s 157 slabs of marble crumbling into 1186 fragments. Once reunited in a small percentage in the 16th century, they are now likely sitting in boxes in an unknown collection, known only to a few of their real worth. Ceen had a great idea that was rejected by the City to compile and project the Forma Urbis onto a wall in the original Forum in digital form, which reminded me of an art competition we entered at work for at my intern position with Operative Agency.

Piranesi even had the imagination to use these fragments to imagine buildings where no archaeological evidence exists to tell us what they looked like. He would take foundation poches and turn them into full fledged building, city neighbourhood and villa plans. What if we were to take these projections and throw them into modern day Rome as well? What if they were to be constructed digitally and contextually?

Piranesi’s Grand Plan, based off of Nolli’s. Note the etchings of ancient buildings that adorn the sides.

Pieces of the Forma Urbis, as drawn by Piranesi at 1:1 scale

More fragments of the Forma Urbis.

Ceen’s proposal for an overlap in modern and ancient technologies in the practice of topography to create a meaningful diagloue is not unheard of. New GPS and satellite imagery are giving us the vision of a world we have never before seen, but also of one that is constantly outdated. With all this new open source technology, we have the ability to contribute to maps as community members; to use them to greater advantage not just on apps, but also to solve problems and in case of emergencies.

Without modern GPS, my memory and live experience of any kind of travel would seem much more fuzzy, out of reach. I have been using http://www.mapmyrun.com to map all our walks through Rome, and through the process, learned that not all the places we visit exist on every version of every map, even Google. And even then, Google Maps cannot create accidents. Some of these places remain locked in our memories, like fragments of a wall once shattered and lost, something to hold onto.

Roma 10 | Art

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012
A sketch of Doris Salcedo's Plegaria Muda on exhibition at MAXXI. One of the most interesting installations I have ever seen: Table upon table with dirt sandwiched inbetween. Real grass growing through the tabletops. In response to death in the artist's hometown in Colombia.

A sketch of Doris Salcedo’s Plegaria Muda on exhibition at MAXXI. One of the most interesting installations I have ever seen: Table upon table with dirt sandwiched inbetween. Real grass growing through the tabletops. In response to death in the artist’s hometown in Colombia.

Route: New walk down Via Cavour to the Capitoline Museum on Piazza del Campidoglio, up Via Nazionale past institutional buildings to Bernini/Boromini’s opposing churches and four fountains to find that the Santa Maria della Vittoria was closed :(. To Barberini station to visit MAXXI, then metro home.

“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” — Albert Camus

A fitting quote for a place where so much art is roped to the raft of religion. We visited two important art galleries today: the Capitoline Museum atop the Capitoline Hill, and Modern master Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Two drastically different kinds of gallery spaces. Two drastically different kinds of art. Two different spatial contexts.They are excellent summaries of the principles of old and new Rome that I have been investigating the past ten days.

Piazza del Campidoglio, Marco Aurelio centre.

Capitoline – Papal antiquity

Museo Capitolini is situated at the top of one of Rome’s seven hills, backing onto the ancient forums and fronted by Piazza del Campidoglio. The site is famous for it’s straightening of facades and fitting of the piazza into geometrical star-shaped symmetry by Michelangelo. In the centre of the square (circle?) stands a statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback in a pose mimicked in all of western Europe by every political figure on a horse. The collections are also Papal, so similar to what we saw in the Vatican Museums. A stunning array of marble sculptures of people with more mythical scenes and evidence of Rome’s pagan past, including a reconstruction of what the Temple to Isis in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva would have looked like using actual artifacts. It offers breathtaking views of the ruins in the Forum, as well as of Rome herself from atop the rooftop cafe terrace. The approach is extremely traditional: a sloped, strampy type of structure called a Cordonata.

The view of the Imperial Forum from the Museo

The museum itself is split into three buildings, one of which dips below into the hill to provide views of the Forum and provide passage between the East and West wings. They are each punctuated with outdoor courtyards which held the larger sculptures and allowed for great light to fill the museum.

The first time I saw striped marble used as a textile. Extremely skillful.

Interestingly, we were not allowed to sketch in this museum, but were allowed to take as many photos as we liked. The plan had no logical flow, at least that I could tell, and we wandered through halls back and forth back and forth, the sculptures all blending into one amorphous white, eyeless head. Another testament to it’s plan: our group split up after the main courtyard and remained scattered for the entire visit. Such is the case with other older buildings restored to have second, third, and tenth purposes.

Visible: the wooly mammoth leg, an array of clotheslines carrying childrens’ clothes, the long peekaboo horizontal windows, the strange futuristic silhouette.

MAXXI – Contemporary speed

If I had to use one word to describe Zaha Hadid’s contribution to Roman art, it would be speed. The entire building felt like a grey futurist painting with a streak of red smeared across. MAXXI is sited in the nearest northern suburb of Rome near where the rail tram turns around, so it looks almost like a train station. The approach is through colourful flags, afternoon glow, children running in the plaza shared with a daycare. All approaches are diagonal and unsloped: there is no clear way to say, this is the entrance to the building and you should walk here. The most direct route, which at this point, we were extremely accustomed to looking for and having laid out for us, was across plantings of trees, gaps in concrete slabs, and dangerously trip-hazard low fencing. Oh, and the wooly mammoth leg. It gained more architectural relevance to us when we found out it was actually supposed to be reminiscent of Brazilian huts, and I actually enjoyed the sound it made in the breeze. Still a wooly mammoth leg though. And still ugly. The building itself felt cold and inhuman, but not in an imposing way like the Vatican or the EUR. In a curious, futuristic way that encouraged you to reach out to touch it. There was so much negative space, especially compared to the wall to wall bust adornments of the Capitoline Museums. We carried out 15 minute sketching exercises in each room but were not allowed to take photos. MAXXI reminded me most of the VAG out of ever gallery I visited in Europe, because it was filled with unknown international artists, temporary installations curated on six different coalescing themes, was extremely air conditioned, and had a ridiculously capital A Art bookstore.

Speed.

Agility.

Flow.

Architecture that photographs extremely well but feels strange to be in.

Roma 9 | Death & Romance

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012

13_San Giovanni Laterano

Route: home to San Giovanni in Laterano, bus to Catacombe di San Callisto along Via Appia. Down in the Catacombs then up to the Ardeantine Monument along Via Ardeantina, back to a 5km walk up and down Via Appia, bus to Statione Barberini, denied entry to the Capuchin Crypt, walk down to Via del Corso, then back up to Barberini, then home.

DEATH.

As history accumulates, so, inevitably, do deaths.

“Adolf Loos limited architecture strictly speaking to the monument and the tomb, considering all other structures constrained, sullied, even defiled by use.” — Robert Harbison, Memory

As with most European cities, cemeteries were not allowed within the city walls for reasons of spirit and sanitation. Our first stop in the countryside was at Catacombe di San Callisto. Comfortably nestled in the rolling agricultural hills fertile from years of burial (that was a bad joke, I’m sure the tombs have nothing to do with their agricultural productivity), if not for a giant yellow sign, you could not tell that 30 ft. below ground lie 20 km/15 hectares of complicated, damp, cold, and narrow catacombs where four Popes were once interred. If images of the X-men rebel Callisto did not conjure up enough grotesque imagery, the tombs themselves are actually empty save for one princess’ skeleton still encased and mummified. The bodies were likely brought to safer resting places and the tombs excavated for archaeological progress. In reality the site is named for Pope Callistus who was once buried within said catacombs. The most shocking part in my opinion, was a white marble statue of St. Cecilia, pictured below with an image from an Italian travel website. So faithful to Christianity during the crusades, she was captured and martyred on many attempts. On the final attempt she was faithful enough to place her forefinger and middle finger together in a sign of god, even as her beheaded body fell to the ground.

The engraving on the bottom reads a different kind of memorial: one of an American woman to whom the statue owes her patronage. A little bit sick to put on a deeply religious and ancient tomb if you ask me.

Emerging from the unknown darkness out into the ever hot and bright Roman sun, we can reflect on what remembering death means to us. To me, the weight of death is oppressive; the thought of it is freeing. Five minutes south along Via Ardeantina lies the first great modern monument in Rome: the Ardeantine Monument/Fosse Ardeantine. Because the spatial experience is so important, I will describe this using a photo-narrative.

Built in 1944-51, the monument contains the bodies of 335 Roman civilians who were brought to the neighbouring quarry, tortured, and shot by German soldiers three months before Rome was liberated from German occupation in WWII.

The journey through the site is haunting. Tall, dark caves with only one label “TOMBE” directing you where to go. As you walk through, you visit the sites where the civilians were killed, left to imagine ghosts of remnants of a seriously haunted past. Not a good time to lurk around the corner.

As you exit the quarry, however, you are reprised by a slice of forested sunlight before being welcomed downward beneath a gigantic concrete slab suspended one foot above the gravel tombs of the dead, each bearing a vintage cameo and name.

Interestingly, although I did not notice when I was underneath it, I can see it in pictures now: the 25 x 50m concrete slab was made slightly concave underneath as to “not make it seem too oppressive to visitors”. As if the entire situation were not oppressive enough.

The light that enters the tomb from the gap is phoenomenal. It makes pictures look grainy but the earth look supreme. Sunken six feet under as a living subject to observe and pay respects to the dead, you feel enlightened by the weight of death, of the allusion to the final slab on a tomb that you share with humanity.

ROMANCE.

Like the sun rising over a battlefield, Lord of the Rings-esque, the rest of the day was not shrouded by our memorial experiences of the morning. It was instead happily followed by a loving stroll down Via Appia Antica, the oldest road in Rome that once led to her colonies. Extremely cobblestone-laid, Via Appia Antica is charming because it is littered with ancient fragments bringing to mind a bricollage image of a horse-drawn carriage losing bits of buildings pilfered from foreign and native places as it bounces along the road.

Too narrow to hold two automobiles, the road is closed to cars on Sundays, which, according to my guide book, is one of the most romantic outings in the city. Equally beautiful on a Tuesday. It was a great way to regain faith in nature after the bitter taste of the EUR on opposite 30 degree axes exiting the south of the city. There is a romance to our tragedy, to our history. To the sad church facade left standing in the countryside; the evidence of something once loved. A piece of a column embedded among the cobblestones. Statues with no faces and no homes. A red poppy handed to you, pressed in the folds of your sketchbook to fall happily on your lap when you are  at home to remind you of a peaceful skip, hop, walk, race in the sun in the Roman countryside. A brick laid path stemming into estates of old money. Times like these I think I could have been a country girl. .

Roma 8 | Fascism

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012

11_unknown church

Route: Metro to EUR, walk halfway then to and from and back ??? church, bus back to Statione Termini, afternoon capo cornetto, delirium, early night.

A Crisis of Identity, a Crisis of Faith

Today we went to the EUR, the business financial district of Rome, and also the most “modern” and car-based culture in Rome. It stands for Esposizione Universale di Roma, which was slated to happen in 1942 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Fascism in Italy, but never did because of the second World War. Although the buildings in EUR were commissioned to a variety of architects, they ended up looking very much the same. Get ready for a lesson in Fascist Architecture 101.

Continuing the discussion on day 5, modernism in Italy did not completely adopt the style of flat roofs and long horizontal windows. Instead, it tried to avoid historical reference while still respecting the context of a strong history by keeping forms like columns and arches but eliminating any sort of ornamentation from them. Where there is a break

aesthetic – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –                           – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – meaning

between aesthetic and meaning. The result is a lost-looking concrete and steel architecture that, when blown out of scale in order to proportion itself to the power of Fascism, was not only void of reference, but of feeling. See Italian surrealist/pittura metafisica artist Giorgio de Chirico for art historical adjacency.

Where streams of parked cars form a second river.

Where 416 arcaded collonades house a completely empty glass box adorned with statues of men. A nation of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators transmigratory.

trans·mi·grate  (trns-mgrt, trnz-)

intr.v. trans·mi·grat·edtrans·mi·grat·ingtrans·mi·grates

1. To migrate.
2. To pass into another body after death. Used of the soul.

To assert power and the strength of men in the face of an oncoming storm.

Where they named a piazza after JFK to show the strength of principle alliances.

To contemplate the heavens staring up at a church you can never reach.

Where in isolation, the manmade lakes and manmade tower boast their internationalism, asking “look at me, I am the future”

Where the streets are named after countries and dead presidents whose presence can only elevate us.

The EUR deals with scale in a different way than in Vatican City. While both are completely at an un-human scale, the EUR not only does it with it’s buildings but with it’s approaches. We were warned that walking from one point to the other would appear near but actually be far, but we also experienced this in an accidental way by walking 7 km to the wrong church on a highway. That aside, tiredness, six lane highways, sedans and suits, square columns, and a reading presented by Rosa on memory made me feel more than a bit empty inside.

I had a bit of a crisis of faith and identity today. And for this reason, I think this was one of the most interesting days in Rome, because usually people talk about spatial affect only when it refers to beauty: the joy you feel when you walk in an elaborately decorated church or your childhood home. That the EUR can make you feel uncomfortable to the point where you question your own existence is even more powerful. I wasn’t left with a lot of conclusions after today: mostly questions.

Why did modernism fail, on an international level and specific to Rome?

Why did it result in the cars and suburbs and keyholes that we see today?

Why do we keep a record of our family histories, do they matter, what what does it mean that I do not exist in my written history?

What happens then to people that have never existed in any?

Why do we build objects that fail to bring us joy?

What use is it to strive together for something beautiful in a world where one terrifying power can end it?

What of individual creativity in a world where we are constantly asked to give to others?

I took an unopened pinecone from the EUR. It sits on my mantle reminding me that even when all you can see for miles and miles makes you want to shake your head, you look down. There is new life waiting to spring forth, with the scent of gin and the vitality of a hundred year old tree.

A Poem for the EUR:

Existential Surrealism.

Meaningless Monument.

Abstracted form.

Distance of scales, Scales of empathy of distrophy weighing.

Third Rome, a Fourth.

A secular god to a Fascist religion.

Where is the Temple to Human Spirit now?

That is to stand when we are forgotten.

Non-descript among the leaves of our families’ trees.

This is why we remember.

I will find meaning in everything I do.

The song I listen to when I have days like this:

Roma 7 | Derive & Psychogeography

Derive a Roma, Writing August 10, 2012
Drifts allow us to allow ourselves to stop and stare at these kinds of details without even knowing what purpose they serve. Just the knowledge that they make you feel happy, spark your interest, enrich your journey.

Drifts allow us to allow ourselves to stop and stare at these kinds of details without even knowing what purpose they serve. Just the knowledge that they make you feel happy, spark your interest, enrich your journey.

Route: Metro line A to Spagna station, lounging and sketching on the Spanish Steps. Walked down Via dei Condotti to revisit and sketch Ara Pacis Augustae. Wandered down to Piazza Navona for tartufo, dinner, drinks, and a soccer game near the Piazza, journey home.

Thesis.

To Drift: not the avoidance of commerce and spectacle in the Situationist sense, but more of the “organized spontaneity” and play amongst the romantic ruins and organic development of Rome’s historic urban core between and within monumental spaces. i.e. getting lost on purpose. Detournement through the deconstruction of classical axes and critical confrontation with the monumental sources of Western spectacle. Serendipity. A singular reading of movement in a city by memory.

Today was a Sunday, the holy day of rest. Consequently we slept in, caught up on some sketching, and enjoyed dinner and drinks in the evening. Because we did not take a purposeful trip through the city, today’s entry will be more of an explanation of the derive and the psychogeography of Rome. For those of you unfamiliar, the term derive is French/Italian for drift. It comes from a group of theorists called the Situationists, whose work I have been interested in since learning about it in a first year art course.

Drifts involve taking walks through a city (or any place, really), uninfluenced by where you have to be, or where, or in complete defiance of road signs, topographic contours, and touristic monuments… Basically everything that Rome is made of. It’s purpose is to have no purpose but to follow the pulse and the signs of the city, and turning where you please. They require a certain degree of letting go. In doing so, the original derives carried out in Paris by Guy Debord and his associates were designed to purposefully subvert the urban planning precedents imposed upon the city of the artists by Baron Haussman and his boulevards, as well as the mind-numbing commercialism and mass gentrification overtaking Paris. They are based on the principle that a city has it’s own in-between spaces formed by informal collections of turns and physical realities that subconsciously influence the way we experience an urban space. They are also at once extremely personal:

“The primarily urban character of the drift, in its element in the great industrially transformed cities — those centres of possibilities and meanings — could be expressed in Marx’s phrase: ‘Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.’ 
— Guy Debord, as quoted in The Situationist City by Simon Sadler

I think I am interested in certain aspects of drifts because they, like life, are uncertain and unplanned. For someone who always has to have such a big grasp on concepts, on my life trajectory, on the future, the appeal of the drift comes from it’s voidness of productivity: exactly the opposite of everything I aim for in life. I yearn for them; the new lived experience untainted by expectation, direction, and desire for growth. They are a reminder that some things simply are, and to be there, to simply be, can be one of the most difficult challenges. And I love challenges.

The term “Situationists” derives (haha) from their desire “to create ‘situations’ as opposed to what they saw as Lefebvre’s more passive stance of experiencing ‘moments’ when they happened to arise.” (David Harvey, from The Situationist City).

“Sartre argued that life is a series of given situations which affect the individual’s consciousness and will, and which must be in turn negotiated by that individual. Situationism now presupposed that it was possible for people to synthesize or manage these situations as an act of self-empowerment.”
— Simon Sadler, the Situationist City

Debord also used the words “collective ambiance” to describe them. And thus we arrive at the heart of all my projects, this blog, 100 Days of Summer, and finally, Derive a Roma. To actively seek out moments of self-empowerment in the heart of a planned city and planned life

Drifts allow us to allow ourselves to stop and stare at these kinds of details without even knowing what purpose they serve. Just the knowledge that they make you feel happy, spark your interest, enrich your journey.

In Rome, the main factors that influence the urban morphology are:

  • The 165 curving roads put into place by Pope Sixtus V with gradual bends to lessen the steepness of Rome’s seven hills.
  • The intent of axis-node planning methodology that makes you anticipate a journey or a monument around the corner.
  • A complete lack of grid.
  • How the people look standing in the doorways, sitting on the steps, staring you straight in the eye.
  • The ratio of cobblestone to sidewalk.
  • The physical and phenomenal layers of history.

Which can yield the following result in a derive, as we did many times in the city:

  • The joy of finding a famous monument when you meant to go somewhere else.
  • The disappointment of walking 6km when you meant to go somewhere else.
  • Everything you learn in between.
  • The leisure to travel down an alleyway into private property, glimpsing into a walled garden life.
  • Pleasure at the material transitions between pavement, cobblestone, and sidewalk. Brick and concrete. Ruin and complete.
  • Smaller piazzas and piazzettas that are as lively as the main ones.
  • The discovery that the best Italian food is made in the Jewish quarter.
  • The ability to find your way home on ancient streets late at night, drunk, reading every single sign in Italian out loud like a Global Positioning Shelley system.
  • The construction of a myth in your memory, of an experienced urban movement, reminiscient of others in Europe, a wall, a road, a road sign, an empty symbol engraved. A desire to re-read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities on the way to Venice. Reading the Da Vinci code instead.
  • Avoidance of tourists and hecklers.
  • Renouncement of hardened cynicism to Western history.
  • Time spent sitting on the steps of a fountain, happy to be here, grateful for this moment.
  • Living in the moment.
  • Wide eyes and a closed camera. When I see people bewildered by an experience, I stare. I like to think that others feel this way when they see me. Far, far from home, but we’re so happy:

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…