Ara Pacis Museum — you like it or hate it?

1A re-design of the Ara Pacis Museum, the first major contemporary architecture built in the historic center of Rome by Richard Meier in 1995, is our studio’s primary project at this semester. We visited the museum on Wednesday. Challenged to build a museum to house the Ara Pacis and to connect between the ancient monument and the twenty-first century, Mr. Meier’s individualistic work has not satisfied the public. Since it was completed in 2006, harsh criticism has never stopped. Many critics complain that this product of modernism is indifferent to the rich and glorious urban context.


“What do you think?” That is definitely the first question others asked me when I stood at the center of the museum and considered the interesting but unusual sunlight and shading. I told others I liked it without any hesitation. I enjoyed the spatial experience not because the precious monument in the building, just because of the building itself. Indeed, the interior space was absolutely the most attractive part of the whole building. Following the long monumental path, the Ara Pacis stands at the center of the building. The east and west sides’ long windows extend along the base of the wall to the top, which transfer the different views between the bank of Tiber River and the Mausoleum of Augustus. People couldn’t ignore the gigantic glazing, and at the same time, they would notice that how those windows absorb the surrounding into the building to connect to the monument. Above the symmetrical main hall, the skylights maximize natural lighting into the interior space and enforce the power of the building.


There are so many nice details you shouldn’t miss. Meier is definitely an expert on employing points, lines, spaces and light to create an amazing spatial experience. You can see how the horizontal lines and the vertical lines connect to each other, how the Ara Pacis’ corner matches to a grid of deep beams, and how the different materials produce a different story altogether. Utilizing natural lighting, four heavy white columns, and a monumental stair, the museum is really peaceful but dramatic. However, the dramatic light happens to be a main point many people complained about. Meier explained his approach, “In all of my work I treat light as a building material as tangible as plaster or glass, and in the Ara Pacis a variety of spatial experiences has been achieved through such strategies as the contrast between the subdued lighting of the entry hall and the expansive lighting in the top lit great hall.”

With the other contemporary buildings constructed in Rome recently, like the MAXXI Museum by Zaha Hadid and the Auditorium by Renzo Piano, questions about how to develop the city and restore the city arise again and again. For me, I feel that no matter how much effort people expended, we couldn’t rebuild or reshape the old city any more. The only thing we can do is respect the history then create the new building to be alive in the old city.

Do you like the building or not? What’s your thinking about the relationship between the historical city and contemporary architecture?

In the end, let’s watch an interview to hear Meier’s response to these questions.

Grilled Cheese: Italian Style

WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU WANTED (and things you really didn’t)


Photo Courtesy of Minh Tran

A few weekends ago, we had some sketching assignments, one of which was set atop the Palatine Hill.  Typical of our first two weeks of Rome, it was cold and windy and rainy.  After an hour or two, we were all ready to get out of the weather and get something delicious and warm in our bellies.  In particular, I was feeling ready to curl up in a blanket with a book and eat something warm and familiar.  Seeing as most of those options were impossible given the very obvious facts that I was in a restaurant and in a foreign country, I aimed for the last one: warm food.  Then by chance, I saw grilled cheese on the menu.  Perfect, I thought, among the collection of words that I vaguely recognized was an item that I am very familiar with: Grilled Cheese.  That wonderful toasty, buttery sandwich filled with gooey goodness.

But apparently “grilled cheese” in Italy means something very different than it does in America.  I was presented with a dish full of cheese that had simply been grilled.  Taken slightly aback by this new gastronomical development, I tore away a forkful.  And by “tore,” I mean awkwardly cut a little piece from the mass with my fork and brought it to my mouth, trying to break the string connecting the fork and the dish along the way.  Incidentally, that stretchy string of melted cheese grew to a foot and a half at one point.  That first bite was the absolute best cheese that I have ever had!  Warm and chewy with a slightly toasted top, it truly melted in my mouth.  After getting over the strangeness of eating an entire bowl of nothing but cheese, I devoured it.  It was still too foreign to just eat cheese, so I ordered a bowl of bread, not necessarily for taste, just to have something else.  At that point, I didn’t think that anything could taste better than that cheese, not that bread in Italy has the possibility of being anything less than delicious.  I was right, but the bread did make it easier to eat.  I ate that entire bowl of cheese; if you know me, that is quite an accomplishment… it was that fantastic.  So even though it sounds really strange and isn’t typical Italian fare, grilled cheese is now on the list of foods that everyone should try.  Seriously, go get some… and take me with you!

Fotografia di Roma: Madonnelle

Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

Imagine the time of Rome when the thought of street lamps lining every street was a mere aspiration. Walking the small alleyways in complete darkness of the night, hearing the little bustles of movement, but unable to see. Maybe a rat or maybe something else creeping about. From a distance is a dim glow seeping around the corner. Drawn to the little flickering light, it gets brighter and brighter. On the corner there is a lantern that reveals a small shrine behind it. In an intricately detailed bronze frame is a painting of the Virgin Mary. For a moment, something seems to shift in the painting, as if her eyes had changed their gaze. Maybe just the flickering light playing tricks, or maybe the fabled stories of the Madonnelle’s moving eyes are true.
The now fading and unkept paintings which decorate various corners of the city were once believed to have supernatural powers. They could heal the sick, give good fortune to the poor, and apparently intervene in disputes. It has been proclaimed that during several fights (and even a few murders) that took place in front of various shrines, Mary appeared to be weeping real tears. By some accounts, she had even stopped a few violent interactions.Typically when such acts of prodigy were witnessed, the Madonnelle was taken down and placed in a sanctuary somewhere else.
Some of the most baffling and renowned occurrences recorded took place in July, 1796. Legend has it, throughout the city of Rome some of the Virgin Mary’s images in the small Madonnelles began to move simultaneously. In some cases, the eyes moved sideways, and in others, vertically. Whether it had been the heat of the summer or maybe just a little too much vino, crowds of people claimed that they had seen the peculiar events occur. Convinced that this prodigy had happened, a man climbed a ladder to measure the angle movement of the eye with a compass, determined to prove that what they saw was true. The mysterious events of the moving eyes was considered to be a bad omen. When Rome fell to Napoleon’s troops two years later, the people took it as a confirmation of their belief in the mystical occurrences.
Of the five hundred Madonnelles’ left, out of the thousand that existed before, you can find quite a few in the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere, and areas around the Vatican. The pictures posted are just a few that we have stumbled upon. Although we have not experienced these supernatural events ourselves, you might keep your eyes peeled when walking the streets of Rome in the night. You never know if you will come across a madonnelle and witness her moving eyes.

-Amber Conwell

Scavenger Hunt from Week 1


Watercolor sketch of the Colosseum by Amy Shell.

During the first week of our program students were given a selection of ancient sites to visit and sketch including the Pantheon, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill.


Amber Conwell- Jan 28, 2013 1244 PM - IMG_0665

The Palatine Hill by Amber Conwell.

The Colosseum, by Cathleen Townsend.

The Colosseum, by Cathleen Townsend.


View from the Palatine Hill by Kymber Kincannon.

View from the Palatine Hill by Kymber Kincannon.

Diagram of the Colosseum by Annie Kientz.

Diagram of the Colosseum by Annie Kientz.

The Colosseum by Minh Tran.

The Colosseum by Minh Tran.

AS Roma Alé Alé

Our journey begins with an evening walk to the Piazza Del Popolo to catch a tram to the Stadio Olimpico. The pregame jitters are starting to get to me as I realize I am going to my first European “calcio” match. The opportunity to see AS Roma play against Inter Milan in person is amazing. I watch these two teams play on TV all the time and now I get to scream at them in person. As we near the tram it is evident which one to get on, as a number of fans storm the carts wearing AS Roma scarves and jackets. We are soon dropped off and the entire flock of passengers exits toward the river. We are not sure where to go but they sure did, so we simply follow.  The crowd moves across the river passing sale stand after sale stand full of Roma gear and soon out of nowhere the Stadio Olimpico is in sight. Thousands of fans were gathered around the gates, so we figured out what was happening, and prepared for a series of screenings that would impress TSA and homeland security. The intensity of the atmosphere and the reputation of a European “calcio” match started to live up to the hype at the main gate. With tickets in hand we stood in line in a crowd of hundreds, all trying to get through gates fit for a prison. After about forty-five minutes of squeezing through the crowd of irritated fans, them screaming, banging on the gates, the security guard getting to know my physical posture very well, and thirty feet later we were finally in the stadio. Kickoff had just happened so we ran inside to find our seats. We were greeted with the site of a beautiful green field and thousands of screaming fans bathed in red and orange. We got oriented and ran up the stairs to find our seats. We were seated right in the middle of this amazing energy feeding from the emotional fans. We all looked at each other with great smiles on our faces knowing we finally made it and it was unreal.

A.S. Roma 2-1 Inter Milan.

Great Game

AS Roma Alé AléImageImage

Attenzione, per favore!

Ciao, y’all.

In a recent post pertaining to a concert performed by local band “Mistake,” I completely botched both the band and lead singer’s name. My B’.

Fortunately, said singer found our blog and kindly posted the correct info in the comments!

So, to set the record straight:

Band name – Mis(S)Take
Singer’s name – Alessia
Website –

The act of supporting quality local music is not limited to geography. Check them out! I found at least one song posted on their page! Give them a “Like” and let them know what you think!

Being in a band myself (insert shameless plug here –>, I know how much of a morale boost a like or two can be.

So, for real, check them out…and if you feel like it, my band as well.


Music and Entertainment


As you may have seen my co-writer  Nathan, and I had a wonderful experience this weekend listening to the band Mistake at Lettere Caffe in Trastevere. They were awesome and everything you’d want to set the bar high for our posts. From now on though we will publish a weekly guide to what’s going on around Rome. I hope this provides an insight into how true Romans live and spend their free time.


Though most movie theaters here show movies in Italian there are a few around that will show big name American movies! For example this coming week you can visit the Nuovo Olimpia on Via in Lucina 16/g off Via del Corso near Via Frattina to see the Oscar nominated film Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis. Seeing as how I was so busy packing before we left I didn’t get to see this however now I have the chance to in ROME!


If movies aren’t your thing then try an Italian Opera this week with Il Naso- The Nose written in the 1920’s by Dimitri Shostakovich following the story of a self-important St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own. You’ll find this comedy at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli (Esquilino) with showings Tuesday 1/29, 8pm; Thursday 1/31, 8pm; Saturday 2/2 6pm; and Sunday 2/3, 4:30pm.


Personally I’ve been to one opera in my life and that was plenty, but I’m always up for listening to live music in a variety of venues and styles. Rome is known for its Jazz music that levels with that of famous American artists and one great place to check this out is Big Mama in Trastevere. Sometimes known as Rome’s house of blues they have nightly music showcasing international and Italian blues and jazz acts. You’ll pay about 10 € for a Big Mama card that lasts several months. Shows start at 10pm but get there early for good seats, and they do accept reservations. Located off of Vicolo San Francesco a Ripa, 18 you can find a listening for all sets at in both English and Italian.

For this week at Big Mama

Thursday 1/31- Daniele Bazzani “solo guitar”

Friday 2/1- Anonima Armonisti “Anonymous Harmonists” A cappella music group.

Saturday 2/2- JJ Janis is Alive where Gianna Chilla will rock out with influence from Janis Joplin.

However as I learned last night occasionally the starter band is more impressive than the actual listed band so never be afraid to just drop in a place for a while before the main show because you might find the next up and coming names.

Some other venues to check into include:

Charity Café- Located in the Monti neighborhood this cocktail bar, wine bar and tea room, hosts jazz jam sessions on Thursday nights after 9:30 pm, jazz ensembles Friday and Saturday, and spins jazz recordings the rest of the week. The address is as follows, Via Painsperna, 68 and they are open Monday-Saturday 6pm- 2am.

We plan to check out as many café venues as possible, as well as dance clubs, concerts, and sporting events so look forward to what’s coming up in this great city.

Via Dei Fori Imperiali


It was another rainy and overcast afternoon as we began our walk down Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

Along its wide street and sidewalks, vendors and taxis attempt to catch the eye of a tourist while the locals dodge the hordes of people feverishly snapping pictures.  Running from the Colosseum to the north, Palazzo Venezia to the south, and straight through the Fora’s infinite collection of ruins—this is the heart of Rome.  Despite the pine trees, street lights, and green spaces that offer some relief from the surrounding monumentality, the street cannot revoke its connection to the Fascist dictator that created it.  Previously renamed Via dell’Impero by the not so subtle Mussolini, the street is lined with Fascist propaganda that glorifies the Roman Empire and declares for its resurgence to power.  As we pass the statue of Trajan and the stone maps that inscribe the once colossal boundaries of the empire, it becomes clear that Fori Imperiali was a tool of disillusionment.  Like many other instances, the Fascist regime made its mark on the heart of Rome.  It is hard to believe the street was previously covered by one of Rome’s densest neighborhoods, monasteries, and buildings that dated back to the Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance periods.  Besides the displacement of some of the poorest families, the recently unearthed ruins were again buried for the construction of a street that now creates an unrelenting rift between the Fora.  Today, infuriated archeologists are still uncovering lost again artifacts beneath the road, and there is a push for the road to be removed due to the harmful vibrations and exhaust from dense traffic.  As we wait for the light to turn green, masses of tour buses, taxis, cars, and weaving motorcycles swiftly pass and create a tunnel of endless movement.  Is it possible to re-route an artery that has become entangled in Roman daily life?  Transforming it into a pedestrian zone would be a step in the right direction, but what about a pedestrian bridge that actually reveals and reconnects the lost ruins of the underground Fora?

More streets to come,

Amy Shell + Tyler Yamamoto

Honest Mistake


It’s becoming apparent that the journey to find live music in Rome is a short one. The high density of life and culture offers exciting sights and sounds with every turn, echoing nightly an almost audible buzz throughout the cobble stone streets. Saturday night Caty and I, along with a handful of fellow Sooners, took a brisk jaunt north up Viale di Trastevere to the Lettere Caffe. Known throughout the week for their local art exhibitions, small library, book readings, and slam poetry events, on the weekends Lettere turns into a standing-room-only venue for local musicians of all genres. I had done a light google search pre-jaunt to verify the venue location and to get the skinny on the evenings entertainment, so after we snaked our way to the back of the room, took our seats, and ordered our respective beverages, we comfortably sat under a red neon glow and waited for the band voxX to take the stage.


One beer later – for some reason it had come as a surprise to me that the band was running late. The web site said 22:00, the waitress said 22:30, but my clock said 22:45.

“Oh yeah, we’re in Italy. A world where there is no translation for the word ‘schedule’.”

Fortunately we were having fun waiting, sipping our drinks, and watching the locals stare at us. After the place had really begun to fill up, a commotion near the stage caught my attention. Band members emerged from the crowd to take up their instruments, an acoustic guitar and upright bass, while the drummer sat atop his cajon. Then, to our surprise, a young red headed gal clad in 1940’s pin-girl style took her place front and center behind a microphone that looked to come from the same era as her garb. This was not voxX. We had no idea who this was.

“Wait, whaaat?” “What’s going on? This isn’t right!” “Oh. Right. Still in Italy.”

Within seconds of the first song I looked over to Caty and she mouthed to me “This. Is. Awesome!” Once again, the rigid Americans had successfully stumbled into greatness. Like so many times before, the mild frustrations with Italy not being America had proven to be better than we could have imagined. Kind of like Gandalf The Grey – Italians are never late, nor are they early. They arrive precisely when they mean to.

The group continued to impress with their broad sound. The dynamic flexibility of the band provided a great foundation for the singer to build on. She easily ramped up and down with both melody and energy, adding an impressive richness and dimension to each song. The group performed an array of tunes that varied in tempo and time signature, which always makes for a more intriguing performance. The set was comprised of a nice blend of covers and what I assume to be originals. Early on we heard an excellent rendition of Blondie’s Heart Of Glass, as well as the Massive Attack song (known widely as the House theme song) Teardrop. It’s always refreshing to hear a band put their own spin on a well known tune and have it work, and these guys continually nailed it. The fun, lighthearted, acoustic tones were at the perfect volume. One could easily focus on the performance and hear the intricacies of each instrument, or turn to their group and have conversation with their friends.

To close out the set the band performed Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over. The intro of the song seemed to be extended due to some confusion on the singer’s part. It looked like maybe she was trying to find the lyrics in her folder but was having trouble locating them. Her eventual decision to wing it was a good one, seeing that she totally killed it. She had little to no trouble hitting the highs and performed a seemingly difficult song without a hitch. The final applause was warm and accepting and carried on as the band began to vacate the stage. Seeing multiple Italians struggle to carry an upright bass over their heads through the crowded room and out the door was equally as entertaining as the performance itself. The band voxX proceeded to set up and begin performing, but we had heard enough within the first minute or two. It was clear at that point that the mystery band had stolen the show and our assignment to find quality entertainment was complete.

As Caty finished paying (thanks for that, btw) we began to make out way out. Fortunately between us and the door stood the plaid-dress-wearing singer from the first act. I awkwardly asked her if we could take a picture with her and if we could get her name. We were successful with the picture but I failed with her name, immediately forgetting after I shook her hand. Classic. Caty later informed me that it was Alicia. Got ’em! I did, however, remember the name of her group. In an almost poetic conclusion to our night, we were informed that her band’s name was Mistake. A name ripe with irony given our experience leading up to that moment. She was kind and sweet and graciously met us on our linguistically challenged level. From the conversation we also learned that this was Mistake’s first time at the Lettere, and from what I gathered, one of their first shows inside of Rome. I gave her my e-mail address (again, awkwardly) and asked her to let me know the next time they were in the area. We walked home filled with a sense of victory after our first true hunt for entertainment yielded success. And as I mulled over the night’s events, I think I slowly began to understand the true beauty of the old adage “When in Rome.”


P.S. Alicia, if you’re reading this, and if that is actually your name, sorry for my terrible memory. I tried to find information on your band online but was unable to find anything! Feel free to post a link to your site in the comments of this blog! Caty and I would love to know more!

P.P.S. Holla holla to my main man, Minh Tran…my main Minh…for the pictures and for joining us!