Rome – The City of Ruins

When my classmates and I landed in Rome, we were exhausted after hours of being on flights and dealing with airport customs, the only thing we wanted was to reach our apartments and take a long nap. On the way to our “new homes”, I kept looking out the window searching for the marvelous city that I’ve read and heard about but couldn’t seem to find. As the driver took us through the winding streets of Rome, filled with old Renaissance buildings illuminated by yellow-tinted lights, we found ourselves in the center of Rome. A concrete structure, hidden behind the trees and cars caught my attention. There it was, the Colosseum.

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The quick drive around the building reminded me of the hundred times that I had seen it through pictures in books; but this time, these pictures were overlaid with a modern, lively city. It felt like I was taken back into ancient time, the same feeling that Andreas Huyssen refers to as Nostalgia for Ruins. Huyssen claims that the age of the “authentic ruin” is over because the materials of modern architecture such as glass and steel, are not subject to erosion and decay as stone is. He also argues that “authentic ruins” become obsolete because the ruins of the twenty-first century are often made to look old to increase value but they lose their authenticity, age, and true value in the process. This makes me questions the authenticity of the ruins that I see in Rome.

As the semester goes by, we got to see more of Rome – the Pantheon, the Mausoleum of Augustus, many churches, and Ostia Antica, a well preserved archeological site, not far away from the historic center. Here, we got a chance to see and sketch the remnants of these ancient buildings, frescoes and mosaics.

Piranesi's Etching

Piranesi’s Etching

As Piranesi did in his etchings, we attempted to reconstruct the ruins through our imagination and site analysis. Yet again, I question the authenticity of these ruins. Some, like Andreas Huyssen, might argue that because of the preservation and reconstruction, the authenticity is lost; however, there is a reason why these ruins need to be preserved. If the process of erosion is not ceased, these ruins will keep decaying and thus, at one point in time, will turn into rubble or disintegrate completely. In order to save them, people use technology to freeze this process so that the next generations will be able to appreciate  these ruins.

As one learns about the value of these ruins, historic preservation comes to mind and eventually teaches one to apply adaptive reuse in design. Nowhere else is a better place for learning the concept of adaptive reuse than in Rome, the city of ruins. In most parts of Rome, wherever you are trying to build, it is most likely that you will encounter ancient structures. For that reason, people were forced to learn how to incorporate history and modernity in their designs. This can be explained by looking at how the Colosseum was used as an amphitheater, religious space, housing and the way the Montemartini Power Plant was turned into the museum that connects ancient archeology and industrial archeology. As we apply the concept of adaptive reuse in our design, we do not only preserve the existing ruins, but we also overlay it with our own layers of history that would eventually be considered ruins themselves.

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Montemartini Museum

Huyssen, Andreas. “Nostalgia for Ruins.” Grey Room 23 (2006): 6-21. Print.

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