Waterworks of Rome

The sun is shining, the wind is blowing a nice cool breeze, and the trees are beginning to bloom. Yes, finally Spring is here in Rome. So what better way to celebrate this gorgeous weather than to explore Rome, soak up some rays, and learn about probably the most captivating feature of the city; the innovative technologies in the use of water. We met up with Katherine Rinne; whom I would have to say is the expert on water in Rome and she was gracious enough to share her experience and knowledge of the famous aqueducts in Rome.

Let’s face it, without water, Rome would not have existed. In order to have sustained an urban landscape such as this one, the manipulation of the hydrological elements and the developments of hydraulic elements were key for the survival of this city. Just like Goldie Locks, it could not be too much or too little water, it had to be just right; any wrong variation could mean the destruction of the city. The dynamic water system is all integrated together to deliver water in various areas of the city; all depending on who was paying for what water, and how it was being used, stored, and distributed (of course all depending on someone’s political/social agenda).

The history of aqueducts is so vast that we were only able to cover a small portion of it in a short three hour stroll. To touch on a few important factors of the ever-changing development, we discussed the time period, around the 14th and 15th century when the ancient Roman aqueducts were being restored. Three gravity- flow aqueducts were added to the existing ancient sources: the Acqua Vergine, Acqua Felice, and the Acqua Paola, bringing pure potable water to the city and supplying around ninety new fountains built in the city. The slope of an aqueduct had to be perfect, usually a low gradient of 1 to 4800. If the slope was too small, and the water did not move fast enough, the build- up of bacteria and minerals would make the water undrinkable. Typically when you think of aqueducts in Rome, you picture the large spans of arches running into the city, but a lot of the infrastructure of aqueducts are actually fed underground. The volume of the space for the underground works had to be tall and wide enough to fit a person inside; you can only imagine what kind of engineering it took to build them.

With the thoughts of water, aqueducts, and fountains running through my head, it was all too perfect that two days later we took a trip out to Tivoli. At Hadrian’s Villa, I was fascinated by how they strategically placed the large pools of water to take advantage of evaporative cooling (I’m sure that’s not what they called it then, but all the same). The Canopus was an area used for banquets on those hot summer days. Walking under the covered partial dome at the end of pool, you instantly feel the temperature drop. It felt absolutely wonderful standing there in the shade. The long pool at the entrance of the villa, which was originally surrounded by a colonnade was rumored to have been designed around the time it takes to digest food. This is said to be seven laps around the pool.
hadrians villa
The villa sits in the perfect location for water resources. The hill is surrounded by two streams and springs from the hills behind Tivoli that provided water to four aqueducts in Rome. All of them helped supply the large amount of water needed for the baths, fountains and pools in the complex.
hadrians villa
The same water sources used in Hadrian’s Villa, also feeds into the amazing water works at Villa D’Este. With fountains, water jets, hidden grottos, troughs, cascades, and a water organ, Villa D’ Este felt like a Renaissance waterpark. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had an hour bus ride back to Rome, I think we might have jumped in the pools and danced through the streaming water jets. The music coming from the 16th century water and air powered musical fountain was mesmerizing. We spent hours laying in the sunshine, on one of three large pools, trying to understand how the incredible engineering of this little oasis works.
villa d'este
villa d'este
The infrastructures it took to create these villas are just some of the examples of the impressive ways in which water has been used throughout the history of Rome to create wonderful spaces. Though water is something we usually look over when designing, it certainly has one of the greatest impacts on the urban environment. It helps control and shape public spaces, and is ultimately what is needed to sustain life. Romans certainly were ahead of their time in the unbelievable ways they were able to manipulate and move water to the city.
villa d' este

The Ever-changing Fabric of Rome

In The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities, Adam Smith’s raises the question: “How do landscapes- defined in the broadest sense to incorporate the physical contours of the created environment, the aesthetics of built form, and the imaginative reflections of spatial representations-contribute to the constitution of political authority?”1 To answer this question, I believe that as a society we create the idea of political landscape through the physical and metaphorical perception of changes throughout history. Through the layering of cities, monuments, architecture, and culture we shape our environment to reflect our perception of power. We build it up and tear it down, reshaping the landscape over and over to illustrate the authorities in control. A perfect example of the ever-changing political landscapes is to take a look at the significant changes made to the urban fabric of two Roman neighborhoods that were developed pre-war, during the war, and post-WWII.
On a fine, rainy Tuesday afternoon, our group took a stroll through the neighborhood Garbatella; an area that had started construction before the influences of the Fascist Regime. The peaceful quiet neighborhood was a nice change from all the hustle and bustle of the historic city center. We started at the top of the hill at a palazzina. The fanciful building truly reflected the unique style created under the ICP (Istituto per le CasePopolari , a national building society), in 1920, called the Barocchetto 2. The style draws its form from the various architectural styles of Baroque, Renaissance, and Medieval periods seen across the Lazio 2. The composition of the building consists of brick, local volcanic tufa, and whimsical ornamental details made of concrete; all forming to together to reflect the wonderful Roman craftsmanship 2.
The ICP’s intention for the area was to create an affordable suburban development for lower to middle class workers, based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City; to help improve living standards, social standing and overall quality of life 2. The roof top terraces, courtyards flourishing with greenery, and shared spaces really create a good sense of community in this neighborhood. As we continued our walk through the open archway of the building and made our way down the sloping, curving roads, I was completely enchanted by the little villas lining streets, until we reach the bottom of the hill.
The pleasant little villas turned into massive ‘super blocks’, same Barocchetto style, just on a larger scale 2. The area, although it contained a little less green space, still had the characteristics of a Roman neighborhood. Unfortunately, the need for this larger housing was because of Mussolini’s Fascist urban renewal. Neighborhoods scattered throughout the historical center of Rome were order to be demolished to reveal the ruins of the Imperial Age. This meant that thousands of people were left homeless with nowhere to go. The ICP scrambled to construct more housing for the homeless and, thus ended up with the two new types of housing for Garbatella 2. The first was called ‘rapid housing’, which consisted of basic modules that were able to be built cheap and quickly 2. And, the other ‘super block’, which took up entire city lots, yet still reflected the same style 2. But, as we wandered our way through the larger housing area, the scene changed yet again.
The ornamented, rustic, warm Barochetto style faded away, as we entered into a piazza off of Via Giacomo Rho. Living in Rome now for three months, it is quite obvious when you come across the stark monumental style of Fascism. Oh yes, Fascist Architecture, the creative throwback to ancient Roman architecture, simplified to resemble the basic principles of monumentality through the use of large sharp edges, massive columns, and traditional material, but lacking all the unnecessary ornamented design. The square piazza was surrounded in this ‘ideal style’; with a church, school, and a few other public buildings. The rigid forms play so well into Mussolini’s idea of reform to reflect the origins of Rome being brought back to life through his regime.
After the war ended and with Mussolini dead, architects in Rome had to determine how they were going to break away from Fascist design and redefine Italian architecture. The Ina-Casa plan that spread across Italy, aimed to solve the problem of both housing and unemployment through the construction of working class neighborhoods 3. The result of one of these projects brings me to another Roman community that we visited on the same rainy day, Tiburtino.
As we entered the neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice the unusual angles and shapes of the buildings. They didn’t quite line up to the street edge like most of the buildings do in Rome. The architects plan was to make the neighborhood look organic; as if it had slowly been built over time. The irregular building forms allowing green space to fill the void between the street and building edge. The pitched roofs, misaligned windows, small balconies, and warm painted colors gave the neighborhood its descriptive name “Alice in Wonderland.”3 For the people that had been forced out of their homes during Mussolini’s reign were living in thrown together small shelters. For them, watching this neighborhood go up was a dream come true. Like the Garbatella, Tiburtina seems like a little oasis from the noisy city center. The architecture embraces the Roman winding streets and use of local materials, but with its own modern twist; truly its own distinct sense of style.
The layering and reforming of a city is all so evident in Rome. Written in its architecture is the story of the political changes and reshaping of its city. The ICP altered the city by creating housing that attempted to raise and mix social classes after the economic struggle of the Great War. Mussolini did this by carving out places throughout Rome that defined and established the Fascist movement, that remains today as a memory of his ideal domain. And the Ina-Casa project made it possible for thousands of people living in shabby dwelling a chance to recreate and redefine their community in an “Alice in Wonderland” type environment. Whether it is a favorable or regrettable revision to the ever-changing fabric of political landscapes, each layer makes its mark on societies built environment; thus, defining the political landscape.

1Smith, Adam. “The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities”.
2De Michelis, Antonella. “The garden suburb of the Garbatella, 1920–1929: defining community and identity through planning in post-war Rome”.
3Dr. Pilat, Stephanie. “Representations of Resistance in Postwar Italy: The Tiburtino Neighborhood in Rome”.

Spring Break: Scotland and London

Ahhh… Spring Break
So much happened in the 10 days we were gone. We flew into Edinburgh, Scotland on Friday. It was actually the only sunny day that we saw in the UK. The rest of the time it snowed. We stayed at a little bed and breakfast in Scotland that served a fantastic Scottish breakfast. In the 7 days we were in Scotland, we visited several castles, cathedrals and palaces. We even rented a car, and I drove 500 miles on the opposite side of the road (scary). We saw a good part of the highlands, which was absolutely gorgeous. Then on Thursday we took the train down to London. We visited all the big attractions: Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, London Eye, V& A museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and saw a lot of Richard Rogers designs; all with in 3 days. The whole trip was an incredible experience and I cannot wait to go back.
Enjoy a few of the pictures from our lovely trip!
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Craigmillar Castle
Craigmillar Castle
Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel
Somewhere in the Highlands
Somewhere in the Highlands
Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle
Big Ben
Big Ben, picture taken from the London Eye
King's Cross Station
King’s Cross Train Station
London Eye
London Eye
Place I will never be able to shop at: Harrods
Tower of London
Tower of London
Richard Rogers
Richard Rogers Design

-Amber Conwell

Campo Imperatore

Lift up to Campo Imperatore
Chris and I decided to take a little 2 day, 1 night vacation in the mountains of L’Aquila (little adventure before buckling down and forcing myself to studio slave for midterms). The trip out there is quite the sightseeing adventure. We took the metro to the bus station, then hopped on an hour and a half bus ride that took us through the lovely little mountain cities to L’Aquila. Once we arrived in L’Aquila we took a city bus about 50 minutes through the snow-capped mountains to Base Funivia, where the views were absolutely breath-taking.
Little Mountain Towns
After stepping off the bus we walked over to the counter to buy our tickets for the only way up to the hotel, a lift. This was my first time ever riding a lift, so I was pretty excited. It was a little scary at first, since the fog only allowed us to see so far, and the cables seemed to disappear in the mist. When we made it to the top we had to take a tunnel that lead to the Hotel Imperatore, because the snow had blocked the doors leading to the outdoor entry.
Campo Imperatore
Checking into Hotel Campo Imperatore, was easy enough, Chris had stayed here before and the man behind the counter recognized him immediately. He set us up with a nice room on the third floor (this is what we would call the fourth floor, but they count the first as zero in Italy). Unfortunately the fog was pretty thick so the only view we got was of the ski lift just off to the left of the building. But regardless, they were very nice accommodations.

Dinner was at 7:30, and from our long journey out to the secluded hotel we were starving. They started with hors d’ouvres and cocktails in a small sitting room furnished by IKEA (I swear everything new in Italy is furnished by IKEA). At about 7:45 the dining room doors opened and the buffet style dinner was open for business. Of course we were the first ones in, loading our plates with a delicious smorgasbord of food. Vino was included with the meal, which was a plus. While scarfing down our food, the gentleman that checked us in that day came over to see how we were enjoying the meal.

“How is the food?”

“molto bene!” (me attempting to use my Italian speaking skills)

“Dove sei?”

“Oklahoma (blank stare)…Texas”

“ah! Si, si”


“No, I’m studying architecture in Roma.”

“ah! Architetto!”


Excited, he began to tell us the interesting history of Hotel Campo Imperatore. The hotel was developed by the Fascist party, in an attempt to bring more tourism into L’Aquila. It was constructed between 1931 and 1934, and easily identifiable as Fascist Architecture. One of the interesting things he pointed out in the dining hall was the “semi-circle” shape of the room. He explained that Mussolini intentionally design the shape to represent the letter “D” for “Duce”. So the columns and the beams do not exactly line up because the shape is not a complete semi-circle. The beautiful hardwood flooring mimicked this design in the dining hall, which is all original from the opening of the hotel.
What really made the hotel famous was when from August 28 to September 12, 1943, it served as a prison for Benito Mussolini. He was taken here after already being held captive on the island of Ponza e Maddalena. The Italian soldiers thought that Gran Sasso seemed like a better place to hold the prisoner since it is pretty inaccessible. But, unfortunately they were wrong, and on September 12, 1943 about a hundred German paratroopers landed on the plain in front of the hotel and freed Mussolini. This later became known as Operation Oak.
Mussolini getting rescued
After the little history lesson, we managed to lift our very full bellies out of the seat and walked into the hotel lobby and began looking at the various photos of the hotel throughout the years. Another gentleman that worked at the hotel came over and started chatting with us. Turns out he used to practice architecture years ago and had heard that I was studying to become an architect. He told us about his various work in L’Aquila and his 18 years of practice. After our conversation Chris and I started toward the stairwell to head up to the room, when the barista stopped us.

“No, no you stay here! It is the Feste delle Donne (Festival of Women). Tonight, we dance.”

Well when you put it that way, of course, why not. Everyone slowly gathered into a small hall to partake in the night’s festivities. Chris and I sat down on a small leather couch, enjoying the music, when out of nowhere the chef comes bouncing into the room dressed up as a woman (see photo below for details) and began dancing. Everyone laughed hysterically and then joined in on the fun. Chris was able to get some pretty hilarious video footage of our dear friend, the chef (not appropriate for posting).
chef dancing
The next day the weather was still a little too foggy for skiing so we decided to head back home to Roma. But even without being able to ski, the trip was worth every penny. I think we might have to take another trip out there before we leave Italy. It was certainly quite a memorable experience.

Monumental Monstrosity

Vittorio Emanuale II Monument
In 1882, 101 people summited a design for the competition of a new monument, which required an equestrian statue with Vittorio Emanuale II mounted on top 1. All the submissions were a similar variety of columns, domes, towers, and basically anything of a monstrous size that would embody the idea of monumentality. In the end, the design that was chosen is the colossal building that stands today; often referred to as “the wedding cake”, designed by Giuseppe Sacconi 1. As silly as it sounds, wedding cake is a perfect description of the white tiered terraces, topped with over bearing white Corinthian columns, towering over the surrounding area.

With a grand stairway up to the monument, my first thought was how incredible it would be to sit at the top of steps and stare out over the city. Unfortunately, this is not the Spanish Steps, and there is certainly no possibility of sitting down for even a moment at the National Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II. Iron gates surround the lower level of the steps and are heavily monitored by the police. As soon as a brave tourist places their bottom on a step, a lovely man in uniform is there to stop it.

Climbing up the heap of steps to the top felt as though the monolithic, white building was growing. The combination of the overwhelming proportions of the columns and the solid white limestone façade, seem to have no relation to human scale. In contrast to the Pantheon, though the dome rises to a grand total of 142 feet; the layer of materials, cornices, and columns help divide the space and gives it a more humanistic value. For an architect that aimed to embody the elements of classical architecture, he seemed to miss the most important factor, proportion.

Looking down the Via Del Corso from the top landing reveals an attempt to create a connection between the Porta del Popolo, in Piazza del Popolo, and the monument of King Vittorio Emanuele II. But, gazing at the skyline of the city illustrates that the building bears no relation to its surrounding context. And, the symmetrical, rigid, twin-towered form hides the beautiful Santa Maria in Aracoeli, covering the only remaining religious presence in the area 1. You can begin to see why Romans have mixed feelings about the Vittoriano.

A very colorful critique of the “wedding cake” is Terry Kirk’s article Monumental Monstrosity, Monstrous Monumentality. Kirk begins with defining three key terms: monstrous, sublime, and monumental; to set the base of his criticism of the National Monument of King Vittorio Emanuele II 1. Taking apart each word, he defines them in every way possible. For example, the word monstrous; he defines as ranging from a fear of beasts; to the imperfection of organisms, such as human bodies; to the overbearing sizes of objects or buildings 1. It was unique and interesting how he chose to begin his article by thoroughly defined each word to lead into his overall analysis of the building.

Kirk does not hold back in his very obvious opinions of the building. He jokes about the perception of the viewer, and how only tourists seem to like it, but to those who know the history of the building view it only as a reminder of a monstrous past 1. Viewed as a reminder of a monarchy that laid the foundation for twenty-two years of Fascist rule 1, one can understand why there have been various attempts to tear down or attack the building.

As Kirk writes, “Monsters kill. Architectural monsters metaphorically stop our souls-and the Vittoriano literally killed its architect. Folklore has it that Sacconi hurled himself from its scaffolding rather than face his misdeed.”1 As dramatic of a view it is (and just slightly humorous), it made me wonder: what emotions do I want to evoke as a designer? Similar to the Vittoriano, our current project deals with a very controversial site in the heart of Rome, the Ara Pacis Museum. How far would I go to make a statement in my design? How do I find that perfect balance between creating something new while still reflecting the past? In the case of Vittoriano, it seems that the architect might have gone a little overboard with his bold attempt to express monumentality.

 1 Kirk, Terry. “Monumental monstrosity, monstrous monumentality.” Perspecta. . (2008): 6-15.Print.

Fotografia di Roma

Minh and I (Amber) will be in charge of capturing the city’s captivating features. Each blog post will focus on the little details that make Rome unique and fascinating. Please feel free to contact Minh or I with any ideas for photos that you would like to see on the site.


I would like to also take this time to thank all the amazing people that donated to my kickstarter. If it wasn’t for all you I would not have be able to make this fantastic trip.


Brad Prichard, Catherine Barrett, Chris Boyer, Ryan Goodman, Rob Hodges, Toni Rice, Lori DeKalb, Emily Ferguson, Kimberly Zeltsar, Stephanie Pilat, Jim and Cheryl Reynolds, Leah, Daniel Butko, Meghann Conwell, Fred, Star Dust Wunch, Cody Conwell, Faye Welsh, Jim Zeier, Brian Steines, Teresa Andrillon, Ruth Johnson, Rebecca Hargrove, Davide Foschi, Lewis and Melanie Conwell, and Jessica Lehr. (this is in no order, just the way it is listed on my kickstarter)

Thank you all so much!!!

Amber Conwell