A distinctly Italian characteristic discovered by exploring the city of Rome is the amount of historical buildings. It is very easy to imagine what the country may have looked like hundreds, or in some places even thousands, of years ago. The abundance of classical, renaissance, and baroque architecture takes you back in time. The narrow streets, fountains, and of course historical significance of the objects surrounding you can make you forget what year it is. Yet while you’re sent back in time frequent reminders speed by like a new Fiat, tour bus, or what seems to be hundreds of mopeds. Then suddenly you remember that is it 2013 and these buildings are hundreds of years old. The question then arises: where are all the modern buildings? Yes of course we know of the contemporary architectural masterpieces like the MAXXI, the Ara Pacis Museum, and the Auditorium. But where are the real contemporary buildings? Where are the places that everyday people use every day, not monumental space frames?
It seems like Italian Architecture is somewhat trapped in a state of mind or has a fixed perception of what architecture should look like. Yes granted many of the buildings here in Rome are very old and that limits the opportunity for contemporary design ideas to be expressed. Yet many of the buildings that seem to be at least old enough to have been designed with a contemporary approach still seem to reflect the historical context. This raises another question: what is Italian architecture? Or how should context be defined and used in contemporary design? Many designers relate their designs back to local context but at what point is it okay to start do create a new context?
I recently heard that context is tradition and that made me think about design. Italy seems to try very hard to relate its tradition to it past glory and connect that with architecture. Walking around the city of Rome it is hard to find architecture that will give you an idea of what this culture’s modern traditions are and how people live today not hundreds of years ago. But to my surprise the other day I think I found an example in Rome that does just that. After a class walk to Garbatella we stopped at an incredible building in a redeveloping area of Rome to see the new crown jewel of the area: Eatly. A huge converted old air terminal has become the mecca for all food lovers in Rome. As we walked up to the building it appeared clearly different from traditional Italian architecture. The only forms that seemed to relate to the context were the intersecting barrel vaults, but the scale was overly dramatic. The form fit its old use as an air terminal and yet it still feels extremely different. The material combination of glass and steel has more in common with designs in Germany not Italy. The huge structural trusses and glass connections were so beautiful.
As we entered Eatly we saw five different levels that run the full length of the building and gave the place a feel of horizontality. The inside felt open because of all the glazing, high floor planes, and white exposed structure. The architecture was amazing but the most important part of the space was the tradition or “food”. The spaces were laid out for designated items such as for wine, local goods, beer, meat market, fish market, restaurants, and even a cafe on the top floor. All of these spaces felt very personal and private. The well-known love that the Italian culture has with food could be felt in this building. It made me think about the conquest for contemporary Italian architecture. The search for context through tradition. This also made me think about contemporary Italian designer Franco Albini and his definition of context which is “we are tradition”. I can see what he meant in this building of Eataly. People are tradition themselves. Because the building serves the function of the people it is respecting context. The relation to classical or baroque design doesn’t mean a building is fitting tradition because the most important context for “tradition” is the people in the present not history. Eataly does that. The designer understood that the people of present and their traditions should be the context for the building. “We are tradition” should be the main context in contemporary architecture because as we see the Eataly building is an Italian building.
You can see it from our apartment balcony. A view of the Tiber and on the horizon is evidence of old Industry. Huge steel cylinder frames of old oil containers now mark the Centrale Montemartini on the skyline. This is one of Rome’s best museums is an old industrial part of town and our class visit there was sure to be great. The next morning started out to no surprise with rain and us trying to find out what bus will get us to the Museum. After a stop at the bar for a pick me up caffé macchiato, we head to hop on the bus. Two buses later and out of the rain we made it to our first stop, the Ponte Settimia Spizzichino, a new contemporary suspension bridge. This new bridge was a great way for us to see the redevelopment this area has taken. This old industry and port area, even in ancient roman times, has been transformed into a modern residential area for Rome. This pure white bridge brings some life to the area.
The Museum was a short walk away. The signs led us into this roadway next to an old factory like building. The whole class gathered inside of the lobby. A very compact tight space and some of the large industrial mechanical pieces were in sight giving us a hint of what to expect. Some sculptures from ancient Rome where present and contrasted with the dark machinery. After a brief introduction to the building we flocked up stairs. The second level of the building completely opened up to a large industrial room and evidence of the old electrical power plant was seen with two humongous generators on each side of the room. Other large black machinery was organized throughout the room.
In contrast to the machinery was an arrangement of classical sculptures laid out with the black as their background. The use of two completely different items being displayed balanced each other well. Thousands of years of separation between these objects and still they looked like they belonged together. The use of classical sculptures gave the much more modern machinery a feeling of antiquity. The image of a great empire comes to mind when one looks at the sculptures. The same image is comes to mind looking at these dirty industrial machines and thinking of the complex in full process as a power plant. This modern equipment is given an appearance of glorification and class in combination with the art. The large diesel generators and 50 foot tall boiler become representative art of modern Italy’s progress and glory. The smell of diesel and grease helped amplify the experience. The Centrale Montemartini was indeed a great museum and a very fun way to look at two completely different types of objects from history.
The opportunity for a weekend trip was present and the only question was: where? “Napoli” great pizza, the sea, a volcano, Paestum, and the unknown was all we needed to make our minds up. The train ride down the coastline was amazing but the idea of what the city was going to be like was still a mystery. We hear different opinions about the city, how it is a very dangerous and scary place or how it was beautiful and had delicious food. On our arrival the city was, to no surprise being rained on. Our hostel was about two miles away so with an adventurist spirit we chose to walk it in the rain. It was very apparent that we were in a very vibrant city full of contradiction, people, and crazy traffic. I kept trying to relate it to Rome and Milan but it just didn’t connect. The one thing that was very obvious was that this city moved at a different speed, especially the traffic. On our way to the hostel our path took us to the Harbor. The large cruise and cargo ships painted a picture of a commercial and blue-collar city. From here the city started to uncover its self. We finally made it to our hostel, which was inside of an older commercial high rise where we encountered the first elevator with a coin dispenser to operate it. At least, 5 cents beats taking the stairs to the seventh floor. We checked in and our kind host told us all we needed to know about and see in the city. First things first; off to the historic part of the city for some pizza.
We found our way up a long staircase in a very narrow alley with housing in it. It at first felt very odd almost like if we were leaving the city and going to the outskirts of the city but I know we weren’t. I kept thinking that as we were walking we would turn the corner and see the historic city of Napoli, nice and clean, just like the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. But as we kept walking it just stayed the same or got worse. It was dark—g ranted it was raining and trash was, to my surprise, all over the place. Graffiti covered the buildings, which was at times more interesting than the unmaintained crumbling buildings. This was all very odd but, first things first: pizza. After an amazing meal we decided to just walk around and discover the city as we may. As we walked the narrow streets the cars and mopeds got on my nerves more and more. The streets barely fit the crowds of people walking through them not leaving much room for the cars that would just speed by and honk at us to move. We made it to an ancient arch that was up against a busy intersection so we decided to stop and take some pictures. The surrounding area looked like a landfill. At this point we started to question our choice for this city. Our walk continued and the city started to change but also remained consistent. We hit a main street with shops lining it. Newer buildings and somewhat cleaner areas started to appear. But the constant variable that I noticed was the people. As we journeyed around the city and searched for the authentic Napoli, the most authentic thing we found were its residents. The people walk among the filth, ugliness, and chaos of the city. But this made me realize that is how I see the city. To them it’s their city and home. They didn’t let those negative notions of their city affect the reality of their social life. They walked among the trash through neglected city without surprise.
It was obvious that the city government of Napoli did not have their act together. No one seemed to take responsibility for what the city has become. Just like in the film Hands over the City it seem like a corrupt system was incapable of helping its people. The city in the hands of the politicians had become an actual mess. Yet the people of the city appeared to have accepted this reality and had chosen to see past it. They have learned to live in the city and create a great social community despite its appearance. Because in essence a space is just a space, it’s up to you to make it more or see more.
 Le mani sulla città (Hands over the city) Criterion Collection: 1963/2006.
The moment I first really realized I was in Rome was when I saw the Capitoline Hill and remembered the paper I wrote about it for my art history class. It was amazing seeing Michelangelo’s staircase in contrast to the mountainous climb up to Santa Maria in Aracoeli. His famous piazza was before my eyes and the walk up was as gentle as imagined. Moving up the hill, the sight of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius pulled me towards the center of the Piazza. The placement of the statue is powerful because the scale and the gesture of Marcus makes you feel welcome but also cautious.
Finding the entrance to the Museum was a bit of an issue since it is tucked under an arcade only noticeable thanks to signage. The circulation of the museum leads you first into a courtyard, where the ego of Constantine remains. The Head of Constantine the Greater stands in the corner towering over as you stand next to it. Some remaining pieces of his body are arranged next to his head so one can get a sense of scale and understand how large this statue would have been when it was intact. Next, you are led up a staircase through an underground tunnel to Palazzo Nuovo on the other side of the piazza. I soon realize that the actual museum is much bigger than it appears outside.
As I started to wander my way around the Palazzo Nuovo I stumbled across one of my favorite pieces, The Dying Gaul. This roman replica of a Greek original depicts a man in defeat. This life size statue shows a man fallen to the ground with his hands tirelessly keeping his upper body up and his head looking straight to the ground hopelessly. I love how this piece interacts with the viewer. It draws so much sympathy for the wounded man and creates a humanistic understanding of the statue.
Crossing back to the Palazzo del Conservatori the core of the museum is found. It leads you into a series of smaller rooms full of statues and paintings. Soon I find myself with the infamous symbol of Rome the Capitoline Wolf “She Wolf”. The Bronze statue is in the center on the room on top of a pedestal. It depicts a wolf nurturing Romulus and Remus. The Statue was great to see because of the history and connection it has to the city; it depicts the city’s founding myth.
Finally the belly of the beast appears as I near the newly renovated central space of the museum. This new space sharply contrasts the old renaissance buildings with a contemporary glass and steel structure. At the focal point of this space is the original Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The statue is not centered in the space as it was outside in its original location, in the piazza. It is set on a narrow horizontal plain that connects back to the wall and seems to create a path on which the horse is galloping on. The platforms cuts through the circulation around the statue unlike the one outside that allows the viewer to go completely around it. It was cool to see the contrasting setting in which the museum chose to display this legendary piece. The experience of the two Marcus Aurelius statues differ because the approach to the copy is the first sight climbing up to the piazza. It is presented as a view of an almighty roman conqueror and a work of propaganda. Approaching the original statue inside the museum one first sees the statue entering from the side and mainly above it, as an “art work.” Both approaches to the statue are powerful. The oversize scale of Marcus Aurelius and the horse are overwhelming. The horse seems to be in motion as it is sculpted with its feet in different positions. One of the most amazing things about this is how the horse and man are balanced as the horse stands on three legs. His front right leg is lifted and curled, as if he is marching forward. Marcus Aurelius sits atop the horse and appears to be just as big as the horse showing his dominance. He is shown extending his right hand is a gentle manner like he has just arrived to “HELP” citizens in need. I love this statue because it is such a great example of Roman art. The Roman Ruler shown in a humanistic manner, gentle, kind, wise, on top a subtle symbolism of dominance, control, and power. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it was covered in gold, typical of such political propaganda.
An overall amazing Museum, great artwork, and an absolute must in Rome.
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.
AS Roma Alé Alé
our first Calcio match in Rome