Capital City

12.2015 - 01.2016

An examination of modern governmental cities and buildings appropriately enough starts – both methodologically and etymologically – in Rome at the Capitoline Hill.


The Capitoline Hill: Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, left, and the city hall flanked by the Capitoline Museums, right.

The Capitoline has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, and the layers of history are inescapable. In the 1930’s investigation was being made into the history and foundations below the existing Renaissance buildings at the Piazza Campidoglio. At the same time a new zone of the city – the campidoglio of a new Romanita – was being proposed to the south, as a connection from Rome to the sea. We will see how the peripheral city E42 (also known as Esposizione Universale Roma or EUR) was both shaped by and other than this ancient area of Rome.


Piazza Campidoglio | Temple of Jupiter foundations within Capitoline museum



Derive / Axis

12.2015 - 01.2016

The official map of Rome references the Situationist derive, portraying the romantic idea of the city, a place for wandering and discovery that can be apprehended only through the navigation of its urban fabric. And this conceptual model certainly reflects the reality; every corner, twist, piazzale beckons to further discovery of another treasure. Yet, as enticing as this spontaneity is to our contemporary sensibilities (and picturesque Rome had always been one of the essential destinations of the architectural grand tour) it was in contradiction with the inter-war Fascist ideals of order and hierarchy.


Roman Forum from the Capitoline Hill

Mussolini carried out major archaeological investigations into the Roman remains at the center of the city, which included clearing out Byzantine projects. The meandering medieval city so evocative to visiting architects would be stripped away to create a direct link through history to the Roman Empire as a means to legitimize the regime. The excavation and monumentalization of these classical projects and the construction of modern, efficient, hygienic districts was part of the same project to imbue the new fascist city with Romanita[1]. Whereas the work of medieval and Renaissance architects built (often quite literally) upon the foundations of Roman buildings, Mussolini intended to excavate classical projects from the chaff of the medieval city.


The Colosseum, or the Flavian Amphitheater


The Arch of Constantine

Although there were major building projects like the Piazza Augusto Imperatore within the historic city, many of the new districts were on the periphery including the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico) to the North across the river, the Sapienza University towards the East but now easily within the metropolitan area, and Cinecitta to the Southeast. The most magnificent of these districts was to be E42 built for the Esposizione Universale Roma, planned for the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome in 1942 and intended to be a permanent new part of the city – now called EUR. Its planning was similar to that of military camps and planned cities, on axes, with buildings marching down a grid of streets, related to the new towns in the Agro Pontino developed during the same period but for a grander purpose. EUR was to be the link on the most glorious road of all, the Via Imperiale, connecting the ancient center at the Roman Forum to the sea at Ostia and beyond towards a new empire.

What at one time was Via Imperiale is now Via Cristobal Colon, and it becomes essentially a freeway once it leaves the city walls, having three lanes in each direction, along with two access lanes on either side. As it passes through EUR the access lanes merge into the roads of the district. Approaching EUR the sidewalk drops away, and is diverted to Via Laurentina, once the ancient Laurentian Say.

It cannot be denied that EUR was built for the car, and while in the center of Rome their presence is limited by the constrained street dimensions, here they occupy every space possible, sometimes even parked under a building portico. The roads were not just an amenity for modern life or an expression of the Futurists, these roads were “fundamental to the fabrication of national unity[2]” connecting the regions of Italy. EUR, though not bounded by walls feels isolated, but curiously it is the roads which cross into the zone that create division rather than connection within the district.

The multiple lanes, heavy traffic, and the extreme difficulty of reaching EUR on two feet serve to isolate it from the surroundings, framing Mussolini’s project of a new Romanita as a discontinuous urban phenomena – a physical manifestation of the shortcomings and eventual discontinuity of the political project he championed.

Images in this chapter are approximately ordered geographically along the new roads, from North at the Colosseum to South at the Museo Civilita Romana.

1. Arthurs, Joshua. Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy.
2. Ghirardo, Diane Yvonne. Italy: Modern Architectures in History.


Ministero dell’Africa Italiana, now the UN Food & Agricultural Organization


The start of the former Via Imperiale


The pyramid of Caius Cestius and Porta San Paolo



Via Cristoforo Colombo passing through the Aurelian Wall


Offices for the Lazio Region along Via Cristoforo Colombo


A glimpse of EUR from the Laurentian Way


Piazzale delle Nazioni Unite


Palazzo dei Congressi


Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana


Piazza Imperiale, now Piazza Guglielmo Marconi


EUR Streetscape



Warped Perspective

12.2015 - 01.2016

In his essay Perspective as Symbolic Form Erwin Panofsky outlines the evolution of pictorial space from the isolated masses of classical antiquity, to the rationalization of matter through modern linear perspective during the Renaissance, and towards the possible erosion of this visual construct moving toward the present. In essence, linear perspective (both as a technique and as an aesthetic model) provided a total system for understanding space and objects in relation to one another, and thus carved out a realm for the human viewer to understand their consciousness in relation to the three-dimensional space described.

The ancient Near East, classical antiquity, the Middle Ages and indeed any archaizing art (for example Botticelli) all more or less completely rejected perspective, for it seemed to introduce an individualistic and accidental factor into an extra- or supersubjective world. – Erwin Panofsky [1]

In Rome there abound examples of perspective being deployed in order to enhance, enlarge, or adjust space via trompe l’oeil in Renaissance and Baroque architecture. (This is not a reference to the abundance of examples where a fantastical view, such as upwards to heaven, which is so often painted across the ceiling of a great church.) The goal is to create the perception of actual, physical and occupiable space beyond. The examples vary widely: The facade of Palazzo Barberini (Maderno/Bernini/Borromini), and the niches at the landings of Bernini’s stair in the same building, both places where the effect is subtle and finding the proper viewing location for one alcove breaks the illusion of all other other instances. The false dome of Sant’Ignazio which extends space upward, or Andrea Pozzo’s painting for Saint Ignacio’s corridor at the Gesu which enlarges and corrects the irregular end geometry of the space. Most ingeniously, Bernini’s corridor at the Palazzo Spada which actually creates a three-dimensional space that is much longer than it appears by “vanishing” geometrically.

I believe that the largest Buildings of the Exposition, which will remain, must together constitute an immense Forum. Imagine standing in the midst of the Roman Forum, among the piazzas, colonnades, landscapes, arches, etc., and viewing in the distance to the left the Coliseum, and in the distance to the right the Campidoglio. An analogous vision, though modern, very modern. – Marcello Piacentini, 1937 [2]


Palazzo Barberini


Side aisles in Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano


The “dome” in Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio from directly below


The “dome” right-side-up and up-side-down


Palazzo Borghese


Palazzo Spada


The vestibule to the Museo Pio Clementino at the Vatican Museums

It is true that the image of EUR bears formal correlation to Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Architectural Veduta [3] or the Ideal City paintings. But in these examples space seems to be in balance with the buildings, and even bounded by it. Instead, if we can understand E42 to be both a return to Roman ideals of planning and a trajectory towards the future, perhaps the better atmospheric or psychic reference would be Giorgio de Chirico.

De Chirico’s metaphysical space of isolated objects, harking back to the Classical idea of space portrays buildings as artifacts, objects floating without relation to one another or understanding of diminishing lines. De Chirico’s paintings with their fragmented planes allow the viewer to see all that is required to grasp a building. This attitude negates the individual perception of space for a more top-down hierarchical view. His imagery is clearly in vibration with both classical architecture and the “stripped classicism[4]” that epitomizes many Fascist buildings particularly by Marcello Piacentini. Even the broad barren open spaces can be a tactic to make each building more of an object, only compositionally related to the others, but otherwise in isolation.


Piazza San Pietro by Bernini which places primacy on the two foci of the elipse | Museo della Civiltà Romana by Aschieri, Bernardini, Pascoletti & Peressutti whose columns are ordered orthogonally


Palazzo Civiltà Italiana

Perspective subjects the artistic phenomenon to stable and even mathematically exact rules, but on the other hand, makes that phenomenon contingent upon human beings, indeed upon the individual: for these rules refer to the psychological and physical conditions of the visual impression, and the way they take effect is determined by the freely chosen position of a subjective “point of view.” Thus the history of perspective may be understood with equal justice as a triumph of the distancing and objectifying sense of the real, and as a triumph of the distance-denying human struggle for control; it is as much a consolidation and systematization of the external world, as an extension of the domain of the self. – Erwin Panofsky [5]

While the fronts of many Baroque churches are astounding, often they are sited such that it is virtually impossible to view them in pure elevation, thus it is just as much the tension in the surface, of columns emerging or receding to become pilasters and that three dimensionality that is expressed. The buildings at EUR are always to be viewed frontally or as a series of thresholds along a grand roadway. They lack the texture of their Renaissance predecessors, combining the imagery of Roman geometry and modern simplified forms lacking decoration, with only symbolic inscriptions and monumental bas reliefs. They can be understood through orthographic projections (plans, sections, elevations) and there is a didactic quality to them, for example at the Palazzo Civiltà Italiana with the arch as a sign, repeated over and over again. Even the glass is recessed to allow the mass to read more sculpturally without obvious reflections. Indeed this gives the project the almost skeletal appearance of a found monument; naturally this building is referred to as the “Square Colosseum.” Rather than the particularity of perspective, these projects are an expression of the collective.

1. Panofsky, Erwin. Perspective as Symbolic Form. 71.
2. Una Nuova Roma. L’Eur e il Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
3. Innamorati, Francesco and Enrico Valeriani. EUR: Quartiere di architetture “tradizioni nell’innovazione”.
4. Ghirardo, Diane Yvonne. Italy: Modern Architectures in History.
5. Panofsky, Erwin. Perspective as Symbolic Form. 67-8.



Case Study – Architectural Patronage – Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

12.2015 - 01.2016

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano.


Basilica San Pietro | Fontana di Trevi



Everywhere one turns in Rome there is another church or fountain emblazoned with the name of a Pope who sponsored the project. Sometimes it’s an emperor associated with the monument. These names appear as a way of marking the legacy of a leader, both their greatness and their munificence: St Peter’s is inscribed Paulus V Burghesius, the Trevi Fountain sports Benedictus XIV.

Today the whole city is emblazoned with signage, and advertising is unavoidable. Temporary billboards wrap buildings under repair, presumably a symbiotic relationship between a brand needing publicity and the city/owner looking for additional funds. Examples can be found everywhere from the Duomo in Milan, to the Obelisk in Piazza del Popolo.



Interestingly, there is a relatively new condition that doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories; the luxury fashion house paying to renovate a city’s icon. Tod’s donated to clean the Colosseum, but if there is any signage to that effect it is difficult to locate. Bulgari is currently donating to refurbish the Spanish Steps, with only minimal branding, while their visible flagship is just a block away on the city’s most luxurious shopping street Via dei Condotti.

Fendi paid to clean and repair the Fontana di Trevi and just recently moved its headquarters into the newly renovated Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, the most iconic building in EUR and probably the building which above all others to this day is still linked to Mussolini’s legacy. Its name does not appear on either monument, except on a sign advertising the new exhibit in the first floor of the Palazzo. The building, originally intended to house an exhibition on the history of Italy with each floor a different era, now has offices with exhibition space only at the entrance floor. However Fendi doesn’t shy away from announcing its many stores at the end of Via dei Condotti, the logo for it’s exclusive shopping showroom is a composition of arches reminiscent of the Palazzo’s facade, and they used the arches in some of their window dressings [1].




Piazza del Popolo | Scalatina di Spagna

Why is there all this generosity by these luxury houses to donate so freely to Rome’s imagery? Largesse is the new cool, a backlash from the plush times before the economic crisis, a burst of free publicity in exchange for renovating Rome’s patrimony. In the case of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Fendi is leasing the building for 15 years, not quite long enough to carve their name in stone that already bears an inscription to the Italian people. The question is whether 70 years is enough time to separate the building from its origins.

In today’s Rome, just like in the Rome of Sixtus V, patronage is the ultimate means of advertising economical and political power. The shift from public or ecclesiastical entities to capitalist corporations is the symptom of mutations suffered by Italy’s sociopolitical structure.



Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana



Case study – Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi

12.2015 - 01.2016

Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi by Adalberto Libera
Nuovo Centro Congressi by Massimiliano Fuksas

Adalberto Libera’s Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi was one of the few projects almost completed before construction halted at EUR during WWII. It lies at the end of a cross-axis of the zone, opposite the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. (Unfortunately interior photos of this building are permitted only for personal study.) The conference hall is striking, surrounded by a thick ring of poche containing stairs and elevators. Its double-vaulted roof is expressed on both the interior and exterior. The main hall is embedded within a columned pavilion that provides covered entrances on both the front and back. The roof-top open air theater can be seen in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Il Conformista.”

The new hall by Massimiliano Fuksas to be completed later in 2016 sits set back from the main Via Cristoforo Colombo, and hopefully is able to animate this space. It makes a similar gesture by framing the front facade with a double-structured wrapper, but the main expressive space referred to as the “cloud” floats inside the building, more literally an object. The project is a glass curtain-wall building, an update of the new type to appear in EUR after the war. Yet, the reflectivity and cantilever of the wrapper allows the building to express a similar frontality.


Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi


Nuovo Centro Congressi


Nuovo Centro Congressi



Case Study – Industrial Picturesque – Montemartini

12.2015 - 01.2016


There was amongst some a post-WWI mentality to build towards “a day when foreigners would come to Italy on a new grand tour, attracted not by its aesthetic or historical patrimony, nor by the dolce far niente lifestyle, but by the achievements of modern industry[1].” Fascism wanted to avoid sentimentality by stripping away the medieval city to expose clear and vigorous Roman monuments, and to build a future for Italy based on efficiency and technology.

In 1997 when the Capitoline museums were undergoing renovations it was decided to use the Montemartini power plant as an exhibition space. (In fact the plant had already been used as a museum to showcase the engines.) The Capitoline Museum exhibit was called “The Machines and the Gods” – and it appears the layout remains largely the same today. There is a strange rapport between the statues and the machines, bringing to mind human anatomy with their valves, rushing pipes, energy. The setting could as easily be imagined as a museum for human physiology. The displays, painted pastel colors to contrast with both the industrial and classical again echo the primitive geometries that modern architects use to signify both the Roman and the timeless.

Elements of the thermoelectric power plant are labeled, as is the art. In fact, the Fascist works and roads in Rome unearthed a large number of the Roman sculptures on display, and the plant was extended with the intention to provide energy for the E42 project further to the south. Rather than visiting the Montemartini for any current technological relevance, these machines are historicized and the display relishes in the picturesque of industry.

1. Arthurs, Joshua. Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy.







Around the Montemartini | MACRO in Testaccio reuses the old slaughter houses



Foro Italico

12.2015 - 01.2016

The Foro Mussolini (now the Foro Italico) sits on the North bank of the Tevere as it loops around the city. It was designed for the physical education of Italy’s youth and is full of Fascist iconography. Approaching the site from the city center, one crosses the new Ponte Milvio with carvings of soldiers towards a gigantic marble obelisk in honor of Mussolini, and through an entry plaza decorated with mosaics and marble placards honoring Fascist history.

The 1960 Olympics and 1990 World Cup have reshaped the Foro as well as other areas of Rome. Some buildings like the Olympic Stadium have been upgraded. South of the Tevere there were new buildings at the Olympic village and Nervi’s Palazzetto Sport which eschewed iconography for structural expression in a jewel-box of a stadium. At EUR the Palalottomatica was built to end the main concourse, designed by Nervi with Marcello Piacentini, who seems to have had a firm hold on the shaping of that area even post-war.


The Ponte Duce d’Aosta connects the Foro Italico to the city center


The Foro Italico, formerly the Foro Mussolini


Casa delle Armi, Luigi Moretti | Stadio Olimpico


Stadio dei Marmi

Notwithstanding the theory that there is actually no Fascist architectural style per se[1], much of the iconography of the Foro remains as it was, and it is curious to see these monuments to Mussolini even as the campus’ name has changed. This can be partially explained by the changes in allegiance of Italy at the end of WWII, or by an attempt not to erase history completely[2]. But perhaps it is an attitude, born from the routine throughout Rome’s history of constructing upon the residue of previous eras. (It was only during the Fascist period when large agglomerations of history was erased without sentimentality.) This is not to negate the impact of seeing Fascist words and monuments around the city without any editorializing, but an attempt to understand why they remain. It is possible that the Foro is regarded as just another layer of history which may generate something new and great in its next reincarnation – in the way the site of Nero’s lake gave way to the Colosseum for public entertainment. As Aldo Rossi formulated in Architettura Della Città, the lesson of Rome is in the permanence of the primary elements and the structure of the urban fabric, significantly impervious to the historical sanitization of the Fascists.

CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee, has its offices at the Foro Italico in one of the original buildings north of the bridge, and it will be fascinating to see what might happen to the Foro if Rome wins its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Will facilities used during the 1960’s be large or telegenic enough to house events in 8 years’ time, will the site now really part of the city be adequate to handle the throngs, and what is Italy’s attitude towards the imagery of its less palatable past?


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs or “Farnesina”, formerly the Casa Littoria near the Foro Italico


Corso di Francia elevated road by Nervi


Nervi’s Palazzetto Dello Sport for the 1960 Olympics


Nervi’s Palazzetto Dello Sport for the 1960 Olympics


Nervi’s Palazzetto Dello Sport for the 1960 Olympics

1. Ghirardo, Diane Yvonne. Italy: Modern Architectures in History.
2. Painter, Borden. Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City.
See Also:



Case Study – Piazza Augusto Imperatore

12.2015 - 01.2016

The most significant complex Mussolini built within the city center was the Piazza Augusto Imperatore around the Mausoleum of Augustus to commemorate two millennia since the emperor’s birth. Parallels were intended to be drawn between the Augustus and Mussolini, who was intent on building an empire of his own. The importance of the site was partially a fabrication; the Ara Pacis representing Augustus’ greatness and the Pax Romana was originally located several hundred meters south near today’s Piazza Navona.



Three sides of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore were constructed in one of the competing styles of Fascist architecture, neoclassical brick and travertine with monumental columns emulating the materiality of Roman ruins. The center of the piazza is occupied by the mausoleum, hardly visible through the trees, and surrounded by a construction fence, still awaiting restoration. All activity has been pushed to the porticoes at the perimeter which remain busy with cafes and restaurants, while the center is completely vacant. The fourth edge along the river was once a glass and travertine pavilion for the Ara Pacis by Vittorio Morpurgo, but was rebuilt by Richard Meier in 2006 with a building using similar materials to a completely different effect.

Meier, whose work is deeply modernist and has links to Rationalist architecture, built a pavilion that uses architectural elements held slightly apart from each other as if to say: This is a wall, this is a roof, this is a column. The glass is meant to essentially disappear from the inside – unfortunately it is extremely reflective from the outside which reduces the dematerializing effect. This completely atypical glass building in the center of Rome didactically embodies the political and formal opposition between Mussolini and western academia’s architecture – exposing, at the same time, the shortcomings of the latter in solving its juxtaposition to the overwhelming materiality of Rome’s historic architecture.


Ara Pacis


Ara Pacis


Ara Pacis





Impressions – Rome

12.2015 - 01.2016

Above | Borromini, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza


Borromini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane


Bramante, el Tiempietto di San Pietro in Montorio