A MUSEUM IN ROME: A CONTEMPORARY MONUMENT
The city is a dynamic entity. At its healthiest, it is in a constant state of flux — its urban form evolves as our personal and collective narratives overlap and intertwine. It is manifested from a continual layering of elements and stories, its people shaping a shared identity. A palimpsest that stands outside of our understanding of time, its past not only belongs to its history, but permeates its present, the two coexisting. This is the essential element of its existence: denying this fact and attempting to fix a city in time makes it no longer a city, but merely a place.
Such is the case of Rome. For the majority of its history, the city and its people embraced continuous growth, but more recently have become fixated on an identity defined by singular moments of history. The site of the Colosseum and the surrounding fora — once the centre of the ancient city — expresses this stagnancy better than any other. Fear of change has inhibited the site from functioning productively, resulting in a fragmented, overcrowded succession of compressed yet empty spaces. The site no longer exists within a city fabric, but has become a purely self-referential “destination” removed from any context other than itself.
This museum is an urban intervention. It reinstates the site as a central node in the larger network of Rome, connecting past artifacts with a contemporary urban context. It addresses what already exists, giving monuments new lives with the addition of a contemporary monumental presence inserted on the site.
This project, however, does not “preserve”. Preservation disassociates a city’s past with its present — it encourages the notion that they are two separate, disconnected entities. Thus ruins are removed from
the public site; urban artifacts are revived. We are not “preserving” artifacts when we allow them to participate with the surrounding city, but instead adding new layers of meaning to the present.
The new museum is bold — but given the scale and immense significance embedded in the site, the intervention must be of equal proportions. This museum of Rome can not be just a building, nor can it hide in the city nor fall into the landscape: this museum sits in a field of monuments, and thus must itself become a monument. Like the long tradition of Roman architecture before it, the buildings will be a visible symbol to the people of the city, speaking to history’s “centre of the world.”
From the exterior, the interior of this new monument floats — it becomes an extension of the sky. Looking out from behind the glass façade towards the Forum are recreations of colossal statues from Rome’s past: Venus Felix from the temple of Venus and Roma, Jupiter from his temple on the Capitoline Hill, the emperor Constantine, and the infamous Colossus. These are symbols of Rome’s history that sit within a new public temple.
The museum is understood not as a catalogue of Rome’s physical formations, but as a series of contradictory stories, a retelling of all manifestations of the city and its people that together form a coherent image.
There are many different ways to tell the story of a city. In this museum, the story—much like the city itself—is built in layers. The collection follows a progression of representations that look at the entirety of Rome in its physical formations, to snapshots of the city’s landscape, to compilations and representations of history, to images of its people. In this regard, the collection is formed as a narrative that progressively fragments the way in which we view a city, to understand all meanings of what a city is. It reconstructs the past and simultaneously imagines the present.
The architecture follows a similar progression of fragmentation. It first sets the visitor underground in heavy, enclosed spaces, as if hollowed out from the earth. Starting with the model of Rome and Severan map, the visitor ramps down below the lobby, viewing models, maps and orthographic drawings. These are are all totalizing representations of Rome that attempt to encompass the city through its physical formations.
Then begins an ascent upwards, to an intermediary exhibition space that sits above the street, however remains disconnected from the exterior. The rooms in the exhibition space begin to break, and unfold; the spaces are no longer enclosures, but a series of planes and openings. Starting with Nature and Landscape there are images and snapshots of the city, followed by History and Memory, in which paintings and etchings project personal representations of Rome— compilations of buildings, monuments, and retellings of historical events.
Finally the visitor passes through the threshold of the “new ground” entering the space of the sky. In this space, there are no separations, only a series of rising platforms that dissipate into the center. Here man and the people of Rome are viewed within the surrounding city. It is the most abstracted form of the city, and the one that represents its soul. The horizon of the space reaches outward. It removes the contemporary boundary between the heavens and the earth, calling back to ancient perceptions of man’s role in the universe: he is not separate from the gods, she is not separate from the city—they exist together.
In collaboration with Taylor Davey