Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Studio: Rome – Travel, Authenticity and the Past.

‘If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels.  They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival.  Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems…’ Alain De Botton

Rome – the Eternal City – could be described as iconic in many ways.  It is one of the cradles of early urban civilisation; the axis mundi of the ancient Roman empire; the court of the Popes; a centre for Christian pilgrimage; an archaeological touchstone for generations of artists and architects; a must-see for contemporary tourists.  It has been repeatedly sacked and laid waste, only to be re-built anew.  Its urban form has been re-invented many times over: by Emperors such as Trajan, Diocletian and Hadrian; by Popes such as Paul III and Sixtus V; and in more recent times by Mussolini.  The result is a densely worked city of many superimposed and often conflicting layers.

Rome may be considered the urban laboratory par excellence.  Travel and tourism of one form or another, have always been inextricably linked to its history.

In August 2008, the current deputy mayor of Rome, Mauro Cutrufo, announced a new initiative for a 500 hectare theme park to be built on the outskirts of the city, which could be completed within three years:

‘…what the Eternal City really needs to keep visitors coming is not museums, but fun rides. "The model is EuroDisney in Paris," said Mauro Cutrufo… If Cutrufo gets his way, anyone bored of touring actual remains of republican and imperial Rome can head to the suburbs to see the same thing in fibreglass. "You would relive scenes from the Colosseum, from ancient Rome, gladiators or maybe Julius Caesar or other things," a Rome city official said…’ Guardian, 15 August 2008.

This proposal is the starting point for Studio One’s investigations this year.  The aim is to explore architecture’s role in the relationship that we create with the past.  We will consider issues of: tourism/travel, heritage, museums, theme parks, pastiche/authenticity, and ‘destination architecture’. The intention is to begin to propose projects and specific architectural interventions that develop an appropriate empathy and respect of the past and yet which can still be contemporary, enjoyable and uplifting. The precise definition of these terms is of course open for you each to determine yourselves.

From an environmental and technological perspective, the studio will consider issues of: the joining of new and old; sustainability and re-use; the autonomy of form; and the environmental lessons that can be learned from traditional indigenous buildings and urban form.

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