Rome’s new architectural renaissance
South of the city centre, Francesco del Tosto’s Ponte dell’Ostiense bridge, began connecting the Ostiense and Garbatella neighbourhoods in June 2012 with a white steel skeleton that tapers into a wish-bone-like shape. Traditionally a bit worn around the edges, these neighbourhoods are potentially on the brink of reinvention. Eataly, the made-in-Italy deluxe gourmet supermarket with branches in New York City and Japan, has taken residence at the Ostiense train station, a former air terminal for Rome’s Fiumicino Airport originally designed by Julio Lafuente for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Eataly’s presence, along with the hub for Italo, Italy’s latest high-speed train, has pumped a bit of verve into the Ostiense district, and there is more to come. Citta dei Giovani, Rem Koolhaas’s university project, may open toward the end of 2013. Initially forecast as “the City of the Youth”, the architect’s project was first designed to be an expansive, cultural campus for students on the former grounds of the Mercati Generali, a Fascist-era market space. But over the past two years, the project’s purpose has transformed into a more commercial space, incorporating shops, bars and restaurants for the general public into the modern piazza-inspired campus.
Even Rome’s historic centre has been touched by contemporary architecture. In 2006, Richard Meier enclosed the Augustan-era Ara Pacis box-shaped temple from 9 AD in a modernist glass and travertine box called the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, which has paved the way for other architectural projects that protect the old while heralding the new. Projected to open in 2013, the Via del Corso’s Benetton flagship, housed in the 17th-century Unione Militare building, has been shelled out to make room for the Fuksas studio’s La Lanterna, a larger-than-life lantern made of glass and metal designed to snake through the palazzo’s four levels and rooftop.
Perhaps the least known, but sure to create a stir, is Pritzer prize winner Jean Nouvel’s upcoming museum/commercial centre for the avant-garde art Foundation Alda Fendi. Scheduled for a 2014 completion, little has been revealed about Nouvel’s upcoming renovation, in part because the site is already controversial. Taking over a former casa popolare -- Fascist-era low income housing -- Fendi is about to plant a contemporary art centre in the middle of Rome’s most ancient neighbourhood – the Velabro, at the foot of the Palatine hill and near the Roman Forum. Nouvel intends on restoring the decrepit palazzo building and giving its façade an architectural facelift that complements the area, while creating a dynamic interior space that will include art installations, boutiques, luxury apartments and artists’ studios -- a building that literally encapsulates Rome’s endearing juxtaposition of old and new.