«…But a friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It’s called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came, they trashed it along with everything else. The great Augustus, Rome’s first true great emperor…how could he have imagined that Rome…the whole world, as far as he was concerned, would be in ruins? It’s one of the quietest and loneliest places in Rome. The city has grown up around it over centuries. It feels like a precious wound, like a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same! Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things rumbling to ruins. Then I looked around in this place, at the chaos it’s endured the way it’s been adapted, burned, pillaged then found a way to build itself back up again, and I was reassured. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation».
From Ryan Murphy’s “Eat, Pray, Love”, 2010.
As our unusual patient, we want to conjecture this Rome, as a “divided” psycho. Rome’s real problems often diverge from the rhetorics that make its identity. On one hand we have the dynamic city: the urban tissue and population keeps growing and problems change rapidly. On the other hand there is the suspended city: she contemplates herself and her enormous heritage continuously turning into history. The burden of her “great beauty” makes her often weak and disordered. Let’s see how.
Mind disorder: The city is starting to grow towards a “regional” dimension but she still perceives herself as a metropolis. Her tissue doesn’t spread like wildfire anymore. It is closer to a concretion – a hybrid and amorphous object, always different from itself, always establishing new relationships with its “outside” and running after new schemes of livability with its “inside” (provided that inside and outside still mean something).
Language disorder: Faulty communication. Continuous misunderstanding. Two languages – one for the “eternal city” and the other for “the globalized city”. Both official, they give us the idea of a city that deeply mirrors its history and solemnity of its symbols but in parallel is restlessly searching and adopting politics and solutions allowing it to get involved in the future. However, parallel lines meet at infinity, that means dangerously far away. So, while refurbishing her basilicas for the imminent jubilee, Rome longs for interventions that could evoke worldwide recognizable sceneries.
Troubles with memory: She remembers her past perfectly, and hardly the simple one. This makes her unable to understand how to use this memory for the future. The elements that, being full of history, make Rome recognizable, do not empathize well with the natural process of development, coming from the new contemporary issues. She loses herself between protection and reuse, forgets intermediate solutions and, to feel safe, chooses to preserve what is old and use new soil to build everything that’s new.
Hallucinations: This city thinks she sees her progress in materiality, thus she affirms her evolution through large “public” works by famous and worldwide known architects. Someone should tell her again that technology and civilization always go hand in hand and are both represented in the city, because it is clear that she has completely forgotten it, lost in a parallel reality where four new metro stops can be an amazing turning points.
Ravings: Perpetually diseased of megalomania and sick of herself, the narcissism and satisfaction coming from her “great beauty” act virally on her perceptive sphere. Roma Capitale. Roma Caput Mundi. Roma mia quanto sei bella! In the worst moments of this disease, she hides herself in the imaginary saving power of her identity, in those elements that have been able to win over time. The reality is that time passes, transforming everything, even beauty.
We are like surgeons, during an urgent operation: time, precision, attention to detail become crucial. We’re facing a disease that does not affect only mind, thinking and “modus operandi” but can go straight to the heart. Thus the medicine we propose is made of opening, digging, looking inside and going deeply into the core of the problem in order to understand the relationships between the illness outward and the profound unease behind. Medicine takes care of human health, whereas architecture looks after the place this humans live in, that can osmotically get sick in the same way. This requires us not to forget feelings, creativity and abstract ideas every time we start working on something. This period seems to have lost some of these elements, and the tools available are old and ideologically affected. Can there be a solution to this? We feel like trying shock therapy of the research context: we prescribe university as a place where every experiment is possible, the context of architectural production where every idea on urban development or transformation, thanks to the mechanism of the workroom, has the space and time to be deeply discussed and tested by a human capital almost empty of any prejudice and fulfilled with motivation. The portrait of the student era as a very fertile one may seem an ideal one, but ideas, often unusual, are the substance of research and they transform it into real actions. As a place of exchange and transit of plural and multicultural information, university produces a virtuous process of control and enrichment of ideas, improved by the comparison with far and different contexts. In this utopian and detached prescription there is a will to find elements throughout the investigation of projects and scenarios, of ideas, opinions and contributions extracted by the “pathological” context of the city.
Edited by Giulia Bassi, Alessandro Petroni, Valentina Simonetta.
English translation by: Giulia Bassi.
Cover image by: © Marco Scandurra,“Contemporary” + “Historical” Rome.