Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali

Winner of Piranesi Prix de Rome 2016 XIV Edition, competition for via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome.

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle

General considerations and urban planning
Archaeology is a human activity which displays at least three characteristics. It is a science that allows the ancient world to be understood in terms of many of its values, meanings and characteristics that define the landscape, the city and the architecture of a civilization
It is an art form because bringing to light the memory of the past can only be considered as a creative act. Unveiling the past is a selective and thematic practice, a reconstructive activity from every stand point that calls for a strong narrative ability. Finally, archeology is the communication of this investigative and creative process that must not result in either a simplification of the ancient world or in its modernization. In fact, the past must remain shrouded in its own aura of myth and mystery. Architecture significantly contributes to this threefold essence, since this art must make sure that ancient past is not ambiguously translated using contemporary interpretations nor, conversely, reduced to an even more enigmatic entity. Therefore, the role of architecture is to position the antique within the contemporary landscape without forcing it or using new materials that could be in contrast with the preservation of the ancient ruins, while simultaneously avoiding the addition of new elements derived from interpretations based on inadequate evidence. Thus, architecture should orient itself in an archeological environment as a discreet, almost invisible art form. Architectural intervention must, on the one hand, restore the ancient heritage to the contemporary city—which is a result of it— and, on the other hand, it must allow it to remain as such, without contaminating it too much with the new. Finding a balance between these two methods is indeed the most difficult task in the arrangement of any archaeological site, bearing in mind that the more the ancient ruins remain ruins, the richer they are in terms of their evocative potential and thematic suggestions.

The restoration of the central archaeological area carried out in the thirties offered, essentially, a visual and rhetorical-celebratory experience, an experience resulting in the showing off of the ruins, considered as separate sections of a monumental complex that cannot be appreciated in its entirety. Therefore, preserving the view offered by Via dell’Impero was a choice that confirmed a historical decision that must be accompanied by the possibility to experience the central archaeological area not only visually but also to interpret it not as a but as a system of enclosures, each of which is an autonomous architectural universe. Redesigning Via dei Fori Imperiali as two, serviced pedestrian promenades will allow for the discovery of the structure of the enclosure system and their complex relationships creating an exciting promenade where differences in scale, the quality of the architectural elements, the perception of the building materials will provide a more advanced and comprehensive idea of the ancient heritage. An idea that will detract from the charm of the past felt by visitors but which will introduce them to a new world of knowledge and feelings.
From an urban planning standpoint, the exceptional nature of the Forums requires a bold and sometimes visionary interpretation, one of a city capable of retreating when faced with the astonishing value of its archaeological heritage, sacrificing enough of its habits and its daily rhythms to adapt itself to the necessary importance of its ancient heritage.
Maintaining the irreplaceable interaction between city and archeology is the main challenge of the urban project, called to expand the extraordinary potential of the site without damaging its urban values ​​by freely becoming part of the life strategies of the people experiencing it. It is not only a matter of improving the pedestrian crossing conditions at the edges and at the entrance of the area, but also to maintain the interactions of the co-presence and practice that characterize what is already there. The opening of Metro C will allow for vehicle traffic to be reduced to a minimum in the north-south bound direction of the city, resulting in the traffic being distributed, as has already happened in part, throughout the roadway network that surrounds the central archaeological area.

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle

Architectural and landscape design
The arrangement of the area included in the competition brief is based essentially on four systems, corresponding to three different themes. The first is that of the archaeological ruins in the area, which the new excavations for the demolition and reconstruction of the current Via dei Fori Imperiali will bring to light for the first time in terms of its original size and location. A large number of fragments will also be found and placed in museums or repositioned on the buildings they belonged to. This part of the project is strategically the most important one because it will be possible to understand, in its true morphological contents and architectural articulation, a monumental complex that scholars, architects and artists have argued about for centuries. Where possible the reconstruction of the enclosure system will be accompanied by an architectural narration that will clarify the contents, even the most hidden ones, of the various interventions. Everything will be accompanied by a list of data and considerations that will allow the vast number of tourists, without overloading them with information, to understand the reasons for the construction of the Forums, the artistic, symbolic and propagandistic values that they convey together with the new values that these big urban architectural elements have acquired over time.

The second system is constituted by the new Via dei Fori Imperiali. The current street, which is approximately 40 meters wide, resting on an earthen embankment that is 8 meters above the level of Trajan’s Forum and the Forum of Augustus, will be replaced by an aerial structure that supports both the pedestrian level and the roadway. A series of small diameter iron pipes, gathered together in bunches of 4 to 6 pieces, will support two, 5-meter-wide pedestrian walkways and another one, reserved for public transportation vehicles, which will be 7 meters, 30 cm wide. The floor will be supported by a single triangular, steel tubular box beam, and the roadway platform will rest on two triangular, steel tubular box beams within which the cables of the structure will be inserted. The new Via dei Fori Imperiali will be made up of three pathways: a central one, intended for public transportation vehicles, and two panoramic promenades on either side. These are further subdivided into two areas: the first paved in stone or wood, the other with a long, linear flower bed with grass and plants. Every sixty meters there will be rest areas with benches and services including waste collection, power supply for mobile devices, water distribution and an air conditioning system that heats or cools the air allowing visitors who stop in the rest areas to enjoy this special microclimate in summer and winter. After accurate surveys on the area of the ground plan of the structure are performed with the latest sonic survey systems, the construction process will require pillar piles to be inserted into the soil up to 1.2 meters from the current roadway level and will proceed, sequentially, as follows: on Via dei Fori Imperiali excavations will take place with a mandatory section of 1.5 m x 1 m in which the triangular box beams with will be positioned. The horizontal pedestrian structures will be installed on the box beams for the walkways and roadway. The subsequent archeological excavation will free these works from the underlying ground of the building area and will expose its structural, architectural and environmental value.

The third system, the most spatially complex of the project, is related to points of access to the site. Coming from the south, the first point of access is the entrance from Piazza Venezia. This is twofold: the first one is provided by a staircase and an elevator, and is located in a steel and glass enclosure that protects the ruins of Hadrian's Auditoria; the second is via a ramp that is designed as an architectural promenade, accessed from the courtyard of the Library in Trajan's Forum. These two entrances allow access to a level below Via dei Fori Imperiali, which will house services such as a ticket booth, bookshop, bar cafeteria, and restrooms. This large space will be particularly fascinating because the new, lightweight, convertible structures will form a dialogue with the ruins, creating an underground landscape full of vistas and unexpected views in the direction of the Trajan’s Forum. In the corner of the Forum, facing Palazzo Roccagiovine, a steel and glass double display case will contain two reconstructions of the facades of the Trajan's Basilica. A second entrance will enclose Via Cavour including the Torre dei Conti which will hosts a vertical museum, which develops like a historical narration of sorts, articulated along a ramp that starts in the single, large, central room, restored to its ancient form.  From the top of the ramp visitors can access an elevator and a staircase that offer a panoramic view of the Imperial Forums from above. The staircase, whose design includes elements of the baroque, connects the wing of the streets with the archaeological level. A building that will house services, which makes up the modern base of Torre dei Conti, will create, with its references to the Italian Rationalism of the thirties, a vital dialog harmonized with the Roman ruins. The third, most complex access point, is located adjacent to the Basilica of Maxentius. An entrance allows visitors to enter the Basilica and from there the Imperial Forums, while, at the same time, connecting the access point to a system of services that is placed along a trail at the same height as the archaeological area, exploiting the linear space under the new Via dei Fori Imperiali. This system, which allows services to be provided to a large number of visitors, includes restrooms, a bookshop, a refreshment area and pre-visit meeting rooms. From this service location, visitors can reach the new Antiquarium built next to Villa Rivaldi that, together with the connected pre-existing structures, will become a large museum, which will be described in more details in a subsequent section of this report. At the end of the Velia, a staircase and an elevator will connect Via Degli Annibaldi with Via dei Fori Imperiali. To the side of this vertical junction, a new terrace will project towards the Coliseum offering a covered rest area. Proceeding towards the Coliseum, the traffic that originates at the center of the new Via dei Fori Imperiali will give way to allow for the ancient perimeter ring marked by memorial stones to be restored around the amphitheater. From the Coliseum it will be possible to reach the Ludus Magnus, which can also be accessed through Via Lubicana by way of a ramp. On the right hand side, the garden, located in a section of ​​Colle Oppio, will be reorganized to bring back to light using a simple design, the archaeological remains beneath it.

The fourth system is that of landscape design, which is organically connected with the architectural one. Green areas with grass or bushes and trees, according to a design that, at times, echoes that of the ruins, but at other times is in contrast with them, as in the Basilica of Maxentius, will constitute an environmental set up parallel to that of the wall. The same scenic walk will be laid out as an artificial-natural landscape which will be related to the architectural elements that visitors can admire from it. The archaeological landscape is the result of three traditions: the first one of a scientific nature; the second one, of a narrative nature – Joaquim du Bellay, Goethe, Stendhal, Freud – and the third one of a visual nature, from Piranesi to Rober, from Turner to Cole. These three components are present in the project with the aim of achieving a new synergy where these three traditions represent a sound reference point for a new concept of the relationship between new and ancient architecture.

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle

Museological/ museographic design
Nowadays, it is rather difficult to propose an unambiguous idea of ​​ancient heritage and its relationship with the contemporary world. This limit, or rather this new thematic complexity, necessitates the expression of a hyper-textual system where more than one interpretative line coexists within a positive competition of sorts, rather than a tendentious point of view on the evidence of the past. Therefore, the past introduces itself as an archipelago that can be navigated according to different exploratory lines, always allowing different avenues of research. An ever-changing archipelago whose structure is constantly evolving, even via the current presence of high culture and middle or low culture that mix mediated assumptions with the simple charm of the past, combined with a mythology that owes much to mass literature as well as to Cinema. However, this condition does not prevent a specific, profound and innovative culture to continue to explore new aspects of ancient heritage, but inevitably the results of this adequate and advanced approach coexist with a devotion to a media-based nature and an imagination that often, improperly, takes into account the most spectacular aspects of the archaeological universe.

The new Antiquarium, which together with Villa Rivaldi, will become a new museum, is the outpost that will ensure that scientific knowledge of the ancient ruins can be integrated with the need to expose, according to the multiple and even alternative paths, what has been achieved. The Antiquarium is a large space, 18 meters high and 22 meters wide, served by a structure containing its entrances, distribution and service equipment, partly crossed by nine bridges along which fragments of the past, written records, everyday objects and sculptures will be displayed. In the end wall, adjacent to Villa Rivaldi, the most significant elements that will emerge from the excavation of the area of the ground plan of the building works on Via dei Fori Imperiali will be placed.  On the opposite wall, the Severan Forma Urbis will be displayed. It should be remembered that this work of art is not only the sum of valuable topographical, typological and morphological information. Since it was discovered in 1562, it has become the symbolic form of the ideal city, a work of art which, as some of Piranesi’s engravings remind us, has never stopped suggesting structural ways of thinking and designing a city. In some ways, the Severan constructions are the originators of a concept of a city that allows the urban settlement to assign not only a descriptive but also a structural value to its shape, which materializes in the same form as the genetic code of the city itself. The crypt and the conference room, boasting approximately a hundred and fifty seats, are located below the great hall, which is lit from the ceiling through skylights and a large light room. From this level, a pedestrian walkway, leads through a vast cryptoporticus to the height of the Imperial Forums and the Basilica of Maxentius. From the Antiquarium, visitors can quickly reach the crypt through a short walkway located at the height of the archeological excavation. The courtyard of Villa Rivaldi, adjacent to the Antiquarium, will be covered and will house a model of Ancient Rome which will demonstrate the new information which has been uncovered compared to the historical one of Italo Gismondi. In addition, Villa Rivaldi will be equipped with a library, spaces for a visual exploration of the central archaeological area and services for visitors, including several seminar rooms. The system created by Villa Rivaldi and the new Antiquarium is proposed as a single intervention where Sangallo’s architecture and the new addition will give life to a functional complex inspired by open and advanced museographic standards.

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle

Archeological Project (Imperial Forums)
The excavations carried out at the Imperial Forums on the occasion of the Jubilee allowed many of the individual sections of the forums to be stitched back together, thus greatly improving our understanding of them, sometimes with surprising results. Due to the lack of a single urban planning project, up until now it had been impossible to complete the works; therefore, the partitioning of the forum areas continues to hinder the correct overall interpretation of the complex as a whole in its original context, mostly concerning the relationship between the individual Forums and between these and the Roman Forum. The strength of the project being presented here is in the attempt to respond, in a coherent manner, to the need for the overall reconstruction of the arrangement of the Forums as they are presently, without erasing the memory of the multi-stratifications that have marked the history of the area from ancient times to the present day. With a wider vision in mind, the attempt is to grasp the urban value of the archeological area, to make the ruins understandable and to tell the tale of this area of the city, using a diachronic approach, with the help of the latest educational tools and IT technologies. The purpose is to return this area to citizens and visitors so that they may understand the vastness of the spaces, the power of the volumes, the formal quality of the buildings, even if they are lying in ruins. However, even the ruins may be interpreted, if accurately documented. Both the axis of Via dei Fori Imperiali –a road that, even with drastic design changes was already present in its essential form in the urban plans of the nineteenth century – and other minor roadway axes, which, since Medieval times, have cut through the Forums transversally, will be preserved. This way, it would be possible to propose an arrangement of a few fundamental areas of the Medieval and Modern Age, which, in today’s layout, appear isolated and have no relationship with their original context: the ruins of the church and hospital of Sant’Urbano, the church of S. Luca and S. Martina, the church of S. Cosma and S. Damiano, and the Torre dei Conti. The stretch of Via dei Fori Imperiali from Piazza Venezia to Largo Corrado Ricci would become a major roadway that, supported by slender pillars, would not only preserve the historical connection between Piazza Venezia and the Coliseum, but would also become a boulevard facing the Forums. It would be the perfect opportunity to finally complete the archeological excavations of the Forums. There will be several entrances at the levels of the Forums, designed specifically to avoid the separation between the modern urban network and the archeological area. There will be an access point from Trajan’s Forum, at the Column, with a modern and practical configuration of the excavation area in relation to the so called Auditoria and a narrower connection between the Basilica Ulpia, Trajan’s Column and the residential district found under Palazzo Valentini. Another access point will be located in Via Cavour and it would connect to the Tempio della Pace through a ramp that would reach the height of the Torre dei Conti, which will be inserted along the perimeter of the quadriporticus that once surrounded the Tempio della Pace. This will become one of the major information points for visitors who from here, from this vantage point above the city, would be able to enjoy an excellent view over the archeological area. Another major access point will be directly connected to the restoration of Villa Rivaldi. Here it will is possible to proceed on the one hand to the restoration of the building and garden and on the other hand to the creation – in the Velia area dissected by Via dei Fori Imperiali – of a vast underground hall that would feature both modern, efficient public services as well as a display of the most significant archeological finds brought to light in the area (sculptures and frescoes of the medium-imperial domus; Forma Urbis Severiana).

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle

Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle
Studio Valle Progettazioni, Franco Purini · Project for Via dei Fori Imperiali
Dipartimento di Architettura e Progetto. Università Sapienza di Roma, Tommaso Valle
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