Since its official opening, in 1932, the linear mark drawn by Via dell’Impero – even though it was never completed in all of its parts - has been the battlefield where interests of different fields encountered, such as archaeology, architecture, urban design and also symbolisms, ideologies and scientific attitudes. It has been the arena for the conflict of opposite visions, all expressions of a dialectic relationship between politics and culture, conservation and alteration, ideal programmes and tangible projects. This conflicting duality also distinguished the projects for the Palazzo del Littorio and for the Danteum, which were never realised but are still significant and inspirational paradigms.
The development of the site, capable of guaranteeing an inclusive participation that moves towards a public “use” of history, draws the attention on the acknowledgment of the value and meaning of the context in which we act. When analysing the project from an archaeological point of view, it is necessary to face a task of “cultural translation” (A. Ricci): on the one hand, the unfamiliarity of ruins and fragments as a detached section of a no longer visible unified entity, on the other side the visitor as a “receiver”. Such an act of translating and transferring knowledge, relates and reconciles distinct times and places of the same city. In this view, the past with all its ruins are neither a mere ‘aesthetic precedent’, nor a nostalgic escape from the present, but rather they are an active part of this. Therefore, the project will have to deal with the careful planning of a net of relations, sequences, routes and connections: these will help to clarify the ruins’ narratives, in the wider scale of the contemporary Rome.
The project regarding the central archaeological area in Rome is a possibility for testing a methodology capable to have an effect on at the wider scale of city and landscape. The underpinning vision recognise the possibility of a territory to be architecturally and socially produced and managed with the through the exploration of relationship between the site’s extension and specific, detailed spatial devices. The tremendous historic/artistic value of the site sharpens and intensifies one of the issues of contemporary architecture: this is the architectural element’s capability to build relationships in a wider temporal perspective, in order to involve both present and past. One of the essential features of Via dei Fori Imperiale, at a city scale, is its scope: such length is a powerful tool to produce and read the space.
Designing in such context means to stand in contrast with the ruins from a temporal point of view. The more the chronological distance grows, the more time becomes measurable. The project for the central archaeological area speak for the vestiges long history, and by this means it becomes a system whereby heterogeneous elements find their mutual relationship. The archaeological strategy has to deal with the rhythm and narrative management, with the transition amongst different spaces and times. In this frame, the visitor has an active responsibility: to compose together the fragments, to identify traces and to describe the route.
Landscape and Architectural Design
Archaeology and Infrastructure
At a territorial scale, archaeology and infrastructure resound as dynamic themes that act in the Imperial Fora’s site. They determine the linear road’s dual nature, where the soil, the green system and the different archaeological levels work as distinguishing interconnected elements.
The modern road cut from the XX century, designed as a schematic block that runs at the same level, brought up to light and related far-away historic levels, layered throughout the centuries in the uncertain and hilly site’s topography.
The new archaeological roman systems wants to be considered as a composition of juxtaposed and superimposed parts and subsystems, in the metropolitan territory. The Central Archaeologic Area lives on the relationship with the wider territorial system, in an action that is able to do so from the centre to the peripheries, as from the peripheries toward the centre. The project suggests achieving an isotropous, balanced and diffused system, as an alternative to the current self-reflecting situation. In such a scheme, also the green territorial system (e.g. Palatino, Colle Oppio, Parco dell’Appia, the pine rows along the consular streets) should work together with all the historical and archaeological sites. Similarly, also excavations, stratifications, palimpsests and, more generally, the soil, should work as a distinctive character of the city, at the urban scale.
Via dei Fori Imperiali, as a “bipolar linear road”, reveals a dual nature: in fact. The segment between Piazza Venezia and the intersection with Via Cavour, as a result of the excavations and subtractive actions from the second half of the XX century, reveals itself as a rising viaduct; in contrast, the second section, that runs from Via Cavour to the Coliseum, resembles the cut in the trenches of the ancient Hill of Velia.
The project chooses to take into account the transition that is revealed by cutting the stratification, in order to reach the final goal: a drop towards the hypogeal level. Once more, this is the field for the conflict between archaeology and infrastructure, history and geology on the one hand, the void produced by the metro line on the other. Memory versus oblivion.
The project, understood as “interpretation, translation and narrative”, aims at turning the whole area in an outdoor museum, whilst rearranging the whole archaeological system on one level, and redesigning Via dei Fori Imperiali road-cut. The key actions for the achievement of the vision are several: the articulation of the current roadway section in different areas, that are autonomous longitudinal linear systems, connected with each other from time to time; the minimisation of the existing two-ways section of road accessible to vehicles, from the Trajan Forum to the intersection with Via Cavour; the intensification and ramification of cycling and pedestrian paths; the creation of pedestrian ramps to connect the different levels between road and archaeological site; the landscape design, as an equally valuable element for both architecture and archaeology, coherently with the general criteria of the green system at territorial scale: the modelled terrain should ensure the presence of usable area to sit, stop and enjoy the view over the site and Rome.
Convinced that the project could fill the temporal and spatial gap, which disengages us from the past, and confident that it could include history in the daily flow of the present, the proposal is a system of canopies to cover the excavation site, understood a tool to measure the height difference of the current transit level and the archaeological one.
The canopies, multi-layered frames supported by pillars, follow the still changeable conformation of the excavations. Moreover, they disperse a diaphanous light with variable intensity on the covered parts. The system is removable and conceived to be flexible, in order to adapt to different situations. It is also supported by a flexible reticulum of walkways, in order to adjust to the specific-location’s visitor flow. This new layer is partially accessible to the pedestrians, according a selection of routes: it allows to re-establish the “void” view of the area from the top, as if the site was in a preliminary excavation phase like in the XX century, and it also highlight the uniqueness of each monument.
The solution of the coverage supported by point elements acts upon the failure to return to public pedestrian use the area subtracted from the post-war archaeological activities; the green areas of the lateral connection, now disappeared, constituted a rhetorical and obvious linear park open to accommodate people in the central part of the archaeological area. Today all this is missing, there are very few available seats so you sit on the steps and curbs.
The use of essential and metal structures - provisional, modifiable and reversible - represents the basic linguistic elements whose purpose is also to set up a planning legislation, an archive of materials, technologies and elements to be used in all the archaeological areas of the Roman territory. The translucent and opal indoor environment resulting from the use of glass possesses an autonomous appeal, in which the openings and the light shafts have the task of recovering the "glittering shadiness of the Roman landscape".
A nineteenth-century painting of Pompeo Calvi, perhaps in its ordinariness, represents a fantastic setting in a mix of views of the landscape, monumental elements and overhead light that confers the "atmosphere" of its title; a fragile yet melancholy light that recalls Piranesi, who in fact lightened the interior of his works with the use of overhead light - as in the famous representation of what was believed the Villa of Mecenate, but in reality was the crypt of the Temple of Hercules Victorious at Tivoli; the same quality of light that recalls the Roman atrium of the Penn Station of McKim, Mead and White, copy of the Baths of Caracalla.
Thus, a cover intended as a series of squares and pedestrian places can be interrupted with large light shafts allow visual relationships with the underground chamber, but also a direct, new and closer relationship with the architectural pieces that emerge (like columns), and be vivified by the charm of climbing on the scaffolding and travelling within the structures, see and select constantly changing views of the surrounding archaeological emergencies.
Speaking about Leopardi in 1943, Ungaretti once said that the words which compose stories have only two ways to touch the soul: or are filled with memories and enfold us their melancholy, or suddenly reveal to us a new heavenly wonder of the past; if interpreted as a multiple language, architecture has a possibility of simultaneously respecting both these attitudes.
Furthermore, in imagining catwalks at intermediate altitudes, hung upon the coverage, where the visible raw structure can hurt - even where its explicit metallic nature has the ability to weave a relationship with stone and brick – the project aims to evoke the atmosphere of nineteenth-century engineers of the Grande École.
Museological and Museographic Design
Linear Deposit and Diffused Exhibition Units
The design of a large museum-deposit along the axis of the forums seeks to enhance the archaeological heritage with the objective of sharing the knowledge within a wider community. By recognizing the value of documentation, stories and micro-stories told by extraordinary pieces are sorted according to interchangeable sequences, contributing to the impermanence and continuous change of the exhibits, the stock ratio of the digs and the arrangement of the pieces, the cataloguing and ranking. The placement of large glass and iron display cases along the alignment of the Imperial Forum wants to restitch paths below the axis, similarly to what was planned for the antiquarium, placed in the Ludus Magnus excavation.
The topics that the project aims to take action can be summarized in keywords.
Juxtaposition: the tension that lives within city between content and parataxis of its forms; Roman layout produces the charm of the inexplicable and misaligned scrap.
Diachrony: the diachronic development of a site is the archaeological complex of its changes through time.
Analogy: the forms produce abstract and absolute analogies even contradicting the principles of scale and extent – just as the Ustrinum of Augustus and the thread engraved on the steps of the Basilica Julia are made of the same lines.
Street: Via dei Fori Imperiali is a road. The roads are the most important public places of a city and its most vital organs. When you think of a city, the first thing that comes to mind are its streets: if they appear interesting or insignificant, the city appears the same way (J. Jacobs).
In fact, along Via dei Fori the few modern architectures are aligned, so is the wall of Munoz. The rest is pre-existing, mediated by connecting social places, gardens, promenades and following spaces made available from the archaeological recovery of the post-war period. Since its construction the road has suffered strong pressure from the erosion of its edges, modification and cancellation of what was left between the roadway and archaeological excavation.
Passage: there is always something to go through and pass across (gates, turnstile, doors, hallways, paths, fixed courses) according to the rules induced by the constantly changing attitude of protection, preservation and control of things and people. These rules outline the landscape, they absorb the interest and influence perception and memory.
Thickness: the unit of measure of the feasibility of an archaeological site extending to the city. The Vittoriano's third dimension is thickness. Full and empty spaces also have certain thicknesses, and the wide and busy street is a thickness almost impossible to overcome. Via di Fori Imperiali has been like this for years.
LEVEL: the unit of measurement
Deposit: All the finds need an archive.
The Archaeological Project
The archaeological research combined with the museum setting up of such a complex system as the Imperial Fora, mean in first instance achieving a level of knowledge suitable to understand and solve the topographical and architectural issues that do not allow the visitor to read an apparently synchronic scene, which is actually made of an articulated system of diachronic overlapping layers.
Carrying out an excavation does not always mean clarifying the whole historical stratification: for instance, the consequence of bringing up to light and enhancing a marble pavement of a Forum could be to not reveal the underlying most ancient archaeological traces. These ones may not be as monumental as the layers on top, but they could potentially be more valuable for the reconstruction of the early life’s stages of the area. Although, obvious judgements would lead to maintain a complete and intact historical stratification, rather than remove it in order to find a hypothetical more ancient layer. Hence, the choice to interrupt a further excavation stands as the first act of enhancement and development of the area itself and the museum design must consider and show this process.
Every excavation generally results in two possible physical outcomes: movable and static elements. The combined study on both of them, each following its own methodology, generates the cognitive heritage. For instance, the restoration and investigation of one of the retaining walls of the Imperial Fora must be carried out simultaneously with the archaeological science and documented analysis of all the materials recovered during the excavation, regardless the historical and artistic value of each single item and its potentiality to be exhibited in a museum. In this view, the archives/workshops, where all the archaeological discoveries are preserved, are the symbol of the cognitive supply chain.
The recent era, marked by tight economic circumstances with all their logistic consequences, lead to the creation of accidental and unplanned structures designated to be archives (such as temporary equipped containers in the Imperial Fora), where all the items are cleaned, catalogued, studied and conserved.
As a result, the leftovers from the museums’ selection, which is usually the majority of the discoveries, are squeezed in collection areas dispersed on the territory: anonymous storage spaces where these entities progressively lose their identity and historical value, which is extremely connected to their original site.
Similarly, some examples of museums in the suburbs, which are effectively linked to the territory, represent an exceptional model of divulgation, also thanks to the careful use of a narrative that takes advantage of the materiality of the same site (statues, vases, decorations, etc.).
The specific case of the Imperial Fora, a possibility would be the presence of small exhibition units dislocated as a stopover in a comprehensive route, which could host an essential selection of items, necessary to illustrate the history of the site.
Therefore, the classification, study, restoration and storage should find their place in the area as a functional, usable space, open to the visitors.
Similar to the relationship that links the historical centre and the suburbs, the different areas that constitute the system of the Imperial Fora and the Roman Forum are closely interconnected. The gradual formation of “piazzas” surrounded by buildings, temples etc., required by some of the Emperors, grew in respect of the borders of the Roman Forum. Hence, the ideation and development of a project whose aim is to enhance the cultural and historical archaeological heritage can only arise from the margins of the areas themselves, when these are known. For instance, the suggested boundary for the design includes the Coliseum and the Ludus Magnus, monuments that are strangers for the system of the Imperial Fora, but it does not include the Roman Forum which was the actual political, spiritual and economical core in Rome.
The Expertises And the Holistic Vision
The administrative subdivision of the expertise between the Rome Municipality (Sovrintendenza Capitolina) and the State (MIBACT - Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma) is certainly a barrier regarding the ideation of an exhaustive and unified design for such a complex area as the system of the Imperial Forums.
The plan that indicates the boundaries clearly demonstrates how such partitioning may cross the topographical borders of the individual monuments, emphasising the tearing of a unitary system that had already happened with the construction of modern infrastructure (Via dei Fori Imperiali, Via Alessandrina etc.).
The abovementioned segmentation negatively affects the preservation policies of the monuments and site: it generated uneven distribution in strategic choices for maintenance (restoration etc.), management (ticket offices, accesses etc.) and enhancement (fragmented and uncomprehensive choices in the covering system, bad urban furniture, etc.).
In April 2015, the creation of a collaborative entity State-Municipality has been announced, in order to manage the central area (Imperial Fora, Roman Forum, Coliseum, etc.) with a unified methodology. Unfortunately, this cooperation has not started yet.
Archaeology and Emerging Technologies
Recently, archaeological science has widened its horizons moving towards emerging trends and technologies. Significant results from this collaboration were recorded - in some circumstances experimental, whilst in others applied in the procedures already.
At present, the new technologies especially benefitted the documentation and classification process: for instance, 3D laser scanners allow recreating digital models that are an extraordinary basis for the archaeologist, whilst increasing the accuracy compared to the traditional manual survey techniques.
In some experimental cases (e.g. Gortina excavation – Università di Siena), an online platform and bespoke software allowed to record and share live information regarding the excavation data. This helped the team to collaborate efficiently from different offices in the world, as all the expertise were able to develop and update plans and drawings of the discoveries live.
Confidently, this collaboration will be continued and enhanced for the redevelopment of the area of the Imperial Fora. The archives for the pre – classification of the discovered materials, pop-up archaeological boxes, should all be equipped with laboratory and electrical wiring that could allow the use of informatics and technology.
Outdoor archaeological sites benefit natural lighting: this element significantly takes part in the visitor’s experience, as his imagination is affected more personally. Therefore, any type of canopy will have to consider the inevitable alteration of such natural balance. A programmed management of these devices should be seen as an opportunity to transform a simple shadow to a chance to tell a narrative, for instance by filtering light with skylights in some spaces rather than others, in order to silently suggest the perception of volumes and forms.
In addition, artificial lighting design should also satisfy the same abovementioned requirements, becoming another key element for the success of the storytelling: it should become an active tool to suggest borders that otherwise cannot be read, harmonise the artificial differences of levels and, when possible, evoke hypothetical reconstructions.