The Architectural Project in the Imperial Forums

Piranesi Prix de Rome 2016 XIV Edition, concorso di idee per via dei Fori Imperiali a Roma.

General considerations and urban establishment
Topographical Continuities and Discontinuities
The competition project’s objective is the urban ensemble which composes an extremely rich and complex landscape, built by overlaps made along the centuries, making a spectacular palimpsest that forms a whole lesson about the city history, from the roman times to the present. All the landscape has being created by means of a complex system of topographical continuities and discontinuities.

Via Sacra: The buildings rest on the terrain, creating a section of undulated plane with slight terracing on the bordering buildings, on a well-defined direction.
Imperial Forums: Only one level of terrain is worked with, in which all forums are developed, without stepping, conceived as disproportionate architectonic planes connected between them, so a lone horizontal plane is achieved upon which the porticoes, temples and the rest of buildings arise; it is actually a spaces delimitating operation made with walls and porticoes, as they are not actual buildings, but a sequence of pure urban spaces, big and closed, on a strict geometry, ended in the north by the Ulpia Basilica and in the south by the Pacis Forum front (Library-nowadays Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian church-, Aedes, Forma Urbis space), which stands up over the Velia.
The following city: The city that grows over the remains of the forums makes almost no questions related to the section; it simply raises the level, thus creating a new terrain idea.
Forums Via: The opening of the Forums Via, in times of Mussolini, generated an important distortion in the zone when imposing a virtual ground plane, which we will theoretically call “Level 0”, risen above the original grounds and rest on them, doing a “tabula rasa”.
Archaeological excavations: The recent demolitions of the Alessandrino district buildings have made possible carrying out archaeological excavations that generate two levels of reference: the one we call Level 0, corresponding to the street, and the Level -7 (approx.) of the Forums, generating a new section, the archaeological one, discontinuous and incomplete, that shows the different city stratums. This way, in the archaeological excavations sequence appears not only the Forums but also the constructions made above the roman remains in the modern city: the palimpsest made over the centuries is visible, but almost no comprehensible.

Empty and filled spaces
All the intervention area is composed of an interesting and complex sequential game of empty and filled spaces, with a major prevalence of the emptiness: as said before, the Imperial Forums were made up of enormous empty spaces, creating completely delimitated urban spaces. However, nowadays, the loss of the limits blurs the visual and spatial sequence of some of the forums in the ensemble, so it is necessary to reinforce the concept of limit or border, in order to balance the aforementioned sequence of empty and filled spaces.

The Forums Via, after the excavations made in the last times, has turned into an enormous and unusual platform, placed 7 meters above the one that was back in its day, the level of all monumental space of the Imperial Forums. Advantage can be taken of this platform with more intensity in the intervention project in order to generate a flexible and continuous dialog between the different planes of the city.

Architectonical and landscape project
Project Mechanisms
The architectonical project develops with a methodology based on the re-interpretation of the continuity and discontinuity mechanisms that had happened on the topography of the Forums zone on its evolution over the centuries.
The following mechanisms are set out:

Based on an existing topography, generated by the passing of time, the project proposes the construction of a new architectonical topography, righteous and thoughtful, that would help the better understanding of all elements of the past. This topography is based of the idea of platform as a level of reference, to value all that is above and below that plane: advancing from topography of disorder to a topography of order through the history of that part of the city.
The project proposes to completely nullify the idea of traditional street or boulevard and replace it with a gigantic platform suspended in time, that gazes both into the past, present and future; a platform that becomes the place of the city’s events, from the touristic flux to the tranquil contemplation, from the rushing daylight time to the frozen, stopped nigh time. The platform becomes then in the vital support of the Imperial Forums area.
The modification of the current Imperial Forums Via is laid out by means of the construction of certain areas that would allow to outline the platform and give it a compositional sense in relation with the different archaeological parts, all of it carrying out minimal operations that would partially modify the existent ground planes, giving a definitive shape and outline to the place.
Empty spaces
By the means of the outlining work of the platform in the virtual level 0, the shape of the big empty spaces that are skirted in it, conceived as enormous horizontal windows that lean into the past and allow us to discover and understand it, within the logic of all the developing process of the city zone. It is quite interesting the idea of the spectator, not the mere tourist, gazes into the past through those great empty spaces to contemplate the remnants, articulated with each other, of the almost metaphysical emptiness of the ancient Imperial Forums.
Filled spaces
The operation proposed includes also the filling of some empty spaces by means of diverse constructions that would work as “fillings” in relation with the empty spaces and big gaps. This filled spaces would generate a balanced dialog in the construction of the Imperial Forums section and would also lay out a future reading of all the zone, rearranging its functioning, introducing new functions or re-organizing and designating the existing ones.
The project operation is based on the existing relation between the system of enormous “gaps” of public space that were made back in its day the sequence of Imperial Forums. That ancient idea of emptiness is brought back here to the present and is introduced to the contemporary spectator; the current city is a more or less rhythmic sequence of built filled spaces that almost leave no place to qualified empty spaces, opposing the great, high qualified empty spaces of the ancient monumental city. That dichotomy turns to be the richest idea of the project, and its basic mechanism.

Project Operations
By the means of an architectonical surgery exercise the project proposes a series of operations that make a work of time and space stitch in the intervention area, which is divided in two sectors, clearly organized based on two different geometries, marked by the direction of the pavements, which represents one of the principal characteristics of the project:

Sector 1. From Adriano Auditorium to Pacis Forum
In this first section the platform supports the Forums geometry, building a contemporary image from the two ancient spaces fragments, another of the important bets of the project.

  1. The dissolution of the Forums Via limits, configuring the aforementioned big platform, related to the geometrical limits of the Forums themselves by means of drastic modification of the borders.
  2. An absolute respect to Vittorio Emmanuelle monument’s borders.
  3. The partial recovery of the medieval and modern lost routes to give the buildings at the border of Roman Forum sense and continuity.
  4. Building of a pavilion as protection for one of the parts of the Adriano’s Auditorium, laid out as start icon and access to the Forums area.
  5. The complete recovery of the Ulpian Basilica original outline.
  6. Covering of the medieval routes remnants, creating an island inside the platform.
  7. The extending of the platform on the south zone, giving connexion to the the Santi Luca e Martina e San Giuseppe dei Felegnami Churches, thus incorporating them to the urban landscape, and allowing a privileged vision of the Forums.
  8. A partial reconfiguration of the Pacis Forum geometrical shape, bringing in new architectures that would evoke the original lines and that would be useful to hold multiple usages, first of all the new tourism office of Rome central area.

9.The rearrangement of the current tree system, supporting the new bases of the project, in a way that the trees would be used as elements of balance and border definition in some cases.
10.Other vegetable elements, like bushes, that would evocate some of the old exedras of the ancient forums, without altering the space too much.
11.The empty spaces and the rearranged trees would help to define the walking and occasional transport routes.

Sector 2. From Maxentius Basilica to Ludus Magnus

1.The construction of a building behind the Maxentius Basilica that would reform the Velia topographical sense, allowing the pass to the Coliseum, and which could work as a Welcoming Centre for the Forum’s visitors (entry, temporary exhibitions zone, conference room, restrooms, cafeteria, gift shop, etc.). It would be an open building, almost in continuity with the street, a building that would absorb air and time, and imbued by the frozen time contained in all the forums space. This is one of the crucial aspects of the operations and an important point of the project.

2.A redefinition of the Venus and Rome Temple, with a new front system and axial sequence access to the Coliseum.
3.The reconfiguration of Coliseum surroundings, maintaining its geometrical organization and reinforcing its position related with Maxentius Basilica and the Venus and Rome Temple.

4.The building of an Antiquarium at the skirt of old Velia’s hillside with view of the Coliseum, recovering the topographical sense of the place and situating the spectator in an interesting high ground place, overlooking the zone.
5.The continuation of the pedestrian system beyond the Coliseum, keeping the pavement but allowing the transit of vehicles with speed limits.
6.The protection of the Ludus Magnus, covering part of the remnants, leaving the arena open-aired and opening an underpass that would go below the street to move the Coliseum access level to the other side of the street.

Museological - Museographical project (Antiquarium)
The museological project is based on the architectonical project itself, being arranged on the different constructions proposed along the intervention area. This way, the architecture, joined with the urban space construction, organize the final sense of the area, as it is précised in the following part of this report.

Adrianeum/Trajaneum Area: It constitutes the access to the Imperial Forums area ensemble from Piazza Venezia, marking that access with a simple architectonical element that reproduces the volume of one of the Adriano lecture theatres, able for visit from the lower level of Trajan Forum, but visible from the higher circulation level through a fissure. On the surroundings of the column, as a sign to the architect Valadier, a gap is configured that allows the understanding of the Ulpian Basilica ensemble, but that maintains the route presence of some of the streets of the Alessandrino zone. The remains that survived below the current level 0, recently excavated, are covered to differentiate its visit, made in a hypogeum-like way, showing to the outside a gardened topography differentiated of the circulation level, through which the access would be done, keeping a certain independence in the comprehension of two different cities, the roman visible through big windows on the city level and the renaissance medieval one that keeps being recognised in the upper plane and that doesn't contaminate the understanding of the previous remains.

Pacis Forum: The different transformations of the city left this part of the ensemble quite altered, and the remains cant almost allow to recognise the ancient spaces. The shape of the city with the confluence of the Cavour Via and the closeness of the Metropolitana station dont allow to lay out more than a few gaps that lean to part of the structures of that forensic space. However they do allow the evoking of the two lateral rooms, one of which showed the great severian time Forma Urbis Marmorea Rome Map, because of the conservation of the wall in which it was installed, the visit of this new space reconstructed in its own dimensions allows to link the lower visit plane with some of the great remains incorporated in later architectures, incomprehensible form the urban level.

Visitors Centre: The Visitors Centre is, as it was told before, a foremost aspect of the project, the most architectonical intense and the one that articulates the two aforementioned Sectors. The Centre is laid out as a bridge-building that evokes the topographical front of the ancient Velia, dismounted for the building of the Forums Via, allowing the pass of authorised vehicles below and even housing the bus stops. The building picks up the visitor from the street level and takes him, as in an initiating walk, to a high level, where the Forums history is shown to him, from an architectonical point of view, as well as that city zone evolution, that he can watch from a privileged elevated position.

The bridge-building is perforated with gaps that allow the light entry to the street, and it’s closed with a gardened cover that links the Velia’s lateral terraces, ending the composition of the urban landscape. The centre would have complex equipment: cafeteria, gift shop, conference rooms, etc. From it the visitor could descend to initiate the visit of the archaeological area of the Palatino-Forums conjunction introducing the roman level to the visitor.

Antiquarium: The disposition of the space allocated to Antiquarium, even though the project doesn't develops it as that, it does have it in a strategically way according to the philosophy of the whole intervention. The building serves to solve the joint of the hill where the park of the Titus thermal baths is located, configuring a front to the Nicola Salvi Via and a viewpoint terrace continuing the park with excellent views of the Flavio Amphitheatre.

Ludus Magnus: These magnificent remains of the Gladiators Caserma (quarters) constitute the last window to the past, showing an excellent building in which the exit to the Coliseum visit will be placed, to which its necessarily linked, as final part of a tour that, from the spaces under the amphitheatre arena, would link through the old tunnel, under the Saint Giovanni in Laterano Via, adding a surprising finale to the ensemble visit.

Archaeological Project (Imperial Forums systematization)
The Project allows a new consideration of the sense of the Imperial Forums area from a contemporary point of view. Nowadays we see how thousands of tourists pass through a space with so much accumulated (historical) memory, who, in a completely indiscriminated way, go all over the different remains, building up in their head a distorted image of the city. The Imperial Forums area results this way in a product of the collective imagination of the tourists that makes an effort to give a meaning to all the disjointed remains that watches. Those tourists leave Rome with the memory of the Forums as a landscape of fragmentation and confusion. The project wants to break that false image developing a completely different one that would offer the visitor the information needed to his basic understanding.
The project’s philosophy opposes to the established maxim that everyone should have access all the time to all the places. The project expects to show the visitor only what he is capable of understanding, to help him to build up a more realistic image: the extensive and indiscriminated knowledge can generate a dangerous confusion. The intense beauty of Rome and the Forums area, in a peculiar way, summarises a great part of the occidental culture developing, and because of this must be considered as an enclosure for reflexion about time and memory, foremost points of our project.