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Outrage: ‘The disposal of the EUR is a squandering of Rome’s civic heritage’

Outrage jpg

The financial black hole caused by Fuksas’s Nuvola in Rome has maimed the EUR’s future

There is no doubt in my mind that the Palazzo della Civiltà is a world-class monument. It was recently rented to a multinational concern, causing little upset in the cultural arenas. My article, commissioned by Il Corriere della Sera to awaken opposition to the odious sale, was never published.

The EUR quarter of Rome is, in its Piacentinian conception, one of the rare masterpieces of 20th-century urbanism and architecture. In its present form it conveys only a fragmentary impression of the original vision. The immaculately restored Palazzo della Civiltà by itself impresses upon one’s mind what an extraordinary ensemble the E42 (Esposizione Universale di Roma 1942) would have been. The model city was to house the 1942 World Exhibition. Its most prominent buildings, designed by renowned Italian Modernists such as Libera, Muratori and La Padula, were to endure beyond the exhibition and become the monumental infrastructure of ‘The Third Rome’. The choice by Marcello Piacentini of exactly those militant fascists was all the more astonishing as Piacentini had been publicly ridiculed by them as passatista (traditionalist). Mussolini had countered their denunciatory ‘Tavola degli orrori’, centrepiece of the 1931 MIAR (Movimento Italiano per Architettura Razionale) exhibition, stating that fascism was an ecumenical movement and could not be represented by a single, be it Modernist, style. Piacentini’s achievement as masterplanner at the EUR was to create an original architectural style, neither classical nor traditional, by monumentalising the vernacular vocabulary. It was a surrealist technique of decontextualisation, scale distortion and vertiginous repetition. What he missed out on was to contrast the monumental with a domestic urban scale. Hence the sublime abstraction, otherworldly atmosphere so successfully portrayed in films by De Sica, Antonioni and Bertolucci.

‘The soul-killing ugliness of the postwar infill of building, gardening and clutter has not silenced the poetry of the place’

The immense building site was abandoned at the outbreak of the Second World War and for 12 years the unfinished travertine colossi, dominating a fenced plateau between Rome and the sea, were a De Chirico vision come true. Braving the official ostracism, Bernard Rudofsky celebrated the surreal spectacular in a 1951 stunningly illustrated Architectural Review homage. On my first visit to the place I was overwhelmed and for a while unable to come to terms with my feelings. The impression is still disturbing today, particularly for people who, however impressed, refuse on principle to acknowledge beauty in an architecture produced by a criminal political regime. And yet to the unbiased, the evocations of a great city to be are today as compelling as ever. The soul-killing ugliness of the postwar infill of building, gardening and clutter has not silenced the poetry of the place.

For several years, the EUR development agency  SpA (Società per Azioni) made remarkable efforts to document the original buildings and furnishings and to undertake their restoration and conservation. However, the 15-years-long planning and construction of the still unfinished new Centro Congressi has diverted resources for years. Instead of continuing the process of restoration and completion of the EUR quarter as a whole, the financial black hole caused by the ‘Nuvola’ Centro Congressi construction site (architect: Massimiliano Fuksas) is now profoundly maiming the EUR’s future. Its concept is by nature suburban, self-centred and bereft of physical or social rapport with its urban surroundings. Its function, size and character are entirely unsuited for the Via Cristoforo Colombo, the quarter’s central avenue. The 9,000 users of the groundscraper, a glass box of 70 x 175 x 58m (of which 15m is underground) will be literally caught inside a fish bowl, their only contact to the EUR via the wholly inadequate car park (600 spaces for the 9,000 attendants and the 400-room hotel) or the even less appropriate metro station. Our project commissioned by the SpA for an interred car park under the nearby central Piazza Marconi, necessary to complement the ‘Nuvola’ parking facility, was aborted in 2009 by Rome’s conservation officer Signora F Galloni, with the comment that it was a ‘mimetic’ project, meaning it was too much in sympathy with the original architecture of Piazza Marconi.

Outrage jpg

Outrage jpg

Source: Mario Bodo

‘The financial black hole caused by the ‘Nuvola’ Centro Congressi construction site is now profoundly maiming the EUR’s future’

If the Centro Congressi is ever completed, the megastructural cul-de-sac will hopelessly congest the urban network onto which it is so clumsily grafted. It is pertinent that such an ill-conceived real-estate investment should reveal itself as a catastrophic economic adventure for the EUR SpA and equally for the SPQR Government. The disposal of the Palazzo della Civiltà and five more EUR public buildings – an unacceptable squandering of Rome’s civic heritage – is meant to pay for the completion of the glass colossus. The sale of monuments of world architecture to pay for the completion of a dated misconception should wake the Italian political and cultural leadership to reality. The moment has come to redirect the development policy for the E42 towards the completion of the original vision as a compact mixed-use and walkable quarter, on a par with Rome’s historic rioni.conservation. However, the 15-years-long planning and construction of the still unfinished new Centro Congressi has diverted resources for years. Instead of continuing the process of restoration and completion of the EUR quarter as a whole, the financial black hole caused by the ‘Nuvola’ Centro Congressi construction site (architect: Massimiliano Fuksas) is now profoundly maiming the EUR’s future. Its concept is by nature suburban, self-centred and bereft of physical or social rapport with its urban surroundings. Its function, size and character are entirely unsuited for the Via Cristoforo Colombo, the quarter’s central avenue. The 9,000 users of the groundscraper, a glass box of 70 x 175 x 58m (of which 15m is underground) will be literally caught inside a fish bowl, their only contact to the EUR via the wholly inadequate car park (600 spaces for the 9,000 attendants and the 400-room hotel) or the even less appropriate metro station. Our project commissioned by the SpA for an interred car park under the nearby central Piazza Marconi, necessary to complement the ‘Nuvola’ parking facility, was aborted in 2009 by Rome’s conservation officer Signora F Galloni, with the comment that it was a ‘mimetic’ project, meaning it was too much in sympathy with the original architecture of Piazza Marconi.

If the Centro Congressi is ever completed, the megastructural cul-de-sac will hopelessly congest the urban network onto which it is so clumsily grafted. It is pertinent that such an ill-conceived real-estate investment should reveal itself as a catastrophic economic adventure for the EUR SpA and equally for the SPQR Government. The disposal of the Palazzo della Civiltà and five more EUR public buildings – an unacceptable squandering of Rome’s civic heritage – is meant to pay for the completion of the glass colossus. The renting of monuments of world architecture to pay for the completion of a dated misconception should wake the Italian political and cultural leadership to reality. The moment has come to redirect the development policy for the E42 towards the completion of the original vision as a compact mixed-use and walkable quarter, on a par with Rome’s historic rioni.