For the first day of studio on Monday, we took a bus past the Coliseum to the site that we will be designing our projects for. While we still don’t know exactly what the program will be, it’s been briefly described as a number of temporary residences above the cloister of the Santi Quattro Coronati Church. In addition we will be creating a structure for people to gather in and use as a cafeteria or cafe. The church is made up of many layers of history, and we will be studying them throughout the term.
So far, we’ve been split up into groups, each researching the different aspects of the complex. Maria and I are working together on the existing elements and history of the site. Other groups are concentrating on drawing plans, and elevations of the church, and studying the different materials that make up the complex. Basically I have a lot of reading ahead of me.
The courtyard is incredibly beautiful, surrounded by a loggia on all four sides with pairs of colonnettes, and a fountain in the center of the court. I can’t wait to get the full program and start working out ideas for the project.
As a class, we stopped at a few other notable sites on our way to and from the Santi Quattro Coronati, Including St. John Lateran Basilica and San Clemente.
St. John’s is the traditional seat of the pope, and one of the most important churches in Rome. The nave is lined with amazing statues, and beautiful stone mosaic floors. This church was much lighter than St. Peter’s and with cleaner, simpler lines.
San Clemente’s history is one of the most well documented of all the churches in Rome, starting out as the home of a Roman aristocrat built on the foundations of a Republican building from 64ad, then converted into a church in the 4th century, and ending as the present basilica, built on top of all the others in the 12th century. We were able to descend beneath the church and wander through the excavation of each stage.
The 4th century section of the building was incredible, and I wish I had been able to take some pictures; it was made up of a few rooms, each with a series of bays, vaulted with amazing ovoid arches. It reminded me of Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in the shear simplicity and power of the space. CRAZY! It will probably make my list of the best things ever.
That night we all went to see the firework show in honor of St. Peter and Paul. It was crazy to see fireworks shooting out like cannons from every tier of the Castel San Angelo. It was phenomenal!
By Saturday, we were exhausted. A few of us decided to take a break from the city and travel to the coast town of Sperlonga, between Rome and Naples. We started early and caught the bus to the train station, and bought tickets for the hour long train ride. While some took naps or chatted, Maria and I traded off every ten minutes or so the two books I brought, Goethe’s Italian Journey, and Toward an Architecture, reading some passages out loud. I found the similarity in style of the books intriguing. Both are made up of short paragraphs that can’t simply be skimmed over, but that offer ideas that must be thought over and considered.
We spent the morning and afternoon on the beach, swimming or lounging in the sand, and in the afternoon, I left with half the group to climb to the piazzetta at the top of the small hill town for lunch. I had an amazing seafood lasagna with clams on top and the most delicious lemon dessert. It was a small rounded cake, filled on the inside with a subtle lemon custard, and covered on the outside with an incredible meringue/pudding sauce (with strawberries on the side) I think it might win my best dessert ever award.
By the time we finished eating, it had started raining, and we descended the hill to a lightning storm over the Mediterranean.
While I was considerably less sunburned than anyone else in the group, I did manage to miss between my shoulder blades when applying sunscreen. (note to self: have someone else put sunscreen on your back)
“His approach is Roman: we read the environing space and the structure, which is self-contained. Therefore, its presence never tires; its gesture, if any, is always potential, mysterious.”—Vincent Scully: Kahn and the Ruins of Rome
Thursday was the beginning of our walking tours with Jeffrey Blanchard, the Academic Coordinator for Cornell in Rome. I had heard a number of things about him already, including his fast walking pace, and how quickly he talked, none of which quite prepared all of us from what we were about to experience.
We met as a group at the Campidoglio and sat in the shade of the stairs as he gave a short summary of Rome’s history. He began first with Ancient Rome, starting with the traditional founding date of 753 bc and ending with ad 452 when Hadrian brings in the boundaries of the city that Trajan had expanded, and the emperors ceased. Then he discussed Early Christian and Medieval Rome, from the 4th to 14th centuries including the “Donation of Constantine” and the shrinking of the Roman population. This was followed by the Renaissance and Baroque periods from 1450 to 1600, when the papacy returned to Rome, and the popes moved from St. John Lateran to the Vatican for the greater security it offered. Jeffrey’s summary ended with Modern Rome, or 1870 to the present. In this period, Rome became the capital of Italy, the Pope lost temporal power, and the Vatican state was created.
Immediately after he completed the summary, he took off for the S. Maria in Aracoeli with all of us running behind, trying to put away our sketchbooks and cameras as we hurried to catch up.
“…I discover a feeling that infinitely delights me, and that I shall even venture to put into words. No one can take a serious look around this city, if he has eyes to see, without becoming solid, without forming a more vivid concept of solidity than he has ever had before.”—Goethe, Italian Journey
This last week in Rome has truly been a whirlwind. I’ve seen so many extraordinary buildings and places that I can barely remember them all. I’m constantly deciding whether I should eat, sleep, study, or wander about the city; it seems there is only time to do half those things.
Slowly I am beginning to know my way around and distinguish the seven hills from each other. I can confidently say that I could find my way back to the Campo from just about everywhere in the old city. Unfortunately, each day it takes fewer and fewer hours of walking until my feet become sore.
The day before the program officially started, Dani arrived and we walked to see the Church of Il Gesu, fronted with the first truly baroque façade, which was designed by Giacomo della Porta. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola designed the church itself. In the art history class I took in the spring, we studied the amazing ceiling fresco, Triumph in the Name of Jesus. I have to say, it was even more impressive than I imagined. The ceiling opens up revealing the heavens, into which Jesus is rising, and the sinners are falling back down. The church interior glows with light and color. I can’t wait to visit again when there isn’t a mass going on inside.
We also saw the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, climbed its stairs and around it into the church S. Maria in Aracoeli, built in the 13th century. When we returned a few days later with a scholar who is giving our class a series of tours around the city, Jeffrey Blanchard, I learned that the church has spolia columns. These are columns that are reused from other places, and therefore they each have different capitals and are made of different materials. The architects then matched the columns longitudinally along the nave, creating an intriguing effect. The floors of this church were also incredibly beautiful and made of reused materials. In some places there are discs, surrounded by mosaic patterns, that are slices of columns from earlier times.
Dani and I also visited shortly the Campidoglio, but they were setting up for some event and the equipment blocked most of the piazza. When we came back later with our guide, the effect was much greater.
We saw Trajan’s column, the height of which signifies the height of the hill leveled to build it, and his forum. It’s almost overwhelming to think that the Romans leveled so much earth simply to keep the order of their forum complexes intact.
We ended our excursion that day by visiting the Markets of Trajan, which I found so intriguing I am anxious to go back and visit again. Its museum is one of the newest in Rome, and was combined with a photography exhibition and a small film festival. It was wonderful.
The last few days we went on walking tours with Geoffrey and learned so much about the history of Rome and a select few buildings. He likes to keep a brisk pace, leaving some people running to catch up, take notes, and take pictures. In the afternoons we had sketching assignments that had us all spread out over Rome, and which we would bring back to studio at six to have critiqued by Esther and Gary. By then we are all so exhausted we have no choice but to sleep.
(I apologize for the writing style, I’ve been reading way too much Goethe, and haven’t found my own style of writing yet, but I’ll try and get there.)
My first few days in Rome have been unbelievable, indescribable, and simply amazing all around. Including the flight from Chicago, I’ve managed to sleep only four hours, split up over three short naps.
The flight was great, and I got the chance to meet three really sweet people, who had never been to Europe before. It turned out that another person (let’s call him W) from my program was also on the flight and we ended up taking a cheap shuttle right to the Campo de Fiori, where the apartments are located. (Unfortunately he left his T-Square on the plane) Shortly afterward we met three others from our group (A, D, and S) and Esther, our professor.
After dropping a few things off, we all headed straight for the Pantheon. Let me just say it was mind-blowing. As we entered, a bird was flying slowly around the oculus, and light from the opening perfectly framed one of the statues. I have never seen a space so simple, so monumental or so powerful.
At almost 2000 years old it is the best preserved building from ancient Rome, and its dome remains the largest non-reinforced concrete dome ever built. The emperor Hadrian, who commissioned the temple, describes the intent behind its construction, writing,
"My intentions had been that this sanctuary of All Gods should reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial globe and of the stellar sphere…The cupola…revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that coffered ceiling so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below, prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods."
Anyway, that’s likely more than you wanted to know about the Pantheon, so I digress. We ate our first gelato of the trip in the Piazza della Rotunda, right outside the Pantheon, near a beautiful fountain (I’ll have to take a picture later, it is amazing). The fountain is topped by one of the obelisks the Romans stole from Egypt.
We ate dinner at one of the outdoor cafes in the Campo, and since it was W’s birthday, we celebrated at a street fair set up temporarily along the Tiber river. We had a fantastic view of the bridge and listened to a crazy mix of techno and eighties music.
That night we stayed up until 4:30am, sitting out on a balcony off the back of our apartment, with wine and cheese, and had an intense intellectual discussion about architecture and the direction it’s going. Seriously, this conversation made my life.
Determined to go running in the morning, I woke myself up at 6am, pulled on my running shoes and headed out the door. The sun had just come up, the air was cool, and I took off. Five minutes later, after a few crazy turns, and wondering how I was ever going to find my way back, I ended up exactly where I started. Bummer. So I took off in a different direction, planning to make my way to the Campidoglio. Due to my excellent sense of direction, instead of running in a general Southeast direction, I ran to the top of a hill a few miles directly northwest of where I began.
However, I did learn a few things, and stumbled upon the Piazza Navona, the Castel S. Angelo, and the Piazza dei Tribunali. For breakfast I bought fresh strawberries, grapes and an orange from the market right outside my apartment door, and walked back to the Piazza Navona to eat and sketch.
Later in the day, the group of us walked all around Rome, first through the Jewish district, then to Saint Peter’s Basicilica (we didn’t go inside) and finally, in search of the Spanish Steps, or the Piazza di Spagna. Unfortunately none of us brought maps with us that included the Steps, and eventually we climbed a hill and found at the top, completely by chance, Bramante’s Tempietto. AMAZING. We all sat and sketched the Tempietto from different perspectives, then left in search of water.
I can’t even begin to believe how much there is to see in this city. It seems that every time you look for a specific place or monument, you end up finding three more of equal value along the way.
Some things I’ve been thinking about:
What is it that makes Rome’s urban fabric so successful?
Could architects today replicate it’s balance of open space, prominent structures, and supportive structures?
Does modern society/architecture allow for these types of places to develop?
Intrinsically auto-based cities, versus pedestrian-based cities, and how this issue relates to the human scale
The city of Portland and its use as a model for future redevelopment and refinement of existing cities, positive or negative?
Let me know what your thoughts are on these issues!
A friend of mine asked me today what the word sustainability meant to me, and at first I thought about repeating one of its most well known definitions, or “meeting the needs of the future generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their needs.” But that’s the easy answer, and I began to think that sustainability is much more than that, that this definition had little context people could relate to.
To me, sustainability is about taking the smart approach to problem solving, instead of using “brute force”. Often we push through problems instead of finding more efficient strategies, simply because we have enough oil…trees…water…to serve our needs now. But what if we had the technology to achieve the same results while using less? We do. It is being developed and used as I write this.
Honestly, we could make so much progress without even using new, more efficient technology. Simply through better planning strategies, such as orienting buildings toward the sun, allowing cross circulation of air, organizing neighborhoods and cities to be pedestrian friendly, integrated with public transportation systems, and where people can live near their work, we can begin to work towards a world that makes more sense and is suited to our modern way of life.
By eliminating sole focus on the short term effects and making smarter decisions based on scientific truths, eventually we will begin to reduce the detrimental effect previous business and social practices have had on the world. While my original response to the question was probably nowhere near this cohesive, it did make me think about my own role in creating a more sustainable society and its built environment.