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Reuse in Rome

June 11, 2010

This week, as part of the Festa dell’Architettura, the work of nine university programs (members of AACUPI) and an equal number of architects from the various foreign academies has been on display in an exhibit entitled Foreign Architects Rome (FAR) at the Temple of Hadrian.  The site is prestigious, to say the least, standing as a monument to the deified emperor responsible for the Pantheon just down the street. Originally built in about 140 by Hadrian’s adopted son and successor, Antoninus Pius, the building has served in recent decades as the site of Napoleon’s offices, the city of Rome’s stock exchange, and currently the chamber of commerce exhibition center.

Its street address in Piazza di Pietra tells another story, one of material reuse. Pietra (stone) was the material available to be quarried from the eroding temple, most likely to be burnt for quicklime in the lime kilns. Appropriately, material reuse was the subject of our students’ principle design project, on display along with analysis, urban studies and history projects and a panel dedicated to the Abruzzo revitalization workshop.

The premise of the project was that cities produce waste and consume materials and energy, but this is not necessarily “by nature”. A well-functioning city in which inherent synergies and efficiencies are maximized by design can reduce this “waste” to close to zero. Products which today become broken or obsolete are discarded when they could be repaired, reused, regenerated or as a last resort see their component materials recycled. Traditionally such activities have often been marginalized, performed by outcasts in blighted parts of cities. Rome, however, has a tradition of productive workshops in its historical center, now being rapidly forced out of existence by global economics.  In an emergent green economy this work will become more appreciated and more central to a mixed use urban ecology.

The project called for the transformation of the site of the former papal arsenal at Porta Portese into a sort of  “Village of Alternative Consumerism”,  an urban resource center or a center for material reuse. This is a place where people can bring things to fix or hack, where you can drop off a broken washing machine knowing it will be treated as resource, not waste, and the way in which it is collected needs to look like sophisticated resource storage (rather than a mess).  Students worked on systems for archiving, displaying and storing materials and parts but also on the development of a new kind of public space, a gathering space based not purely on consumption but on productive relationships.  A kind of Hub of resources. Given the complexity of both site and program, the results were indeed impressive.

In putting together the exhibit I opted to show a little of each student’s work rather than selecting specific projects: the result was admittedly a bit chaotic but I think an accurate reflection of Rome and its material culture.  Quotes were used to express the issues being addressed and their glo-cal urgency. Hopefully visitors will get a sense that the attention of the international architectural world is not just about the historical monuments and cultural traditions of Rome, but also about the complex urban systems that make any city an effective ecological habitat.


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