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MAXXI: The Paradox of Public Space

May 28, 2021

I was at the MAXXI museum today and stepped outside into the Piazza to make a phone call. 

Actually, I had stopped at MAXXI not so much to see the museum as to enjoy the piazza, one of Rome’s newest and nicest public spaces. But as long as I was there, recalling that the ground floor is free on weekdays, I decided to pay a visit to the works on display. I was sort of hoping that the Aldo Rossi exhibit was on part of this, although I planned to dedicate more time to that another day. Still, with the Schifano, the scary Kounellis room, the Luigi Ghirri photos, and the works of Maialino, it was a nice brief experience.

Then it was ruined when I reentered the piazza after exiting through the bar. Immediately a guard asked me where I was going and when I told him I was just going to make a phone call in the piazza he informed me that the piazza was closed. I asked if he was joking, and saw that he wasn’t, that he thought it was the most normal thing in the world to state that the bar was open, the museum was open, but the piazza was closed. 

I wondered what Aldo Rossi, author of L’Architettura della Città, would have thought of this “closed piazza”, of a city tailored to neo-liberal consumption where spaces are only permitted private commodification like restaurants or parking. It would seem that If urban spaces don’t have a specific function with a specific economic return they don’t exist.

What would Robert Venturi have thought? He and Denise Scott Brown and so many others coming to Rome to experience the shared, flexible, democratic public! space. And for that matter what do Hou Hanru, Margherita Guccione, Pippo Ciorra and others who play important roles at MAXXI today think? Wouldn’t it be great to let the Piazza Alighiero Boetti (what would he think?) play a simple civic role 24/7, just like Piazza del Campidoglio or Piazza Navona? 

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