Razing Rome’s Ara Pacis Museum

Is there any hope for Rome to become a modern city? A Reuters article from this Sunday takes a look at that very question, using the Richard Meyer’s Ara Pacis Museum as its whipping boy. the Ara Pacis Museum is a reliquary for the Ara Pacis, an ancient monument to peace commissioned by Emperor Augustus himself. In 1995, when Meier’s design was commissioned by the then-progressive administration, the building was intended to lead The Eternal City into the new millenium. A tall order for any architect, but Meyer’s building is widely regarded as a spectacular failure — often referred to as a gas station. And now there are those who want to see the building destroyed. Most notable among the over-reactionaires is Rome’s current mayor Gianni Alemanno, who has s since tempered his statements. Even so, the Culture Minstry of Rome—let’s call it MiniCult—wants to alter the building so that it doesn’t obscure nearby churches. This, barely two years after it has opened. Here’s what Meier (by proxy of his website, that is) had to say about the project waaay back in 2005, a time before Facebook, Twitter, and Rome’s right-wing mayor:

The location of the site has particular characteristics due to its outstanding historical, archeological and architectural values, and requires a process of enhancement and a level of quality that will ensure the approval from the Italian and the international architectural communities, as well as from the general public.

Despite what I’m sure was an intensive analysis of the “particular characteristics” of Piazza Augusto Imperatore, The Ara Pacis doesn’t quite hold the square in the same way as the neighboring buildings, which came courtesy of that well-known developer Benito Mussolini, who built up the area in anticipation of having his remains interred alongside the ashes of Rome’s first emperor. It’s easy to understand why Meier was selected; his trademark white walls and classically-inspired modernism seems like a great fit for Rome. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. In fact, it’s a little ugly, with a composition that might be more appropriate to a Constructivst painting.

[one of Mussolini’s buildings]

But the Ara Pacis is just a symptom or a greater illness — a failure of the Eternal City to stay relevant in the present. In the opinion of Italian architect Francesco Coppari, “if Rome carries on in this way, it will become a beautiful necropolis, beautiful for the Japanese who come for the shopping and the Americans who get drunk in the centre (guilty), but it certainly won’t be a modern city.”

&#183 Is Rome the eternal city or stuck in the past? [Reuters]
&#183 Pax Romana (pdf) [AR Plus]
&#183 The Ara Pacis Museum [Life Without Buildings]