Over the past few years, a handful of architects have managed to complete new projects in Rome, despite resistance from certain factions of the government and general population. While I wouldn’t call it a renaissance of contemporary architecture, these few new projects seem to be signaling a renewed interest in architectural experimentation, and a willingness on the part of the civic leaders and clients to give architects a free hand – as long as they respect whatever ruins they find on site, and are willing to go through the arduous process of building construction in this generally conservative, historicist climate.
Renzo Piano, arguably the most well-known Italian architect of his generation, was surely aware of this political climate, and it seems that he designed his Auditorium in such a way that he could easily argue for its sensitivity to context, appropriateness of materials, and potential to revitalize an area of the city that had been in decline since the 1960 Olympic games.
The basic configuration is based around three enclosed auditoriums of varying size, which are linked by an outdoor arena theater that pins the center of the composition, with lobby spaces, back-of-house areas, and other services located in a plinth beneath the auditorium volumes, wrapping the perimeter of the arena. The complex could be seen as growing out of this arena, a contemporary interpretation of a classical Roman theater: updated with the latest amenities.
The additional auditoriums are designed to be read as discrete volumes, and while their shapes do not seem to represent their function, their distinct forms do act as a landmark for the auditorium complex.
The material choice for the auditorium volumes seems to echo the cladding of many church domes across the city, and the red Roman brick is another clear tie to the architecture of the past.
Though the complex was built on a site (formerly that of the 1960s Olympics) that was not historically-charged, there were ruins uncovered during excavation work. Piano takes a sensitive approach to these historical artifacts: he doesn’t touch them.
Some ancient walls are brought into the building, covered, and treated as a part of a permanent exhibition that also includes shards of pottery and other artifacts found on site.
Other, larger areas are left exposed, outside, where the form of the building has been cut away, turning these archaeological areas into open courtyards.
While this seems like a perfectly fine way to deal with the ruins, it’s unfortunate that the design did not engage them on a higher conceptual level. I hope to write more on this topic later.
See more of my photos on Flickr.
Auditorium Parco della Musica 
Architect: Renzo Piano
Viale Pietro De Coubertin, Rome, Italy [Map]