New Ital­ian land­scapes

Domus - - CONTENTS - Aldo Castel­lano

“I have found lim­its to my imag­i­na­tion, but in the end I saw what I wanted.” This is the off-screen voice ac­com­pa­ny­ing a framed shot of Mas­si­m­il­iano Fuk­sas at the wheel of a Re­nault Scénic. A com­pact white cloud drifts into view against the blue sky. Fuk­sas, black marker in hand, stops the car and traces the out­line of the cloud on the wind­shield of the car. He bor­ders it with a frame. Then the sketch is ma­te­ri­alised as the ar­chi­tec­tural vi­sion of a gi­gan­tic, di­aphanous hangar with a cu­bic shape. Im­mense, full-height retic­u­lar por­tals give it rhythm at broad in­ter­vals. It looks like the in­te­rior of the Fun Palace imag­ined by Cedric Price, but leaner and dreamier, with a Pi­rane­sian je ne sais quoi. Black sil­hou­ettes cir­cu­late in that hangar. They go up and down on escalators paired in bat­tal­ions, ris­ing to meet an am­ple plat­form un­der the im­mo­bile ‘cloud’ hang­ing in the air. With this am­i­ca­ble, el­e­gant and in­du­bitably new for­mula for an ar­chi­tect (and for an au­to­mo­bile maker), the TV com­mer­cial from 2001 com­mu­ni­cated in a nut­shell the qual­i­fy­ing el­e­ment of the project pre­sented by Stu­dio Fuk­sas for the in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion held by the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and EUR Spa in June 1998 for a new Congress Cen­tre in Rome’s EUR district. In early 2000, a pres­ti­gious jury headed by Nor­man Fos­ter pro­claimed the Fuk­sas en­try as the win­ner. At the time of the com­mer­cial, the de­sign process had just be­gun, to be com­pleted al­most six years later. Con­struc­tion be­gan in March 2008, and in Oc­to­ber 2016, the com­plex was in­au­gu­rated. The now-fa­mous cloud had fi­nally ma­te­ri­alised un­der the eyes of every­one, ac­com­pa­nied by the usual mix of praise and protest seen with ev­ery ar­chi­tec­tural en­deav­our that is out of the or­di­nary. The idea for the de­sign was made up of three dis­crete el­e­ments: two iso­lated par­al­lelepipeds on a pub­lic pi­azza (the Fo­rum), with the fig­u­ra­tive names of Lama (‘blade’) and Teca (‘shrine’), and inside the lat­ter, the most pre­cious el­e­ment, the free vol­ume of the Nu­vola (‘cloud’). The Lama is a slim quad­ran­gu­lar prism 55 me­tres tall, made of metal and re­in­forced con­crete cladded with black dou­ble glaz­ing. It hosts a 439-room ho­tel, a spa, a foyer and a restau­rant. The Teca has an anal­o­gous struc­ture, but is cov­ered on the out­side with lam­i­nated ex­tra-clear glass and lou­vres. On the inside, there is dou­ble glaz­ing. Its vol­ume mea­sures 70 x 175 x 39 me­tres tall, and con­tains pub­lic space for con­fer­ences, ex­hi­bi­tions and events, be­sides the char­ac­ter­is­ing el­e­ment of the whole com­plex, the Cloud. Mas­si­m­il­iano Fuk­sas prefers to call this iconic ful­crum of the ‘The Float­ing Space’, but the vox pop­uli bap­tised it as the Nu­vola from the start. Not even an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion or­gan­ised ad hoc suc­ceeded in mod­i­fy­ing this orig­i­nal de­nom­i­na­tion. Com­posed of a metal frame­work cov­ered on the out­side by a white, semi-trans­par­ent mem­brane in mi­cro-per­fo­rated glass fi­bre, the Cloud is sus­pended in mid-air inside the Teca, with which it is con­nected by escalators and sus­pended walk­ways. The Cloud con­tains a 1,800-seat au­di­to­rium with five main lev­els fur­nished with Dora chairs, de­signed by Do­ri­ana and Mas­si­m­il­iano Fuk­sas and made by Poltrona Frau. The large con­gres­sional room is pan­elled with curved Amer­i­can cherry wood, like a sound­box that prom­ises op­ti­mal acous­tic con­di­tions. The in­ter­na­tional team of spe­cial­ists that flanked Mas­si­m­il­iano and Do­ri­ana Fuk­sas for the project of the Nuovo Cen­tro Congress Cen­tre in Rome in­cluded XU-Acous­tique from Paris; A.I. En­gi­neer­ing from Turin; the Mas­simo Ma­jowiecki of­fice from Bologna; and the Gil­berto Sarti of­fice from Ri­mini. To­gether, they saw to it that the com­plex at­tained ex­cel­lent per­for­mance lev­els in struc­tural re­sults and en­ergy sus­tain­abil­ity. The high ex­pec­ta­tions roused by this big com­plex, the most rel­e­vant one to be built in Rome in many decades, are jus­ti­fied by the num­bers: over 55,000 square me­tres of new ex­po­si­tion space; 300,000 at­ten­dees per year; and an es­ti­mated 300-400 mil­lion Eu­ros per year of re­turns in the tourism and congress sec­tors. Mas­si­m­il­iano and Do­ri­ana Fuk­sas have given Rome a cloud lev­i­tat­ing over the earth and made it in­hab­it­able. It is a pre­cious icon en­cap­su­lated in a ge­o­met­ri­cal, di­aphanous shrine. Along with the ho­tel wing, it sits next to the daz­zling ra­tio­nal­ist mar­ble vol­umes of what was to have been the 1942 World Ex­po­si­tion in Rome. All that is needed now is ad­e­quate, mod­ern man­age­ment so that the city as well as the ar­chi­tects can see what they wished for come to life func­tion­ally.

Above: view of the main hall and the twin escalators that ac­cess the Nu­vola. At the en­trance level and from the el­e­vated foy­ers, the enor­mous glazed wall of­fers con­tin­u­ous views of the sur­round­ing city, cre­at­ing a feel­ing of pro­tec­tion with­out be­ing...

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