Liv­ing art

The grounds of a 17th cen­tury palazzo in Ve­labro have been trans­formed into The Rooms of Rome, an en­thralling res­i­dence­cum-per­for­mance space by Alda Fendi’s art foun­da­tion and French ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel. By Jes­sica Chan

Epicure - - LOOKBOOK -

There are plenty of rea­sons for cul­ture buffs to ap­pre­ci­ate The Rooms of Rome. First, it’s lo­cated within the cul­tur­ally rich Ve­labro where first cen­tury Tem­ple of Por­tunus and Bocca della Ver­ità re­side. Sec­ond, it’s the newly minted head­quar­ters of Fon­dazione Alda Fendi – Esper­i­menti, Alda Fendi’s (of fash­ion house Fendi) non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion aimed at pre­serv­ing and fur­ther­ing cul­ture. And, lastly, the build­ing it­self serves as the eclec­tic lady’s lat­est artis­tic ex­per­i­ment.

It comes as no sur­prise that Fendi is be­hind this am­bi­tious project. This is the sort of ground-break­ing per­for­mance art that the foun­da­tion has been cham­pi­oning since its in­cep­tion in 2001. This time round, she has French ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel and Room Mate Group pres­i­dent and founder Kike Sara­sola lead its trans­for­ma­tion from a ne­glected 17th cen­tury palazzo into Palazzo Rhi­noc­eros, a six-storey mecca for mod­ern art. The rus­tic façade be­lies a multi-room ex­hi­bi­tion area, a bi-level rooftop bar and restau­rant by Caviar Kaspia and 24 inim­itable stu­dio and twobed­room ser­viced apart­ments. (It also has an un­ri­valled view of an­cient Rome.)

Nou­vel, in line with Fendi, in­sists that this is not merely a re­fur­bish­ment of a cen­turies-old build­ing for van­ity’s sake. “Con­ser­va­tion of a his­tor­i­cal build­ing is al­ways a good thing, but The Rooms of Rome con­nects the palazzo’s his­tory with its fu­ture. How will that fu­ture (of cul­ture and art) ex­ist here? It stands as a sym­bol of what is pos­si­ble and to cre­ate a di­a­logue with the sur­feits of an­cient mon­u­ments sur­round­ing it,” ex­plains the Pritzker Ar­chi­tec­ture Prize-win­ning ar­chi­tect.

Be art and part of

On pa­per, the el­e­ments that make up Nou­vel’s vi­sion sound chaotic. Un­treated con­crete with lay­ers of plaster or paint, tim­ber ceil­ings and a melange of floor fin­ishes, some of which are rem­i­nis­cent of the palazzo’s orig­i­nal de­sign, are jux­ta­posed against mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture in solid, bold colours and mod­ern ac­cou­trements, such as state-of-the-art kitchens, wardrobes and bath­rooms, hid­den be­hind sleek metal­lic pan­els. Within are also tow­er­ing trompe-l’oeil de­pict­ing the rooms be­fore its ren­o­va­tion, act­ing as an il­lu­sion to vis­ually ex­pand the space. No two rooms are the same. The win­dows in each of­fer a dis­tinct view, al­most like fine-art pho­tog­ra­phy, of the mon­u­ments. One frames the splen­did church of San Gior­gio al Ve­labro through in­ter­twin­ing pines, while an­other ex­hibits the Arch of Janus. Yet, through in­ge­nious use of com­pli­ment­ing colours and tex­tures, these lay­ers come to­gether to cre­ate a strik­ing mas­ter­piece of a room.

These ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, be it the frac­tures in con­struc­tion or mod­ern-day in­ven­tions, are what Nou­vel likens to the wrin­kles on a per­son’s face – its char­ac­ter. It is also a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the con­stant in­ter­play be­tween new and old, clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary art. It seam­lessly links guests to the rest of the prop­erty and the time­less, an­cient Rome out­side its walls. “It is an ex­pres­sion of this age,” de­scribes Nou­vel.

Adding on to the ex­pe­ri­ence is a three-year part­ner­ship with the Her­mitage Mu­seum, where one cho­sen work will be ex­hib­ited for up to three months. The first of which is Michelan­gelo’s L’ado­les­cente, the famed mar­ble sculp­ture of a crouch­ing boy. Sim­i­larly, Raf­faele Curi, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the foun­da­tion, will work with Fendi for a se­ries of per­for­mances and in­stal­la­tions; the lat­est would be be­neath the Arch of Janus.

House spe­cials

With Sara­sola tak­ing care of the hos­pi­tal­ity side of things, guests are look­ing at an in­cred­i­bly luxe and per­son­alised stay. Be­sides L’oc­c­i­tane ameni­ties, a pil­low menu and your choice of fra­grance for the room, there is also an à la carte menu of ac­tiv­i­ties. Para­dox­i­cally, the menu doesn’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist as it is com­pletely based on the guests’ whims and fan­cies. It could be a spa day, cook­ing lessons, a pri­vate tour of the Vat­i­can or a day trip to the nearby Isola Tibe­rina, a sto­ried is­land tied to an an­cient leg­end with the god of Medicine, Aes­cu­lapius, at the cen­ter.

Din­ing-wise, there’s a whole lot go­ing on up­stairs. The fifth and sixth floor are where you’ll find Caviar Kaspia Roma, Rome’s out­post for Paris’ peren­ni­ally chic spot for Rus­sian-ital­ian fare. (It is said to be Bey­once and Jay-z’s go-to for posh nosh.) An am­ple menu of tartares and ouef mol­let with caviar pop­u­late the day menu, but chef Gio­vanni Gi­ammarino of­fers a lush show­case of Eu­ro­pean pro­duce dur­ing din­ner. Ex­pect plates of conchiglie salmone e vodka and spaghet­tini freddi to go along with a world­class wine list that ri­vals that sprawl­ing view, of which you can savour from ei­ther of the three panoramic ter­races.

This leads to the ques­tion; what would this ex­per­i­ment yield? Not even Fendi knows. What is def­i­nite, how­ever, is that they have cre­ated an im­mer­sive, once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence you’d get only at The Rooms of Rome.

French ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel in­ter­mixes el­e­ments of old and new to cre­ate vis­ually stun­ning in­te­ri­ors. The raw walls, ceil­ings and floors are jux­ta­posed against the sleek stain­less steel pan­els that hide mod­ern trap­pings, such as a tele­vi­sion, kitchen and work sta­tion.

The palazzo of­fers an un­ri­valled view of an­cient Rome, in­clud­ing the Arch of Janus. French ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel em­ploys trompe-l’oeil pan­els of the rooms be­fore its ren­o­va­tion to vis­ually ex­pand the space.

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