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
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.
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.