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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Riccardo Morandi's Metronio Market

Over the past century, Rome has produced two generations of great architects.  One, serving Mussolini’s Fascist regime, or simply practicing in that era, applied the techniques and vision of rationalism or, somewhat later, monumentalism, to the public and private buildings of the period.  Among the rationalists one would have to include Luigi Moretti, author of the 1933 Casa del gioventú, in Trastevere, and Adalberto Libera and Mario De Renzi,collaborators on the Aventino post office (1933) on via Marmorata.  The monumentalists had their heyday at EUR, the massive development south of the city, where the chief architect was Marcello Piacentini. 

The second generation of great architects is the current one, composed of “starchitects” from Italy and elsewhere, who build one big project and then go on to do the same in some other city.  They include Richard Meier, out of the rationalist tradition, and his controversial housing for the Ara Pacis; Renzo Piano, who combined fantasy and functionalism in his Parco della Musica; Zaha Hadid, something of a monumental rationalist in herMAXXI art museum in the quartiere of Flaminio; and Massimiliano Fuksas and Santiago Calatrava, though neither has finished his Rome masterwork, and Calatrava’s swimming pool languishes in the weeds of Tor Vergata. (For more links to RST posts on these architects, see links at the end of this post.)

In between these generations there isn’t much, at least not much that stands out.  Although many buildings were constructed in Rome in the postwar “boom,” most of them were apartment buildings on the city’s outskirts, many of them handsome and some outstanding in a simple, functional way, but too much a part of the suburban fabric to stand out, or for their architects to be recognized for outstanding achievement. (And, Dianne chimes in, some of them not handsome or outstanding.)

There are exceptions, and we were reminded of one of them, a curious-looking market with an attached parking garage, when we read of plans—controversial plans, in turns out—to tear the complex down.  The structure is on via Magna Grecia on the northeast edge of the San Giovanni neighborhood, due passi from San Giovanni in Laterano, which is on the other side of the wall.  We stopped to have a look. 

The building is roughly triangular in shape, with the two longest sides adorned by protruding, fan-like windows. 

The stunning part, though, is the parking garage, or rather the access to it, up a prominent circular ramp—not so different, really, from what Frank Lloyd Wright accomplished on the interior of his Guggenheim gallery in New York City.  The Guggenheim opened in 1959, the Rome market in 1957. 

Inside, light from the window baffles suffuses the interior but is insufficient to overcome the forlorn atmosphere of the place.  A good portion at one end is unoccupied, and the vendors that do exist—selling meats, fish, vegetables, and housewares—have few customers. 
Faced with the possibility of demolition, the 25 remaining vendors have organized with a group called the “Urban experience” (the name is in English) to propose that the Metronio market, as it’s called, be adapted to some new uses, including shops that feature organic products and working artisans.   Among those trying to save the market, there is a sense that the building, and particularly the parking ramp, is of architectural significance.  There is disagreement, however, on whether saving it would require significant and expensive structural work to bring the edifice up to safety and hygienic standards, or only “conservative” restoration.
The man behind the Metronio market was Riccardo Morandi (1902-1989), a civil engineer (rather than architect) with a deep scholarly and practical knowledge of reinforced concrete (cement armato), an inexpensive building material with important structural qualities widely used in the post-1945 Italian reconstruction.  Morandi’s best known work is the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge (above), an 8 km structure with 70 cable-stayed spans crossing Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. He also participated in the postwar reconstruction of Florence, where he built a bridge over the Arno in the mid-1950s. 
Morandi's Cinema Maestoso, dear to our
 hearts becauser we saw the Whitney Houston/
Kevin Costner film "Guardia del Corpo" ("The
Bodyguard") in Italian, with our 2 sons, here
in 1993.  Who needed to understand the plot?
Houston's singing was the heart of the film.
Aside from the Metronio market, Morandi’s Rome projects include a Tevere bridge (known as “Il Grillo”)[1949/50]; a small palazzo on via Martelli (1950); the Cinema Maestoso (and the building above it) on via Appia Nuova (1954-57; a viaduct over a bend in the Tevere in Magliana ((1963-1967); a portion of the Fiumicino airport (perhaps the Alitalia terminal); and the Hotel Ergife (with B.M. Cesarano), on the via Aurelia (1975-1978).   Morandi also taught bridge design at the University of Florence and the University of Rome. 

Additional links to RST's posts on the architects mentioned in this post:

On Rome's new "bridge to nowhere":

On Hadid winning the Sterling Prize:
On EUR buildings:
On Foro Italico, nee' Foro Mussolini:
Generally on 21st century architecture in Rome:

Piano's work is mentioned in the "Starchitects" post, as well as the one on the "bridge to nowhere."

For Meier's work, see also the post on the tunnel under the Ara Pacis and his magnificent Tor Tre Teste church in the suburbs of Rome.

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