Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RST Top 40: # 17. Richard Meier's Suburban Jubilee Church

In these dog days of summer, we're taking the opportunity to re-post the following piece.  Originally posted in 2010, it is the most popular item we've ever published--some 15,000 page views. 

The Jubilee Church in suburban Rome is perhaps U.S. architect Richard Meier’s finest work. Not easy to get to using public transportation, but well worth the trek for those in Rome a second time, and therefore it hits our Top 40 list at #17. (See more on Meier in the links at the end of this post.)

Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy” – the church’s religious name, taken from Pope John Paul II’s second encyclical) is set in the Tor Tre Teste working class neighborhood of Rome, as that Pope wanted. And it is one of “50 churches for Rome” commissioned for the church’s Jubilee year (celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth - jubilee years come every 50 years, but clearly 2,000 was a special one), although it was not completed until 2003. (See also Sartogo and Grenon's Santo Volto Church in Marconi.)

Meier’s church is in essence 3 enormous curved sail forms, a shape unusual for him. The sacred part of the church is marked by the wonderfully organic and curved spaces these sails produce, while in the administrative part Meier returns to more familiar rectangular shapes, that we see, for example, in his Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Modern materials are a hallmark of this church project, including a coated cement that is self-cleaning, which was a delight for the white-obsessed Meier. Meier won the competition for the church over 5 other internationally famous architects, including Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman and Santiago Calatrava. Meier’s church is a testament to the Vatican’s good judgment, we think. See the New York Times' review of the church's consecrration:

We’ve also put directions on getting to the church via public transport at the end of this post.

The Vatican and Meier have been criticized for placing this modernist monument in a working class neighborhood, and basically cramming it into a space enclosed on 3 sides by unattractive apartment buildings and shops. But clearly this is what the Pope had in mind – lifting the neighborhood. As Meier recently said in response to questions about controversy over his works in Rome, “in Italy… unlike in [the U.S.]…architecture and politics are so intertwined.”

We think a trip to the Tor Tre Teste neighborhood is enlightening in many ways. You’ll see how ordinary Romans live. You’ll see magnificent architecture soaring in the midst of the commonplace – what could be more representative of Rome? If you walk a few yards from the church, you’ll also be able to amble through a park with a preserved ancient aqueduct – again, very Roman.

Meier’s other building in Rome is the “museum” and display of the 9th century BC Ara Pacis, the Roman altar to peace (“pacis”) - in this case meaning Roman conquest. It was the subject of even more controversy when it opened in 2006 (and there's still controversy - see Bill's post on a tunnel to be built along the Tevere next to the Ara Pacis). The right-wing picketed (we were there to cross the lines); the new right-wing mayor Alemanno called for Meier’s building to be torn down (or moved to the suburbs). Like everything else in Rome, these nutsy ideas, while stoking the culture wars ($24 million! To an American! It’s just a white box! It’s for the elite!), are now little more than vapors in the air. We didn’t put the Ara Pacis on our RST Top 40 list because it belongs on the First Time list – it’s the 3rd most visited site in Rome.

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(For more on Meier, see Bill's post on Rome's "Starchitects", Piazzo Augusto Imperatore, where the Ars Pacis is located - which comes in at No. 9 on RST's Top 40, and further afield the Rome/Michael Graves connection..  Generally for architectural comparisons of the highest order in Rome, see our recent post on MAXXI versus MACRO.)

Best option: get a friend to drive you;

second, take a taxi (but it will be very costly);

third - public transport as follows:
In back (on the South side; right as you're facing the terminal) of the main train station in Rome (Stazione Termini) is a commuter train line. You can take Bus 105 or 105L from the front of Termini to this place (3 stops) - or just ask and walk the several blocks back there. Then take the "train" labelled GARDINETT (for Gardinetti) 16 stops - the stop you want is "Tobagi"; the train runs every 5 minutes in normal hours. Walk about 50 yards to the bus stop "Tobagi" and catch Bus 556 (Gardenie) for 12 stops (to Tovaglieri/Ermoli); the 12 stops aren't that long, really just winding through the suburban high rises. The bus runs every 15 minutes. When you get off, you're 100 yards from the church and you should be able to see it or find it by asking for the church.

TO RETURN: Go back to where you got Bus 556 and take it again, going in the same direction you had been to arrive (Gardenie) - not back; take it 11 stops to Togliatti/Molfetta; go to the Tram stop Togliatti (this is a real tram) and take Tram 14 back to Termini.
Caveat: we have not taken public transportation; I'm relying on the City's transportation site for these directions. Don't ask me why the ways to/from are different. If you're a walker, you could walk to/from the Train or to/from the Tram and not have to go to and from different ways. Just a suggestion. Good luck on this!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trastevere, 4 photos, June 2015

The Centro Storico, from Piazza Trilussa, Trastevere, weather threatening

Mickey in Trastevere
Zucchini, with flowers
da Cannes a Roma

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Le Corbusier in Rome. Well, not exactly.

Le Corbusier's Cité radieuse, Marseilles, 1947-1952.  Balconies a feature.  

Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the French/Swiss pioneer of architectural modernism, built nothing in Rome.  Nor, apparently, was he influenced by the city, which he failed to visit on a wide-ranging tour as a young man.

Still, Rome came to mind while reading Rachel Donadio's story in a recent New York Times (July 13, 2015), based on several new books on the architect and an exhibition at the Pompidou Center.  Once again, the issue is the extent to which Le Corbusier's architectural values and ideals were modernist and democratic--housing for the masses could easily be understood as fulfilling an underlying democratic mission (meeting the needs of the people)--or essentially totalitarian (Le Corbusier was involved with right-wing parties in France in the interwar years, and he was an admirer of Mussolini).
Concrete supports for Cité radieuse

This is not the place to resolve or devote serious attention to the issue of Le Corbusier's politics and ideology.  What interested us at RST was the color photo that accompanied the essay.  The photo was of Cité radieuse (Radiant City), a complex of 337 apartments constructed in Marseilles between 1947 and 1952 and repeated in other European cities in 1955, 1957, 1963 and 1965.  It was constructed of rough-cast concrete (a material identified with the Brutalist movement to come) and partly for that reason is a considered a founding statement of Brutalism.  The Marseilles building is widely understood as one of Le Corbusier's most important works.

No, you can't see Le Corbusier in Rome.  But you can experience something of his vision in Rome's Flaminio district, where Italian architects Adalberto Libera and Luigi Moretti, among others, were working in a similar vein on, and around, the Olympic Village, built for the 1960 games.  The village is a bit over a mile north of Piazza del Popolo--a 10-minute tram ride will get you close--and well worth seeing.
Olympic Village, Rome

Supports for Corso Francia (Luigi Moretti)
The Olympic Village complex consists of dozens of buildings, some smaller and some larger--longer, that is--than Citeé radieuse, and of brick rather than concrete.  But the overall scale and look is similar, as is the use of color to lighten the weighty look of the structures. Both the Cité radieuse and the Olympic buildings are elevated, the former with massive concrete stanchions, the latter with smaller columns with more of a modernist flavor.  The Le Corbusier supports have their equivalent in Luigi Moretti's massive concrete supports for the Corso Francia, an elevated highway that bisects the Olympic Village and was built at about the same time.

Elegant rooftop, Cité radieuse
Like Le Corbusier, Libera, who headed the Village architectural team, employed a flat roof and used it to feature a rounded ventilation system that added to the complex's modernist appeal. 

Both Libera and Moretti worked for, and during, Mussolini's Fascist regime.  Libera was the lead architect on the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), located northwest of the Olympic Village, just across the Tevere. 

So visit the Olympic Village.  It's the closest you'll come to Le Corbusier in Rome.


Olympic Village topped by round, modernist ventilation system.  Colors, too, and balconies.  
Olympic Village