lunedì 17 agosto 2009

Violent culture clash over ultra-modern monument to peace

Violent culture clash over ultra-modern monument to peace
Martin Penner
The Times 22/4/2006

Its critics say it looks like a petrol station, a municipal swimming baths or even a giant coffin. It is derided as an insult to Romans and hopelessly out of keeping with its surroundings. A prominent art critic has even advised the city's architecture students to blow it up.
Rome's new Museum of the Ara Pacis, designed by Richard Meier, the American architect responsible for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, has had a troubled gestation. Built to house an ancient Roman altar to peace, the 4,000 sq metre oblong of glass and travertine marble took eight years to complete and there have been polemics at every stage.
It was finally opened to the public yesterday amid a mixture of exultation and sneers.
"This is a great opportunity for tourists and for the city, something to add to the riches that Rome offers visitors," Walter Veltroni, the Mayor, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The site, which people must pay €6.50 (£4.50) to enter, includes underground archaeological displays, a 200-seat auditorium, a coffee shop and a fountain, as well as the famed Ara Pacis itself.
The museum, which cost €13 million to build, is one of very few ultra-modern structures in the heart of the Eternal City. And this is partly why it has provoked outrage.
Gianni Alemanno, the right-wing challenger to become mayor this year, said that the box-like building was a prime example of "how not to insert modern architecture into a city like Rome". It "obliterated" its Baroque surroundings, he continued, vowing to take it apart and rebuild it elsewhere if he is elected.
Meier, a former winner of architecture's highest honour, the Pritzker Prize, is known and widely appreciated for his stark, minimalist style. He explained his extensive use of glass in the Ara Pacis structure as an attempt to wrap it in a luminous aura.
As for claims that the building is too big and too square, he says that it is in perfect proportion with its centrepiece.
But he has failed to convince Vittorio Sgarbi, Italy's former Culture Under-Secretary and a fierce critic of the project. He called Meier an "arid, insensitive" man who "knows Rome like I know Tibet". Graffiti scrawled on hoardings during construction conveyed a similar idea. A common word used was cesso, a vulgar Italian word for toilet.
Whatever its aesthetic qualities, the museum will undoubtedly be good for the Ara Pacis, which will be protected from pollution. Positioned near a busy highway, its stone carvings have become darkened over the years. Now the air around it will be kept at exactly 20C (70F) and humidity at 40 per cent as restorers set to work cleaning it.
Roberto Morassut, the Rome councillor in charge of urban planning, insisted that the museum was a perfect synthesis between past and future. The ancient Ara Pacis altar, erected by Emperor Augustus in AD9 to celebrate peace in the empire, is decorated with some of the finest Roman sculptures in existence.

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