For the final day in Rome we visited the Vatican, the Palezetto dello Sport, the Stadio Flaminio and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum. To focus on the latter – the museum provided a stark contrast to the ancient monuments seen thus far and took us by surprise because it was so well hidden within its neighborhood. As we headed towards the museum, again we were following music; this time it was the deep bass from trance music. When we reached the origin of the music, we found ourselves at the entrance to a chic art exhibit. Coincidentally – and fitting of this trip – it was the Young Architects Program 2014 that promotes young architects in conjunction with MoMA/MoMA PS1 in New York, Constructo in Chile, Istanbul Modern in Turkey, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. The winning installation was the portable theater where the DJ was playing. The wooden structure was basking and glowing in the late afternoon sun.
After viewing the theater, my eyes locked onto the sweeping concrete structures protruding from the building. It was structurally enticing and fascinating to follow the path of the concrete and their incredible spans. Known for its strength and weightiness, the concrete strikingly appears to float effortlessly above fragile glass walls and ceilings. It loomed over our heads unobtrusively. It’s gentle swoops and curves created a relaxed and confident atmosphere for the art viewers. The cylindrical cluster of columns supporting the long span hollow walkways appeared nonexistent. Their slenderness ignited a blatant contrast to what they were supporting, as did the immense open space created below the concrete.
Luckily the museum was still open allowing us to explore the main floor. We stepped inside and I paused in wonder at the large open atrium with suspended stairwells. These stairwells flowed freely between the main floors and the accompanying ones above, mimicking the curves of the exterior. The path they etched in the open atrium did not follow restricted and classic straight-line paths – rather they fluidly curved within the space. A number of the walls remained beautifully bare exposed concrete.
Despite its hypermodern exterior and structure, the concrete material used, complimented and remained consistent with the older 1960 neighboring Olympic structures (Palezetto dello Sport and Stadio Flaminio). All explored curved concrete shapes, which added an air of delicacy to the sturdy material. Hadid found a way, similar to the ancient monuments throughout Rome (which were originally intended to stand out, but no longer are the sole focus of attention), to blend the museum within the local area. From what we could see, MAXXI didn’t impose its modernist characteristics on the surrounding Italian architecture.
MAXXI was the first Zaha Hadid structure I had seen in person and I was filled with admiration. With her new design nestled in Rome and surrounded by ancient history, I wondered at what we will leave behind for people to find in 2000 years. In the Vatican museum we saw ancient pots used for carrying water, mummies, clay tablets used for letters and official documents, and amulets from thousands of years ago. But what defines our modern centuries aside from our technological advances? Will we have a history to tell that leaves new generations in a state of wonder and awe? And, as someone newly entering the design world, in an age characterized by instant gratification, are modern buildings designed to be temporary? In the year 2014, what does the word “timeless” mean for architecture and engineering? Will we have our own version of the Pantheon that is an incredible ancient marvel?