Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealist MythologyLocus Solus: a singular place, which works as the relationship of architecture to the constitution of the city and the relationship between the context and monument.
-Aldo Rossi, Architecture
of the City

History and Background:

The Esquilino hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, was traditionally a residential area of the rich and privileged. Its distance from the congested city center and availability of relatively cheap land, as well as the cool windy weather attracts the affluent city population to built villas and palazzos. The presence of leisure facilities such as the Bath of Diocletian further identifies the area as a high quality living quarter with tertiary service activities.

In 1863, Pope Pius IX opened the first termini station on the site of villa Montalto-Peretti , the station was constructed in 1868 and completed in 1874, based on the design by Salvatore Bianchiby. In 1937, in preparation for the planed 1942 world fair in Rome (which was never held), a new station was conceived to replace the old with a modernistic design by Angiolo mazzoni. Following the collapse of the Fascist Government in 1942, construction was interrupted and the current station in use was completed after a competition in1947 by two teams of architects: Leo Calini and Eugenio Montuori; Massimo Castellazzi, Vasco Fadigati, Achille Pintonello and Annibale Vitellozzi

The insertion of this piece of monumental infrastructure has stimulated much turbulence and change in the Esquilino neighborhood. Being Italy’s largest multi-ethnic district today, its transformation or so called degradation by Romans started long before the arrival of the immigrants. Its traditional affluent residents deserted it because of the chaos brought by the mobile population through the train station. The following lack of maintenance of the existing facilities further reduced the quality of the urban space, catalyzing its later occupation by the poor immigrant communities.

Lesson of Esquilino “Degradation”:

- The imposing modernity

Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealist Mythology

Modernity flourished after the industrial revolution and rise of the machine age. Modern architecture favors styles that simplify forms and eliminate ornament. Form follows function. These shifts in aesthetics and paradigm result in the production of an urban landscape with imposing monuments of machines.

The above image of the Termini imposing itself over the off-scale neighborhood has a curious resemblance to the photomontages of the “continuous monument” of Superstudio, In this project, the architects expressed concerns over the possible future when modern technology and culture renders the world uniform with a single continuous environment. Every point in the built world would be identical and neutral, without a distinct identity. The modern obsession with speed and efficiency has created the new orthodox of converting the historic city center into glorified railway intersection. The monotony and length of this modern machine of efficient transportation isolates itself from the continuous and richly composed Roman cityscape, hence generating a locus around it also detached from the urban landscape which follows its own modern development.

- The Paradox of futurism and tradition

In Piranesi’s etching “caceri d’invenzione” depicting an imaginary prison interior, he conveys an important idea: irrational and rational are no longer mutually exclusive. The problem of resolving equilibrium of opposites is fundamental to the concept of architecture.

In the Analogous City, through fragmentation, repetition and collage of types in his architecture and drawings of the city, Rossi expresses the same ‘equilibrium of opposites’ that Piranesi’s drawings proposed.

At Termini station, the con­tin­u­ous strip win­dows and dy­namic struc­tural lines ex­pressing the Fu­tur­ist idea of speed and stream­lin­ing, juxtaposed with the ancient Servian wall in front of the building façade, conveys a similar idea. The radical future adjacent to the ancient past, this collision is an apt manifestation of time and change in architecture. The dramatic contrast between the modernistic, even futuristic train station and the historic urban fabric creates a tension which disjoins the Termini affiliated area with the rest of the city, making it an isolated locus.

-The ambiguity of identity

Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealist Mythology

The Greek-Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico was famous for his metaphysical depictions of Italian cities. These imagery often included long porticos and colonnades, solitary monuments and figures, dramatically cast shadows and contrasting classical architecture with a new model of monumentality of the industrial age. They convey a suspended temporality, a blaze outlook prevalent in modern cities with nostalgia for the past in memory.

The two-kilometer long side structure of the design by Angiolo Mazzoni remains part of the current-day station. The parallel between this modern side façade clad in stone and glass and a roman aqueduct raise the question about the identity of this architecture. Is it modern or inherently archaic?

The ambiguity of the monumental architecture also blurs the identity of the neighborhood. Is it ancient or modern? Is it Roman or international? All people have a human desire to retain unique identity. A person’s past fulfills some inherent notion of a person’s individuality. When the monument of the locus does not provide a strong identity for the context, people define themselves by their past and memories. The Romans left for a traditional cityscape they identify with, while the immigrants settle for the multi- faceted modernity in the locus solus.

Within the Locus Solus:

Today, immigration has been the driving force behind the transformation of Esquilino. With the influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Balkans and South America, of the 1,300 or so commercial premises operating in the district 800 are Chinese-owned, 300 are run by immigrants from other countries and some 200 are owned by Italians. Although the Esquilino is excluded from the city’s reconversion into an upper-class district, the socially segregated community within the locus solus develops their own rules and standards which stimulates a different urban development in the locus towards a globalised ethnic town which in the eyes of the Romans, an urban deterioration and dystopia.

It is also interesting to compare Rome with Manhattan and their reception of modern public infrastructure. Rome being a public city, the insertion of public infrastructure created a locus solus with logic different from the rest of the city. On the other hand, Manhattan being a private capitalist city, the insertion of public infrastructure like the Grand Central Station is well received by general public and fully integrated into the urban fabric. Maybe the tradition in Rome is so prevalent that any imprint of modernity, especially public projects with greater social impact, would easily create anomaly in the city landscape, becoming a locus solus of urban dystopia.

work cited:
Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealist Mythology

Architecture of the City: Aldo Rossi

Toward an Architecture: Le Corbusier

Rossi’s Poetics of the Fragment: The Physical (the City) and the Temporal (Memory)

Patterns of Segregation in Contemporary Rome, Pierpaolo Mudu

Roma Segreta

Futuristic art during the Fascist Government

Giorgio de Chirico and surrealist mythology, Roger Cardinal 2004

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