Friday, September 27, 2013


Stairways to....?
Museum of Art of the 21st Century - MAXXI. I’m sure you spotted the sort-of-acronym. For a break from the ancient history of Rome, I headed to its newest history-making monument, the Zaha Hadid Architects-designed MAXII.

Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid is a female Iranian architect who is one of the most sought-after around these days. She’s approaching 60 years old, runs a busy studio in London - she’s lived in the UK for about 40 years. I was impressed with the MAXII building - all curved and polished concrete, huge yet discreet, with swathes of open air spaces and airy glassed-in walkways. Event the staircases are wavy. Apparently MAXII was one of those buildings where the engineers have to come up with new inventions in order to build the architect’s concept (a bit like the Sydney Opera House). In this case, a new mix of concrete was invented (and patented).

The Museum is in its very early days - it was only opened last year - and its permanent collection has a long way to go. It has two directors - one for the art and another for architecture. The morning I was there, the place was buzzing with chic young people, attending a lecture. The café was dispensing espresso and well-dressed types exchanged notes. It had a great buzz, and it was entirely contemporary. Is this Rome?

Come on in...MAXXI - contemporary Rome.
Cement made to do things it never imagined....
I found the architecture display completely absorbing: at the moment it’s about energy, and highlights futuristic ideas from a variety of architectural firms around the globe. There’s also a very fun exhibition of Italian autostrada architecture from the 1950s onwards -- think Autogrill! (I’ve eaten in a few of these soulless but convenient places - the story of their architectural evolution is fascinating). 

Anish Kapoor: better in real life. (source)
The MAXII building has several gallery spaces - one held the architecture exhibits, and a large black plastic cone-type thing by Anish Kapoor, which is part of MAXII’s permanent collection (it was more interesting experientially than it is visually). Two other galleries upstairs were taken over by an exhibition devoted a retrospective of Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli (more on hims later); and the fourth gallery held a variety of works, all by contemporary Italian artists.

Some stats on MAXII:

The lot - 29,000 sq m

Interior space 21,200 sq m

Exhibition area 10,000 sq m

MAXXI - entrance courtyard.

And a quote from the architect:
ZH: “Our proposal offers a quasi-urban field, a world to dive into rather than a building as signature object. The campus is organised and navigated on the basis of directional drifts and the distribution of densities rather than key points. This is indicative of the character of the centre as a whole: porous, immersive, a field of space.”

MAXXI foyer.
MAXXI foyer.
A description of the building from the guide book - waxing lyrical in architecture-speak:
ZH’s project cut the block diagonally, tracing a pedestrian axis that defines the form of the main building. The crossing is at the same time a plaza and an open-air display. Designed so that it would closely relate to the museum, this promenade offers the passers-by views, unexpected connections and new opportunities for the community life of the neighbourhood and in Rome. The museum’s winding masses represent a new presence on the urban scene. The museum complex makes a very definite mark that delimits and surrounds the exterior with cantilevered column that act s a counterpoint to the more sober interiors of the galleries destined to host the collections for the tow museums. The latter are distinguished by their different degrees of permeability, flexibility and transparency. The interior is not just a linear route, rather, it offers its visitors opportunities for alternative visits, allowing users to personalise their paths, with evocative views of the architecture, the works on display and the city, in a continual osmosis between interior and exterior. 

The red lighting rods are an art work, designed for the space.
'Energy' installation in the entrance courtyard.
Engaged artistics types in the foyer - coffee, discussion, emails.
Front door. MAXXI.
I thought that MAXII was the first Zaha Hadid building I had ever been inside, but I was wrong - she designed the Aquatics Centre at the London 2012 Olympics. My ticket was for a seat in the gods, the ugly steep additional temporary seating that was tacked on to the building for the duration of the Games; but that has now been taken away (at least I think they’ve taken it away - that was the intention). 
Salerno Maritime Terminal
I also learnt with some interest that Zaha Hadid has designed another Italian building, a Maritime Terminal for Salerno -- just down the road from Amalfi. I eagerly scanned the Salerno waterfront last time I was there, and saw that this building is still under construction It is not large, and so far is merely a wavy concrete form. But interestingly I mistook it at first for one of the large motor yachts moored at the docks. I predict a success.

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