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Rome, the
eternal city, argued by some to be the cradle of Western civilisation is payed
homage to in an exhibition held in RIBA’s headquarters that explores the
possibility of innovative ideas and concepts birthed by a profound reflection
on the past and its traditions. “When in Rome: a collective reflection upon the
eternal city” takes two separate exhibitions that delve on reinventing the
eternal city, Re-constructivist architecture, which was displayed at New York’s
Ierimonti Gallery, and Unbuilt Rome, which was presented in the CAMPO art
gallery in Rome, and combines them together in RIBA’s practice space to allow
visitors the pleasure of witnessing the roman capital in two lenses, a Possible
Rome in the future (Re-constructivist) and a Rome that could have been (Unbuilt
Rome).  (When in Rome on view at
RIBA in London, 2017)

The
Re-constructivist architecture exhibit presents the theoretical, critical and
historical approach that 13 young architecture firms took to presenting a
residential project in the context of the roman countryside. The new firms
along with their young members, attempt to rebuild a lost language of design
theory through a rich and diverse collection of archived information -digital
and/or on paper- where they inevitably create references and homages to iconic
and expressive forms of roman architecture. By relying on referential material,
the architects purposefully attempt to distance themselves from the more
parametric contemporary approaches of design in architecture and, in contrast,
exposes the young architects to what can be considered an alternative to the current
status quo in the industry, and breeds in them a passion for theoretical
investigation into the lost art of architectural language. their architectures
are seen to be based on ironic and sometimes radical statements that distance
themselves from narcissistic post-modernism, which argues that nothing truly is
eternal but instead is in a constant state of “becoming” something. (Re-Constructivist
Architecture, 2016) (“Re-Constructivist Architecture” Exhibition Explores the
Lost Art of Architectural Language | ArchDaily, s.d.)

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The project
put forward by Warehouse of architecture and research, titled “a dwelling of
noble and Latin sense”, is an example of such a premise expressed in the
exhibition. The project itself seems to simulate the inhabitation of a ruin set
in the given context and is interpreted as a paradigm of the “colonization” of
ancient buildings in Rome, where the husk of a previous structure is reused in a
modern context and houses a new function which the ancient designers could not
have possibly foreseen. The exhibition as a whole can be generally described as
a contemplation on the autonomy of the discipline of architecture. (A
dwelling of noble and latin sense – Warehouse of Architecture and Research,
s.d.)

On the other
hand, Unbuilt Rome explores the idea of the eternal city through a collection
of projects that never came to fruition in the roman capital. For this
exhibition, 9 emerging Italian practices were each given a case study of
unrealised projects, which in turn had to produce 4 illustrations through a
preferred technique of representation. These illustrations were then juxtaposed
with photographs taken by Jacopo Valentini, of the sites that the abandoned projects would have occupied
in Rome. This mix exposes the visitor to an intricate and indecisive
relationship between the tangible and material aspects of the proposed site and
the creativity and imagination of the illustrations. The premise of the
exhibition invites the viewer to imagine the functionality and consequence of
these projects as if they were manifested in the roman capital today and in
doing so, questions the functional relevance of these projects in the
contemporary practice of architecture and the omnipresent patrimony that has
always had a very significant influence in Rome. (Unbuilt Rome, 2017)

Jacopo Costanzo, Giulia Leone and Valentino Danilo Matteis
with Davide Sacconi were the curators of their respective exhibitions and were
invited to the RIBA in London to curate this new convergence of both events
along with their respective contents and entities, which amounted to 22
projects in total. Both exhibitions are presented separately in their own
spaces within RIBA but lack any demarcations to show a divide, thus giving the
appearance of one single exhibition with a plethora of projects that show contemporary
trends in architectural representation, where collage and alternative graphical
forms of illustration are becoming more popular in the field of architecture.
As co-curator Jacopo Constanzo tells the architect’s newspaper: 

“The show at RIBA can present a sort
of contemporary map of what is going on in the generation of architects
born in the 1980s,” -(When in Rome on view at RIBA in London, 2017)

It can be
implied that within the exhibition, Visitors should view the city of Rome as a
theatre or backdrop wherein the protagonists are the projects themselves as
they populate and protrude a cityscape upon which both crisis and continuity
share a space, and where many layers of the past and present flank each other
in the eternal city.

“When in
Rome: a collective reflection upon the eternal city” combines the shared
interest of “unbuilt Rome” and “Re-constructivist architecture” in both
researching and understanding contemporary architecture through a lens that
extends through previous traditions and attempts to refine a new framework for
architects to explore. Handing this task to a select group of emerging firms
wherein their own members are themselves young architects shows that there is
an emerging interest within the new generation of a past architectural language
and design theory, tenets which are argued to have been destabilized by their
counterparts in the previous generation of architects.

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