The design for the museum is highly innovative but construction is actually much more straightforward than it might seem, begins architect Margherita Guccione, one of the people responsible for overseeing the ambitious project by Zaha Hadid for a new contemporary arts museum in the Flaminio area of Rome. The structure is made of ordinary reinforced concrete, steel and glass and is being built using tried and tested techniques. The only difficulty, concedes the scientific director of MAXXI architecture (Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, the museums full name), concerns achieving a smooth surface on the extensive outside cement walls; but here again, Guccione says existing procedures are being adapted to meet the specific needs of the Anglo-Iraqi architects futuristic creation.
Admittedly, it is still fairly early days. Ground was broken symbolically on 20 March 2003, and the beginnings of the distinct building can now be seen emerging out of the back of an existing building on Via Guido Reni, which has been incorporated into the project design. However Guccione, who has been involved in the project from the outset, is confident that there will be no major construction hiccoughs and she claims that building is on course for completion by the end of 2006. A further six months or so will then be needed to fit out the museum spaces; the official opening is scheduled for the middle of 2007.
The big problem is funding, continues the architect. Construction costs stand at 60 million, to which must be added the design and other general costs. Guccione reckons the whole thing will come in at around 75 million. The money is there on paper but it arrives in dribs and drabs, which is very stressful for those of us working on the project. But it always arrives eventually, she says, adding that money for construction is currently available until the end of this year.
In reality the new space, when finished, will consist of two distinct museums: one of contemporary art and the other of contemporary architecture. In addition, there will be space for temporary exhibitions and live performances, as well as an auditorium, bookshop and the usual facilities for visitors. A library will be housed in one of the buildings that was conserved when the Montello barracks that originally occupied the site were pulled down. Light is a central feature of the project design. It will enter through ceiling panels made of special glass, explains Guccione, who works for the culture ministrys architecture and contemporary art section (direzione generale per larchitettura e larte contemporanee or DARC), which is responsible for managing the site and running the exhibitions.
MAXXI is the brainchild of former culture minister and current city mayor Walter Veltroni. An international competition for the design of a contemporary arts museum for Rome was launched in 1998 and the project by Hadid was chosen the following year as the winner. The London-based architect, who has more architecture prizes to her name than built works, was responsible for the mind zone at the Millennium Dome in London and the Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Guccione defends the use of an international design competition in any case required by law for all but the smallest public works against criticism by local architects, who often grumble that they are unfairly discriminated against. A competition enables you to compare different solutions to a problem and therefore guarantees the quality of the outcome, she argues. Of the 15 projects that made it through to the second jury stage, Guccione truly believes that Hadids was the best, both in the use of space and in the way it relates to the surrounding area.
Responsibility for overseeing the project is divided between the ministries of culture (in charge of planning) and infrastructure (responsible for construction), while two of Hadids team are following the development closely in Rome to ensure the integrity of the architectural design. Hadid has also made a couple of site visits herself. Construction has been entrusted to two large firms, Italiana Costruzioni SpA and Societ Appalti Costruzioni SpA.
Guccione believes MAXXI will reinforce an already strong relationship between the Flaminio district and existing modern works of architecture. Rome now has a strong line in modern architecture, which is having a major impact, particularly in this part of the city, she says. She cites the new Ara Pacis pavilion by American architect Richard Meier, still under construction, and the nearby music auditorium by Italys Renzo Piano, as well as the Olympic Village, built by Adalberto Libera for the 1960 games in Rome, Pier Luigi Nervis Palazzetto dello Sport (1956-58) and Stadio Flaminio (1957-59), and the Foro Italico and the Olympic Stadium, built in the 1950s and massively restructured in 1989, just across the Tiber.
But what do local residents think about the development? Initially, says Guccione, there was some discontent, particularly over the possibility of dust and noise. Last year, she met with local residents in order to discuss their concerns. It became clear from the discussion that they hadnt understood even some of the most basic aspects of the project, she recalls. For example, people were worried about the height of the structure, when in fact it is not going to be any taller than the existing buildings on the site.
Further, she insists that once building for MAXXI is complete, there will be more public space as well as a permanent walkway between Via Guido Reni and Via Masaccio: both aspects of the project that will be of direct benefit to local residents.
Pending completion of the project, the programme of exhibitions in a temporary space on site continues (up and running since 2002), while DARC is busy planning for the future. There is already a formal collaboration agreement between MAXXI and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which has given rise to several events, most recently the exhibition Giancarlo De Carlo - Le ragioni dellarchitettura, which ran throughout the summer. The idea is to get people on board before the new museum is complete so that when we open they already know we are here, concludes Guccione.