Rebuilding the Velia: Reflections on Architectural and Urban Conservation in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century

Perhaps all the early developments of the twentieth-century we have seen in urban archaeology in Rome influenced S. Freud (1930) when he speaks of the ‘preservation of mind’. Freud, who was very interested in archaeology, made the architecture of Rome a metaphor of the mind, representing its history the same that represents the psychic life of each person, a true ‘historic city of the mind’. In this way, an early experience remains in memory and inhabits psychic structures, in rhe same way that in Rome new buildings occupy the structures of the previous ones and all epochs coexist.

The French influence was fundamental in the city project. Until their arrival, the only action had been to dig up the monuments. In Rome, unlike in Paris, the works were small and poorly connected. The French, in addition to a large dose of method, contributed the idea of creating an appropriate framework, giving an urban dimension by joining them through tree-lined walks. In this way they also influenced the development of the ideas of urban conservation of Giovannoni. In the fascist era, speculation and meeting traffic needs were the only objectives. The aim was to satisfy the new functional requirements with the help of an aesthetic sometimes unable to understand the new situation. The central monumental zone was for a long time, with the exception of the Vit-toriano, without new monumental architecture. The 1938 proposal of the Danteum by G. Terragni, in the immediate vicinity of the Temple of Venus and Rome, was going to be presented at the planned universal exhibition (EUR) in 1942, which never took place due to World War II.

During the Mussolinian era, the debate and the actions at the urban level were continuous and Giovannoni tried to establish a relationship between the conservation of monuments and urban conservation, between the monument and its context. Racheli (1995, 2007) considers that architectural conservation has no meaning unless it is related to its context and the city, which are what give it semantic and figurative values. Undoubtedly, the origin of this must be found in the architect and urban planner Camillo Sitte (1843-1903) and its publication in 1889 ‘The art of building cities’, where he promoted an organic and three-dimensional construction of cities, with squares and nature. Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) also develops similar concerns, but adding social aspects, following Ruskin’s idea of the relationship between social progress and spatial forms. He intervened accordingly in the Old Town of Edinburgh, also creating historical associations with local characters.

As we have seen at the monumental complex of the Temple of Venus and Rome and Santa Francesca Romana, history is a fundamental part of its architecture and its conservation cannot be carried out without a deep understanding of this history, to be used as one more instrument of the project. We know the extensive use of history that architects have made in their projects (Garnham, 2013), however, as C. Varagnoli (2004) notes, contemporary designers in general do not investigate history, discarding the fundamental phase of knowledge at the time of the creative process. In this way, the project becomes self-referential and without dialogue with the existing (Varagnoli, 2004). P. Torsello (2005) also warned us of the fact that architectural conservation is almost always a design pretext, avoiding a true dialogue with the old building. The existing building is just an excuse for the new design, which is immediately attractive due to the material contrast.

That history serves to design and reflect on the contemporary architectural project has already been demonstrated by Robert Venturi, with his elaboration of a theory of architecture through the analysis of Mannerist buildings, precisely during a stay in Rome in 1956, as we have mentioned previously (Venturi, 1966). Manfredo Tafuri (1935-94) understood the need, above all, to understand the mentality and culture of each historical period, entering the intellectual spirit and the cultural context of the work (Tafuri, 1986). He became a defender of the conservation carried

Conservation and Architectural Project 159 out by qualified architects, getting involved himself in the conservation of Giulio Romano’s Tea Palace and helping to prevent the intervention of Renzo Piano in the Palladio’s Basilica. For Tafuri, criticism does not exist: it is simply history. He accuses the critics (Zevi, Portoghesi) of exercising instrumental architectural criticism, using it for their benefit as practising architects. Crucially, Tafuri claimed the need for architecture to have autonomy as a discipline and his interest was in the project, as specific to the discipline (Pane, 2009).

Carlo Aymonino- perhaps inspired by Terragni’s Danteum designed for an adjacent place-, proposed in the 1980s to rebuild the Velia hill using the space as a museum, and even to build a new colossal statue, recreating that of Nero. The late 1980s and early 1990s revives the debate on archaeology of the central area of Rome and its relationship with the city, which is reflected in initiatives of international competitions of ideas and publications of the City Council, such as Romacen-tro. The Forum area is recognized as the cultural root of Rome, but also a historical problem in relation to the city, and a review of the situation was carried out. It is interesting to note that the ideas competition was for the areas bordering the Central Archaeological Area; some of those, such as the Velia or Piazza Venezia, were empty spaces created by previous drastic interventions in the city. The fear of occupying the monumental zones is latent. The commission for the elaboration of the competition brief was constituted by the City council, the Soprint-endenze, the professional incorporations of Architects and Engineers and the University.

G. Carbonara (1990) made a lucid exposition of the five fundamental criteria for the protection and conservation of cultural heritage, that any project ‘on’ or ‘of’ the pre-existence must consider:

  • 1. that the functional and practical problems are ‘medium’ and not ‘end’ of the intervention; the end is the transmission to the future, in the best conditions of a historic-artistic heritage, “material with the value of civilization” (Commission Franceschini, dich. 1st);
  • 2. that the guiding criterion is always the “minimum intervention”, and that everything that is proposed or done finds, before, cultural/ preservation justification and, only in a subordinate way, of another type. That the creativity of the architects be used to “maximize” the effectiveness and “minimize” the weight of each intervention, pursuing quality and not quantity, as unfortunately often happens;
  • 3. that the most noble and grandiose testimonies, as well as the smallest and poorest, be taken care of in the same way, as “monuments” (by their same antiquity), in all cultural property. It is a point that has been clarified for some time, on which it would be superfluous to return, if some frequent misunderstandings about the concept of monument, still understood as an emergent structure and “protagonist”, did notmake it useful to specify, which finds confirmation in its etymology, which refers to the meaning as “document”;
  • 4. that conservation, dealing with historic, artistic and “authentic” material culture testimonies, resembles, by criteria and method, philology and the critical edition of texts; that in this way all temptation of ripristino should be banished, which would only confuse—except, perhaps, few elected connoisseurs—the documents of history and that it would use philology surreptitiously, making it return “certainties” (based on which reconstruct and complete) that by definition can never be anything more than, to the maximum, pure “critical hypotheses”;
  • 5. that by such a hypothetical nature, then, the indispensable additions must always be modern, with an effective expressive actuality, so that the new and the old are really such and not forgeries. There is nothing more painful than seeing, for example a plastered wall painted again—most of the time without need—and then aged artificially, trying to recover the patina just sacrificed; in this respect, the damage that an eventual “colour plan” of Rome could cause, in the absence of clear and shared theoretical and methodological references, can already be foreseen. (Carbonara, 1990)

Carbonara also gives there a good definition of ‘new’:

‘New’ does not mean ‘dissonant’, but means something thought, reinterpreted and invented, in relation to the specificity of a place (or an object), to solve, respecting the old and following critically the suggestions, the problems that it presents.

(Carbonara, 1990)

He continues noting how positive the normative restrictions may be for the project and the absurdity of the “continuous evolution” of pre-existence, acting as the architects of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would do. The modern historic and historic-artistic conscience, configured from the eighteenth century, make another attitude necessary that is conservative on the one hand, defending the historic-artistic testimonies, but, on the other hand, strongly innovative, in all those choices that, more than conservation, we can define as protection, preservation or prevention. Therefore, the need to look at the urban environment.

As base material for the competition, some schedules were made by zones. Area 3 was dedicated to the Velia area and denotes lack of interest or perhaps ignorance of its history and significance, and its value was presented as subject to neighbouring monuments such as the Colosseum. As we have mentioned, the proposal was to reinstate part of the Velia’s volume with a museum. The ideas were confusing and the conservatism and weight of history predominate in the proposals.

Carbonara has, most recently, summarized the development of architectural conservation in the second half of the twentieth century, with some pessimism due to the reduction, since Brandi’s work, of the theoretical debate on conservation and the reductionism, between ‘preservation’ and ‘restoration’ (ripristino) (Carbonara, 1995, 2012). Although he does not name them, the identification of the leaders of these two trends is clear: Marco Dezzi Bardeschi of the ‘preservationists’ and Paolo Marconi of the ‘restorers’ (Racheli, 2007; Dezzi Bardeschi, 1991; Marconi, 1993).

Marco Dezzi Bardeschi considers conservation as a science of preservation and with the objective of not subtracting material from the fabric, but to add, increasing the historic stratification and the consequent global dialogue between elements (Dezzi Bardeschi, 1991). Amedeo Bellini, also in the group of ‘preservationists’, considers that conservation cannot mean anything other than the search for a regulation for the transformation, reinterpreting without destroying. But also disregarding a system of a priori ideas or theories and based on conditions concrete and on the use of the building’s past for the conservation project (Bellini, 1997). In this sense, he seems to be oriented more towards the ‘Critical Conservation’. Marconi’s work and legacy has recently been discussed by J. Garcia-Gutierrez Mosteiro (2014) and C. Varagnoli (2015, 2016), making clear that his approach of restoration was not that of Viollet-le-Duc, but a more substantiated and complex one.

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