The museum doesn’t feel like Rome, but is all the more exciting for that, locally juxtaposed with army barracks and industrial warehouses, but with glimpses of distant views to Roman rooftops and cupolas. Its suburban context allows it a freedom denied to architects in the centre of Rome.
This is a museum of paths and routes, a museum where the curators have to invent how to hang and place the works of 21st century art that have been collected since inception of the project – and the century. The permeable plaza recreates routes and connections, but also forces you to consider the new context that is created to engage with the activities within.
The whole is behind a 2.5 metre high industrial aluminium mesh fence which is there to protect the outdoor art that’s planned. Its setting has echoes of OMA’s Casa da Musica, an impression re-enforced by the perched box of an upper gallery with its panoramic window, reached by an array of stairs, ramps and lifts.
The museum, for all its structural pyrotechnics, is rationally organised as five main suites. The whole is bravely day lit with a sinuous roof of controllable skylights, louvres and beams, whilst at the same time conforming to very strict climate control requirements of modern galleries; the skylights both orientate and excite the visitor, but also turn them into uplifting spaces.
MAXXI is described as a building for the staging of art, and whilst provocative at many levels, this project shows a maturity and calmness that belies the complexities of its form and organisation. The nature of the project means everything has to be overspecified – throughout the design process the architects had no idea what these series of rooms would be used to hang, so walls which will bear a ton of rusting steel might be graced by miniatures. In use, in addition to the innovative hanging, video projections bounce off the white curves, animating the spaces.
This is a mature piece of architecture, the distillation of years of experimentation, only a fraction of which has been built. It is the quintessence of Zaha’s constant attempt to create a landscape, a series of cavernous spaces drawn with a free, roving line. The resulting piece, rather prescribing routes, gives the visitor a sense of exploration. It is probably her best work to date and shows she was right all along.