169_François-Luc Giraldeau: Contemporary Monuments, an Architecture of Frugality

From McGill Architecture

Contemporary Monuments, an Architecture of Frugality

Rehabilitating the former HQ of the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance

Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR)
Rome, Italy

François-Luc Giraldeau

Advisor: Fabrizio Gallanti

A bare-bones reclamation of three derelict International Style buildings, this project offers a timely architectural appendage which uses twenty-first-century thinking on urbanism, sustainability, and architecture’s social role to reinvigorate a failed utopia from the past.

Located a short metro ride from Rome’s historic center, the city’s famed EUR district developed in stages. At its core is a 1940s fascist ideal city. Subsequent eras have grafted new interventions onto this underlying framework of broad boulevards and overbearing axiality as if it were wholly neutral. Riding a tide of optimism amidst Italy’s postwar economic miracle, the state invested heavily in EUR as a paragon of technocratic modernism. In the following decades, Rome, and especially EUR, underwent additional cycles of suburbanization, but this time without the necessary public investment in infrastructure. Now that the EUR’s grid is almost entirely built out, densification and reconfiguration remain the only applicable options for EUR to grow and maintain its socioeconomic viability as it moves from a stale business district to a mixed-use satellite urban community.

The iconic yet enigmatic expansion proposed by this project claims the third dimension by means of a secondary graft, infilled within EUR’s formally and stylistically diverse environment, heavily charged with historical, cultural, and political implications. Favoring clear expression and strict, functionalist geometry, a new public program has been stacked to fit a vertical urban landscape. Comprised of a sports precinct, an exhibition hall, and a botanical garden, the added civic program sits atop the former towers of the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, which have in turn been reconfigured for residential accommodation. Starting from a simple set of typological rules, floor plan variations were devised to allow for the utmost level of flexibility within the existing towers’ reclaimed floors. The three high-rise mixed-use buildings and two programmatic components are joined by a structural viewing platform which echoes the sprawling new open-air public market colonnade added to the perimeter of the block. Just as the former acts as a mixing chamber for the public-collective activities, the latter provides an interface between the project and the surrounding urban space.

Standing proudly as a monument to reuse, the project takes on the task of transforming what could have easily been dismissed as obsolete utilitarian amenities into its primary means of vertical circulation, serving both the housing units and the public areas located on the upper levels of the buildings. Entirely clad with masonry, all six then deteriorated flanking shafts perform as backbone-like stiffening devices and are intended to operate as strong unifying elements in the composition of the facades.

The project’s iconic qualities arise through sheer scale and visibility within the largely mid-rise environs of EUR, but also through its preservation of historical structures—remnants of a monumental past with strong aesthetic merit. The proposed rehabilitation plan advocates on behalf of the former HQ’s cultural relevance and strives to reassess its aesthetic value through the formulation and usage of a frugal architectural grammar, largely based on an economy of means. Beneath this towering assemblage of concrete structural elements and floor-to-ceiling glass panes lurks an unremitting sequence of raw and unembellished spaces. The architecture is pragmatic in its approach, parsimonious in its features, and yet its bigness makes it ultimately unavoidable, unrivaled in the city’s skyline