This semester abroad I am taking the class Contemporary Art in Rome taught by Professor Shara Wasserman. Each week as a class we visit different art spaces including museums (like the MAXXI and MACRO), contemporary commercial art galleries, and sometimes contemporary architecture around the city. However, contemporary architecture is not often found in Rome.
Rome is a very historical city, clearly tied to antiquity, physically built on or over monuments of Rome’s past. Because of this, it is very hard to do any type of building in the city because new design can be very controversial in relationship to these monuments. This is a huge challenge for contemporary architects and often means that new building projects are focused to the outskirts of the city, something that has become a theme of the class.
In one of our last classes, students had the pleasure of getting to visit one of the most famous of the few examples of new architecture in Rome: Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church. This building is no exception to the rule of being built outside of the city center and it is clear that Rome is hesitant to accept the new and powerful forms of the contemporary.
The first striking image of the Jubilee is the distinctive triple arc design. The white marble building was in great contrast to the sky behind it.
The “Three Sails” as it is coined is linking itself formally to early Christian language through the imagery of fish, water and proliferation. Shara told us about the ties of the form to the story of Jonah and the whale.
Walking around the exterior of the church we noticed the marble dust glistening on its surface and creating a mystical feel with its lightness. Below, student Jessica Tranquada approaches the structure and must shade her eyes due to the building’s brilliance.
When we went inside I fell in love with this structure. It was so beautiful. Meier did an amazing job mixing the orthogonal elements of the interior with the huge arc-like pieces of the roof.
Inside was very light and bright with large windows and ample amounts of natural light. The only dark color in the entire space is the dark iron cross which is highlighted due to its contrast to the white altar behind it.
This was my first introduction to a notion of contemporary church design in Italy. It was wonderful to see something completely different than the other churches in Rome, and is a very successful design.