River Memorial at the Mausoleum of Augustus

The past three days have been spent working with Italian Students from Roma Tre University in the beautifully renovated mattatoio (slaughterhouse) del Testaccio for a design workshop and competition. I was extremely fortunate to work with three Italian students, Pier Luigi, Valentina, and Nicole (no last names at the moment), as well as with Garret, a landscape architecture student from ISU.

I am happy to report we won first place in the competition by a significant vote (!), and will post the project tomorrow or this weekend. It was an extremely rapid and accelerated design process, and I feel certain we won not for the particulars of construction or the proportions of our space, but the overarching conceptual attitude and diversity of representation. More on that later –

On Monday we finished up a three week group-design charrette, in which each team was given a location on the Tiber River to establish a connection between the city and the waters. I was extremely fortunate to have three hard working and talented individuals on my team, and I felt our project was successful in its representation and reception. While we all engaged in a constant back and forth regarding concept, representation and design, I am posting the three components I felt I had the most influence on, hoping to speculate a little deeper into the nuances of the Memorial and the historic significance of place.

The memorial is designed as a space to venerate the lives which have been taken from the Tiber River. One thing I find interesting about this idea, that an element in the landscape can be responsible for death (and life), is that it allows for a fascinatingly diverse group of people to be memorialized. Here would be a plaque for the Roman emperor Tiberius, the 172 pilgrims which died during the overcrowded Jubilee, the four tourists in 2008 who died during a flood, and the drunken student who tightrope walked the Lungotevere embankment walls just a few years ago.

Massing Diagram

Site Plan

River Memorial

The memorial happens in the interstitial spacetime between the ancient moat of the mausoleum and the modern moat of the fascist era renovation (see ‘layers’ in diagram) (this interstitial space time, representing two physical boundaries of different historical eras, will probably form the thesis of my final independent project, as I had much success with it previously in The Vestigial Walls of the Ghetto). The space is designed as a smaller Augustan Mausoleum in its concentric formalism, with its light and water coming around the edges and center of the space. The primary light well warps downward under the weight of an invisible force, formally representing the gravitational significance of an event; in this case the death of a human being. Einstein’s famous visual depiction of a mattress with a bowling ball warping its surface towards the mass is the inspiration for this space:

Einstein Bowling Ball

The water that has been gathered from the Tiber rings around the base of Augustus’ Mausoleum before breaking off into the individual memorial moats. In this way the ‘murderer attends the funeral’ as my friend noted, and the dualistic nature of water as life-bringer and life-taker is made aware to visitors.

With regards to architecture, this is right where I want to be conceptually: dealing with the human imaginary of life and death, space and spirit, veneration of the dead, and ritual. It was an exhilarating exercise in conception and representation.

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