A recent trip to Rome provided an overwhelming array of architectural, historic, cultural and gastronomic delights as one would expect. Architecturally speaking there are so many moments of breathtaking beauty that your brain (and camera) simply cannot capture it all.

In a departure from the better known Roman architectural sites we visited ”starchitect” Zaha Hadid’s recently completed MAXXI, the much celebrated winner of this years RIBA Stirling Prize. The dramatic, sweeping concrete forms of this remarkable building are extremely powerful yet soft and somehow feminine, a very different aesthetic to the robust, classical architecture of the historic city that we had been surrounded by for the previous days. The main entrance hall containing a series of suspended, sinuous, black staircases and walkways is incredible and immediately initiated a student-like photographic frenzy (the largely monochrome palette couldn’t be more photogenic) and invites you to excitedly explore the series of interlocking gallery spaces. However, once this impact gradually began to fade so began a debate regarding form over function. As a gallery, we felt the building slightly disappointed as the exhibits very much play second fiddle to the ‘main event’ of the building itself, although the collection of drawings and models by Pierre Luigi Nervi, the Italian modernist architect and engineer on the ground floor was superb. As we drank coffee on designer plastic chairs in the ubiquitous cafe there was a shared feeling that we could have been anywhere in the world, not helped by the somewhat dislocated suburban location. We also began to observe critically that some of the internal materials and detailing appears lightweight, lacking functionality for a building of this nature and it is difficult to imagine how they will stand the test of time. We pondered that perhaps it is a building of now rather than forever.

It was time to leave and set up a most unlikely (and probably very unfair) comparison that only Rome could offer in one day as we headed south through Piazza del Popolo and Via del Corso to The Pantheon. Navigating narrow streets and small piazza increases anticipation and expectation as you almost stumble upon this epic structure that remains hidden until the last moment. As you move closer the true scale becomes apparent, it is enormous. In fact, the 2000 year old temple built to “all the gods of ancient Rome” is still the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome. We had timed our visit perfectly and entered the rotunda through the imposing portico just after noon. Sunlight was streaming through the void above into the dark, cool interior and pooling on the inside of the dome. A majestic sight that is utterly timeless. Despite being surrounded by hundreds of other tourists, we stood captivated, necks craned, for at least half an hour transfixed by this perfect demonstration of the power of light and space.

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