On the 9th of January, the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts launched the international ideas competition "Grande MAXXI" with the ambition of laying the foundations for the future of the renown cultural institution originally designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Following the transformations, evolution, research undertaken within the first 10 years of its life, the idea behind the competition was that of propelling the National Museum into the realms of sustainability, innovation and inclusion. In this interview we spoke with GICO’s founding partner, Giovanni Cozzani, to discuss the studio’s entry to the competition which, although did not secure the podium, explores noteworthy ideas around the designing for flexible art spaces which defy the generic and conventional white cube canon but rather are envisioned for an evolving and growing architecture which lies at the intersection between container and content.
KOOZ The competition “Grande MAXXI” envisions an extension for the MAXXI Museum designed by Zaha Hadid and completed in 2009. How does the project respond to Zaha’s heritage and the context of the Flaminio district?
GICO The project responds to Zaha’s legacy mainly through its volumetric definition. In line with the suggestions offered by the brief as a means of optimizing the site and in response to the maximation of interior flexibility requested by the program, the proposal could have developed as a rather boxed building. However, the project stems from a formal analysis of the immediate context of the Flaminio neighborhood which is characterized by a non-orthogonal grid defined by the trident of Viale Pinturicchio, Via Guido Reni and Viale del Vignola, and further enclosed by the curve of the Tiber river. The design for the Hadid MAXXI stemmed from similar considerations and was informed by two different axes with the ambition of reinforcing the connection between via Guido Reni and Piazza Mancini. Following in Zaha’s footsteps, our proposal for the Grande MAXXI was designed taking into consideration both the orthogonal blocks of Via Masaccio and the oblique axis of Via Poletti. The resulting triangular shape recalls some of the triangular blocks of the neighborhood (including the one that hosts GICO studio in Flaminio) whilst opening the block to a continuous green corridor establishing a connection with the adjacent green spaces.
KOOZ Rather than developing as a single artefact, the proposal is articulated through two volumes. What informed this decision? How does the programmatic distribution develop within these two volumes?
GICO To complete the green strip of the surrounding landscape, the brief outlined the necessity for a two- or three-story building with a green rooftop terrace. When analyzing this requirement we encountered a few critical points, especially in relation to the lack of connection — both visual and functional — that this would entail between the rooftop terrace and the ground floor garden. To this end, we thought it more effective to split the rooftop into two distinct terraces: a green one, on the first floor which would be easily accessible from the street level, and a mineral one, on the top of the triangular volume which could act as a space for outdoor events or exhibitions. The shorter volume which featured the green terrace, was then treated with a different materiality for visual coherence with the surrounding landscape. The result is a series of outdoor spaces with different qualities that gradually climb up the mass of the building. This configuration was also useful when developing the programmatic distribution as the large ground floor art deposits benefitted from a more generous rectangular plan obtained by the combination of the two volumes, while the labs and didactic classrooms hosted within the upper floors took advantage from the presence of the two terraces.
The proposal thus challenges the notion of flexibility in respects to the stereotyped connotation of the generic space and rather explores it through time.
KOOZ Through the choice of materials and their structural properties as well as the systems used, the proposal is designed and structured around the attribute of flexibility and change. How does the project understand and challenge the potentially shifting role and programme of a museum in the coming future?
GICO We believe in the importance attributed to the quality of space as achieved through specific geometrical definition. The proposal thus challenges the notion of flexibility in respects to the stereotyped connotation of the generic space and rather explores it through time. Instead of designing a flexible system of interior movable partitions, the proposal features bearing concrete walls which unequivocally allocate a specific function to each space whilst focusing on the potential future growth of the building. As the very need for this building was based on the lack of space of the museum after only few years of life and, expecting the need for even more space in few years, the top floor is configured as a potentially growing entity with the crowning “billboard” acting as a perimeter for this growth. To this end, the structure of the last floor is lighter and features a flexible steel frame system to enable the addition of one or more additional levels.
KOOZ On the Eastern side the design exploits the constant solar exposure to support some of the MEP systems. Could you expand a bit more on the various strategies explored for the building and the importance of designing sustainably?
GICO Architectural sustainability in Rome entails mostly shading for facades and roofs during the hot months. While the lower concrete facades would benefit from the shadow provided by the trees and vegetation planted on the lower green terrace, the technological crown that wraps the top part of the building was designed as a passive shading system for the upper terrace and the classrooms. Part of this latter was also integrated with a solar thermal system with an east/west exposure to achieve a continuous support to the MEP systems.
Operating in support to the existing museum, the new building will provide new spaces for the deposit, storage and restoration of artworks as well as engaging in educational activities.
KOOZ On the Northern and Western facades of the building, the latter is crowned by an LED strip which serves to both promote the program of the museum as well as to host digital artefacts. What is the added value of such an element? How does it inform the relationship between institution and city?
GICO Operating in support to the existing museum, the new building will provide new spaces for the deposit, storage and restoration of artworks as well as engaging in educational activities. To this end, the proposal also explores this new volume as a communications support by featuring a very Venturi-esque billboard.The latter, which faces both the street side and the museum side, is composed of a grid of horizontal plexiglass tubes containing stripes of LED dots which collectively act as a large low-resolution screen. Whilst, on one hand this device could be used to showcase digital art (which we believe should be a central part of the collection and program of a contemporary museum), on the other it could be used to promote the museum program and enabling greater visibility to the whole complex. Ultimately this element is conceived as a “window” into the building that could also live-show some of the interior activities such as the restoration of an art piece.
"Grande MAXXI" competition entry, 2022. Courtesy of Studio GICO.
KOOZ Beyond the single artefact, the project also develops as a significant landscaping endeavor. How does this seek to challenge the way the surrounding public space is used and appropriated by the local and global community?
GICO The northern border which runs along via Masaccio is currently a residual space characterized by mineral surfaces featuring a scarce vegetation. In response to this condition, the proposal envisions the planting of a forest with glades of various sizes able to accommodate different functions and connected by sinuous paths within the entirety of the spaces enclosed by piazza Alighiero Boetti. With the ambition of creating a growing and evolving natural environment which fosters a thriving biodiversity, the already present "Populus nigra italica" species will be joined by the "Cercis siliquastrum Koelreuteria paniculata", the "Gleditsia triacanthos" , the “Tiarella cordifolia”, the “Geranium macrorrhizum”, the “Carex elata, as well as the “Bergenia Crassifolia”. The educational garden, playground, restaurant, and the Alighiero Boetti square become thematic spaces within the urban forest which exist as additional functions not exclusively linked to MAXXI. A ramp, designed itself as an elevated glade, plunges into the main part of the urban forest allowing visitors to reach the terrace, and indulge into the new addition.
Architecture: GICO studio with Giovanni Glorialanza
Renders: Alessandro Rossi
Founded by Giovanni Cozzani, GICO studio is an architecture practice based in Rome, Italy with a focus on international projects at various scales and through all phases of design and construction. The work of the studio is driven by typological and theoretical research, with an unapologetic interest in modernity. The studio explores both commissions and competitions as platforms for innovation in a frame that allows for the development of the design practice alongside the disciplines of research and teaching. GICO’s projects stem from a holistic approach which is complemented by an economic analysis of the available means, with the ambition of obtaining a rational yet idiosyncratic architecture. Spanning a variety of scales, from exhibition design to hospitality; from industrial buildings to administrative centers GICO’s work began in the U.S. but has since grown internationally to include projects throughout Italy, Algeria and Luxembourg.