Vita del Muro: Co-inhabiting the Aurelian Wall

Project

Looking at the urban fabric of Rome, it is made up of overlapping historical layers under constant transformation. One “hidden gem” within these layers is the Aurelian Wall, the ancient Roman defense wall dating back to the third century AD which still, to the greater extent, pierces through the city. Today the wall works to establish a form of continuity within the urban fabric rather than acting as a border.

We propose that this structure that once protected the city from invaders could be used to revitalize the city by once again come to the aid of the Roman inhabitants, this time in their need for housing. Consisting of three main elements, being the wall itself, the watch towers and the gates, the proposal introduces a fourth element, the collective living.

The 19 kilometers of wall provides not only the opportunity for people to live in and share a household, but it also performs as an infrastructure, linking the different co-livings together.

The project demonstrates that the Aurelian wall does not only have permanancy but also resilience, as a new layer is added onto the existing.

The Sites

When walking along the Aurelian wall, it performs differently according to its context. As a consequence of the topography, the urban landscape and the wear and tear of historical events, the wall presents itself in a variety of ways. The intervention can take place in spaces where the wall is intact and has a thickness of 3,5 meters with openings, which enables inhabitable spaces within the wall. As the physicality and context of the wall changes, it provides different qualities generating a variety of interventions. The project goes into detail in one of the possible sites, located near the gate of Saint Giovanni.

The Living

The living units are arranged linear along the wall and are configured in accordance to privacy. The most private spaces, the sleeping pods and bathrooms, are located in the back, inside the wall. The semiprivate spaces, such as the kitchen and living rooms, are located inbetween the wall and the common terrace which connects all the units. The degree of privacy is further regulated by the opening and closing of partition walls, making it possible to open up the private space to the common terrace, intertwining the different spaces into one large space.

The Tectonics

To inhabit the wall, the housing requires additional structure to perform for optimal living conditions without damaging the structure of the wall itself. This is done by gently wrapping the wall with a cross laminated timber structure, lowered into a shallow slit. The wood beam cantilivers five metersl, providing the opportunity to suspend the main floor and smaller private lofts with steel cables. The added wood frame structure can easily be attached and later removed.

Interview

What prompted the project?

The project was an entry for an open international architecture competition, organized by Beebreeders, looking for alternative ways to solve the housing shortage in Rome. As the competition brief was open in its program, it allowed for many different ways to address the task. One requirement was that the solution could be implemented in a variety of places around Rome, which made the infrastructural qualities of the ancient roman defense wall a suitable base from which our project could grow.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

Except fundamental questions such as how to rethink collective living and what is the essence of the urban environment of Rome, the project also strived to answer questions about permanence and monument.

How does the project address and touch upon notions of preservation? What does it mean to preserve within a context as that of Rome?

Rome is a city with multiple layers of history. The notion of preservation does not necessarily mean to conserve something as it is or to reconstruct something as it was. We believe that adding a new historical layer can be a way to reactivate and therefore preserve the monument.

What drew you to the architecture of the wall and to re-imagine this within our contemporary context?

Since the Aurelian wall has a permanence in the city of Rome and has been resiliant in its use we wanted to take this even further by answering to a contemporary need. As a monument, it is treated with fairly little respect. Where it is needed, the wall is torn down, built upon or inhabited. This aspect is not necessarily bad but rather an answer to why this ancient infrastructural piece has survived for so long.

What projects did you look to as references which informed the project conceptually?

The reference projects which inspired the concept of Vita del Muro dealt to some extent with infrastructure. The thesis project “Exodus” by Rem Koolhaas was an important reference for what the physicality of a wall and its infrastructural qualities could entail. However, the process of formulating a concept was not only characterized by studying larger scale architectural references, but by studying paintings and having art as a reference was also a tool to find specific atmospheres the project could take into consideration.

How relevant is this speculation within the contemporary discourse and relevance of borders and walls?

The wall is intriguing as an architectural element. It works in two ways, it protects from what is on the outside but it also imprisons what is on the inside. We approached the Aurelian wall notnecessarilywith any political intentions, never the less, working with such a powerful architectural element, the project has a political potential. Instead of acting as a defense wall against intruders, the new structure allows the wall to come to the aid of the roman people in their need of housing.

What is for you the main strength of the project as one which integrates and re-imagines this specific element within the context of Rome?

A part of the success of the project is its strive to intertwine the specific context of Rome with a fairly simple design which rethinks collective living in a rather open way. Hence, the project leaves room for the spectator to fill in the blanks and imagine their own life within the Aurelian wall. In short, the project is specific and at the same time open for interpretation.

What are your hopes for the project developing in the next 40 years?

Our hope is that the project gives fuel to the rethinking of dwelling and collective living. We would also like the project to have an impact on the view on architectural preservation, stating the question what preservation really means. To transform the result into a physical intervention was never something our team expected, however, we do not see this as impossible since the Aurelian wall already form the base for houses at certain places. The question is whether Rome would be brave enough.

How and to what extent do you see this acting as a catalyst for the rest of the city?

The project questions what a monument is and what it is capable of doing. To whome does the city belong? Is it the tourist, acting as a passive consumer or is it the inhabitants and their need for housing? Perhaps it is both.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

We as architects are tought to think critically, to question and to strenghten our creative muscles. We would claim that working conceptual is the most important tool to give shape to an architectural project.

About

Lisa Fransson, Karin Frykholm and Rron Bexheti are all currently taking their Master’s degree in architecture at the School of Architecture at Lund University in Sweden. Karin and Lisa have previously studied at Umeå School of Architecture in Sweden, where they earned their Bachelor’s degree, while Rron earned his Bachelor’s degree in Beykent University in Istanbul, Turkey. Though Karin and Lisa have collaborated on projects previously, this project was the first collaboration together with Rron as a team. It was also the first entry for an international competition for all team members.

The professional projects each individual has been involved in are of multiple characters, stretching from interior design to urban planning. However, a common interest has been to revitalize existing infrastructural artifacts. In addition to this, all team members have a fascination for the project of the city, and an interest for generating innovative ways of living in an urban environment.

#Interviews