Renzo Piano's Chicago Museum as a Roman monument

    Renzo Piano often jokes, "I'm Italian, there's not much we can do about that!" He's flirting when he says it. He knows people like things Italian.

    I'm still ruminating (Rominating?) on why the Pritzker Garden at Renzo Piano's Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago has a Roman feel to it. It's partly the imperial scale and the classical expression. But there's much more. If you enter the Garden not from the street but by going inside the Modern Wing, and then going back outside into the garden, it has the feel of a Roman courtyard.

    The rectangular proportions are like those of Roman temples. Piano's new work is layered with the older Art Institute buildings. They meet in this garden. Public places, like people, art and cities, are often most interesting where two cultures come together. In this garden you see and physically feel that Chicago now has a certain age, has been around awhile, wasn't built in a day. The minimalism of Piano's structure can remind you of Roman ruins.

    Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Rome c. 141

    So, Piano

    is to Chicago

    as Norman Foster

    is to the Roman temple in Nimes.


    But to be like Rome you must have an

    arch. Such as Rome's Arch of Constantine. Just around the corner from the Pritzker Garden, as part of the layering of time at the Modern Wing, Chicago has

    The arch from Louis Sullivan's demolished Stock Exchange.

    The Pritzker Garden was built more or less above an "ancient" theater. (1925, is that ancient by today's standard?) The Goodman Theater was also a memorial to a son who died young. It was underground, due to height restrictions that in olden days, even under the empire of Emperor Richard (Daley) I, used to be enforced on any structure erected in Grant Park. The Goodman is gone now; so in this place you get a vertical memory of buildings, including some unseen.

    Original Goodman Theatre (1925-2005) by ChicagoGeek.

    Detail from the Goodman Theater, demolished


    Nichols Bridgeway - with its bottom engineered into an arch and its curved, open pipe shape like like an aqueduct - is infrastructure, of the kind of which the Romans were fond.

    Roman Pont du Gard

    Infrastructure about movement, about bringing things from elsewhere to here.


    Then there's the confidence, the ambition, and the scale of this civic project. For these I reasons I write in my review of it in The Architect's Newspaper that it's best new building in downtown Chicago since the 1970 John Hancock Tower.

    There's even a sense of imperialism in the Modern Wing. That in here we have treasures "plundered (?)" from around the world. The flat roof extends our dominance out over the lands around us. The building, a temple for art, is oversized for its site, and monumental. The three part composition of the main building and the symmetry make it more monumental.

    Here is more Hello Beautiful! on Modern Wing by the raised-in-Genoa, Italy Renzo Piano. (Then scroll)
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