Massimiliano Fuksas, the architect of the now-complete Nuvola convention centre illustrated here, described this as his most frustrating project, though he is proud that it had been completed as first planned. “We first thought of it in 1995,” the 72-year-old said. “I have been through so many mayors on this project I can’t even remember all their names. But we have not changed a thing. If you look at the first sketches we did, this is what it looked like.”
With funding predominantly sourced from taxpayers, Cloud – that’s what Nuvola means in English – is a convention center that will be able to host up to 12,000 people. Describing it that way robs this very striking building of its very striking story though. It is easily the most amazing new structure to go up in the Eternal City. The building is expected to be a potential game-changer for Rome’s visitor-based economy and EUR, the under-developed business district on the city’s southern edge created by none other than legendary bad hat Mussolini.
Seriously, this is Rome’s most significant architectural project since the 1960 Olympic Games. The city is plagued by a paralyzing cocktail of bureaucratic gridlock, corruption and the ongoing discovery of ancient parts of the city (something that persistently blocks new developments).
Basically, Nuvola is glass and steel box that houses a cloud-like suspended interior structure. This internal construct is no work of fanciful contemporary art though – this is where the main auditorium is so the structure is fully functional. It is reportedly the size of two giant zeppelin airships, as we reported previously. You might think the white, fibreglass-clad structure looks like a cloud, as Fuksas envisions but it could also be said to resemble a lung or another internal organ (use your imagination). Glimpsed from the outside in twilight it can seem strikingly like an ultrasound scan of a unborn baby.
The architect, who conceived of this project with his wife Doriana, does confirm however that his dealings with local officialdom have left him with no faith in the ability of public authorities in Rome to manage his masterpiece. “I wish they would give it to the Germans to run, they’d make it work – the Romans, no!” Fuksas won the competition to build the new center in 2000 but construction did not get underway until 2007 and was repeatedly interrupted due to a combination of red tape and cash constraints.
The building was finally completed thanks to additional funds raised last year by the sell-off of four Mussolini-era public buildings. How much it finally cost is a disputed issue but removing the legacies of Il Duce’s time in power are belated in the extreme. Fuksas says the Nuvola came in at 239 million euros ($260m), below the tender price of 275 million. Enrico Pazzali, the executive brought in to oversee completion, says the true figure is 353 million euros ($390m) but that he is nonetheless confident the Nuvola will prove a worthwhile use of public funds over time.
The former head of Milan’s hugely successful Fiera exhibition center, Pazzali shrugs off fears that congested, cash-strapped Rome is ill-equipped to cope with an additional influx of visitors. “Our research suggests that convention visitors generate at least twice as much per head as leisure tourists,” he told AFP. “We have the hotels and the Nuvola has the great advantage that it is close to the airport and it is on the Metropolitan (underground rail network).
“Our estimates are that the economic benefits to the city and the surrounding area could be between 250-350 million euros a year,” Pazzali said. The Nuvola is the biggest architectural project in Rome since the work for the 1960 Olympics.
It joins a short list of significant contemporary buildings in the city that includes Renzo Piano’s auditorium, the late Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum and the Richard Meier museum built around the Emperor Augustus’s altar of peace, the Ara Pacis. For Fuksas, the construction adds to a list of high-profile projects that includes Shenzhen’s airport and Ferrari’s headquarters.