ROME — The Holy City might have found its symbol for the new millennium with the opening of Auditorium, a futuristic contrast to Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes and Rome’s stately buildings of the Mussolini era.

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Designed by Renzo Piano, Auditorium’s three mandolin-shaped roofs stand out against the greenery of a 7.4-acre park on one of Rome’s main transit routes.

“Piano paid special attention to the flora of the area, preserving the integrity of the park and planting olive trees in the passageways,” said Paola Amicucci, a young Roman architect who has worked on the project. “This used to be a flooded and neglected plain. This project helped restore the area and requalify the city.”

A few minutes walk off the exclusive Parioli area, the Villa Glori and Villa Borghese gardens, rimmed by the Tiber river and the 1960 Olympic village, the terra-cotta-colored structure of the three concert halls, made with Roman bricks, contrasts with the aged lead of the roofs. The roofs have been compared to armadillo or beetle shells and to a whale’s belly, although Amicucci insisted that Piano had “music boxes, mandolins and violins in mind.”

“It’s a magnificent eyeful,” said Irene Bulgari, the daughter of Paolo, president of Bulgari, which is based in Rome. “The Auditorium revalues the area around the Olympic village which was debased and sad.”

“The design is very interesting and I am happy that Rome, which has so much history from the past, now looks to the future with the Auditorium,” said Carla Fendi, president of Fendi, which is also based in Rome. “The Auditorium is quickly becoming an important Italian and European cultural reference point.”

Fanning out around the cavea, shaped as an amphitheater, the Auditorium’s three halls have different functions and seating capacities. The smallest hall, with 700 seats, is a multifunctional space that adapts to events as diverse as concerts, readings, dances and lectures. The middle-sized hall, with 1,200 seats, has a mobile stage and can be used for chamber music and symphonic concerts, while the largest hall, with 2,700 seats, is designed for symphonic concerts, contemporary music and productions that require more elaborate sets.

While the biggest hall is still under construction and will be completed in December, the other two halls were inaugurated this spring. Inside, the walls and floors are covered in gleaming American cherry wood, which play off the red seats.

“There was no mincing expenses,” Amicucci said. “Each seat cost around $500.”

The city, which owns the Auditorium, invested around $130 million in the project, which was first presented in 1994. Amicucci said management costs are expected to be around $15 million per year.

“Air-conditioning comes from the floor, because this has been proven to be the best way to avoid conflicts with the acoustics,” Amicucci said. “The cavea, or arena…is the focus of the whole structure.”

During the summer, this becomes an outdoor theater, with a mobile stage and an additional 3,000 seats. Stores and bookshops that will sell music-related items are expected to be positioned on one side of the cavea later this year. There will also be an instruments museum and six cafes within the Auditorium.

“I think the Auditorium will become a location where people will simply come for a stroll, a drink and a chat,” Bulgari said.

The Auditorium is made even more historic by the discovery of a domus romana, an ancient Roman home, during the setting of the foundations. The domus is now fully integrated within Piano’s structure, with the addition of a museum containing relics found there. The domus was found in 1995 and brought to light between 1996 and 1998.

Several designers have selected the Auditorium to stage their presentations and runway shows during the Rome fashion week, held in July.

“I was impressed by the Auditorium’s structure and am very pleased that there is a new stage where designers are free to experiment and be innovative,” said Mario Boselli, president of the Italian chamber of fashion.

Editor’s Note: Design is a monthly feature in WWD covering all aspects of design, from architecture to consumer products, store design to visual merchandising.”

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