This issue of “Frontiers” presents some Italian works in the field of architectural and archaeological conservation and of museography. In itself, this issue underlines and enhances the increasing importance of a productive cultural exchange in this field between China and Italy, two countries with extensive cultures that have long since been expected to come into contact1 .
Such contacts are also endorsed by the presence of valid doctoral Chinese students at our school in Rome. These students are engaged in research topics on the history of architecture and of the city and on architectural and urban conservation. They are also conducting research on the research expeditions of some Italian teachers in China. Therefore, we acknowledge all our Chinese colleagues and their Italian counterparts, namely, Professor Luigi Gazzola of Sapienza University of Rome and Professor Eugenio Vassallo of the University Architectural Institute of Venice (IUAV).
Such a premise has resulted in the presence of Italian scholars in the scientific editorial board of “Frontiers,” which indicate the will to exchange ideas, studies, and experiences.
The first section of this issue opens with two studies: one on Chinese traditional architecture, i.e., about the origins of the pagoda architectural type (Yang Hui and L. Gazzola) and the other on a redevelopment project of the historical center of the Chinese city of Wuhu (F. Isidori).
Two essays by C. Varagnoli and R. Dalla Negra masterfully frame the problems posed by the relationship between the old and the new. More precisely, they analysed the relationship between ancient architecture and its preservation and restoration issues on one hand and the different methods enacted to reasonably reintegrate architectural lacunas by means of contemporary architecture on the other hand.
The two authors review and discuss various restoration approaches adopted today in Italy, emphasizing those that are most respectful of the authenticity of ancient heritage. At the same time, the authors do not propose a backward-looking or defeatist solution to the problem under the aesthetic, technical, and functional points of view. Examples of true design of “conscious restoration,” which is respectful of the material and figural values of antiquity, are shown to be perfectly feasible. In other words, we present a method to conceive a new architectural design for antiquity, not upon antiquity or of antiquity.
This method leads to the belief that the new and the old could coexist, interact, and enhance each other if they can rely on an accurate and methodologically correct design.
The theoretical and conceptual analyses proposed in the aforementioned essays may be verified in the nine works presented in the second section of the issue, which were considered and selected among the most interesting achievements not only for their methodological aspects but also for the quality of the obtained results. These works consider not only proper restoration but also exhibitions that involve archaeological and ancient testimonies and modern architecture, as in the case of the Pirelli building in Milan.
The arrangements of the Porticus Octaviae (G. Batocchioni and L. Romagnoli) and the Thermae Diocletiani (G. Bulian) consist of works that surpass the scale of the architectural monument and reach the urban scale by mending wounds and reestablishing relationships. These arrangements are capable of strengthening and completing conservation work—in the case of the Thermae , by reintegrating such imposing monumental presence split in two by the opening of a new street—and of connecting ancient buildings and archaeological relics to the contemporary city, linking them with an absolutely new and highly indicative path, that is, ancient and new at the same time.
The same phenomenon is observed in the reorganization of Trajan׳s Market and “via Biberatica” (R. D׳Aquino), where a fundamental role is played by the imperative demand of accessibility of the monument to the disabled or simply to people with temporary handicaps.
In this sector of Rome, the rehabilitation of the footbridge of Campo Carleo (M.C. Clemente), apart from meeting the need of an urban pedestrian connection, becomes the occasion for a refined interaction between contemporary architecture and the ancient relics of Trajan׳s and Augustus׳ Imperial For a . This comparison is presented with significant conceptual clarity in full consciousness that such work is still a “restoration act,” which is intended to be a “critical act” that is not neutral but creative, interpreted by means of an accurate and detailed design and achievement, and capable of establishing a good relationship with the context.
The cases of “Centrale Montemartini” (F. Stefanori) and of the redevelopment and arrangement of the archaeological finds under Palazzo Valentini (L. Napoli and P. Baldassarri) also involved museography and restoration. The first case pertains to a piece of “industrial archaeology,” whereas the second case pertains to a recently discovered Roman archaeological site.
The first case illustrates the characteristics of a temporary exhibition that has become a permanent museum because of its exceptional architectural and museographic qualities. Such a quality is not only due to the capacity and sensibility of the architect but also to his will for interdisciplinary collaboration with the archaeologists. This phenomenon may occur in lieu of the Italian concept of conservation, which—in the same years when Herzog and De Meuron were working at the London Tate Gallery and dismantling the old engines of the former electric power plant—has instead enabled the maintenance of the old machines and their “poetic” insertion within the exhibition path, at times acting as the background of the ancient statues and sometimes stepping in the foreground as protagonists.
At Palazzo Valentini, together with the quality of the arrangement and presentation of the site, the multimedia system plays a significant role by turning the site into a sort of prototype of the museum of the Third Millennium.
These work, based on the subtle interaction established between the old and the new, and between massive monumentality, lightness, and transparency (appropriate for modern architecture), are exhibited in the work of Franco Minissi, architect and academic. Most of his work may be found in Sicily and Rome (Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia), as illustrated in one of the last articles (B. Vivio).
This experience is comparable with the complicated story traced by the design of a new hall added to the Capitoline Museums for the monumental equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (R. Panella and L. Tugnoli).
The second section closes with an essay on the conservation of twentieth century architecture, which examines the case of the School of Mathematics of the university campus in Rome (S. Salvo). This contribution acknowledges the conceptual and methodological unity of restoration, whether ancient, modern, or contemporary monuments, in line with the Italian perspective. The Italian perspective is different from the north European perspective, such as the approach proposed by the Docomomo organization, which is established in the Netherlands within the Delft Technical University. That is to say, if the objects are worthy of being preserved for their historical and aesthetic value, that is, for cultural reasons that need specific practices, then everything comes to a unique vision and to a consequential unitary practice that goes beyond any chronological, typological, constructive, and dimensional differences.
Therefore, within this review, we have attempted to offer a complete overview, discussed and illustrated with several examples, of the ideas set up and practiced today within the Italian culture. The aim is to reach new readers who are interested in such topics and, above all, colleagues, scholars, practitioners, and political and technical administrators who work in a large country that is charged by millenary history, such as China, and is concerned with issues of monumental preservation that are not different from those that involve Italy.
Finally, I wish to express my sincerest appreciation to the editor-in-chief and the editorial board of “Frontiers of Architectural Research” for having hosted us so generously. We hope our work may strengthen the aforementioned productive exchange of ideas and experiences in this field. We hope this will encourage us all to optimize our practice, emphasizing respect for our heritage and our consciousness of history.
1. English translations of the original texts are authored or have been reviewed by Simona Salvo. In many cases, this arduous work has required a transposition of concepts (not only a mere literal translation), which may occasionally have failed. Translations are well known to often require a paraphrase. Apparently, similar Italian and English terms often have different meanings within themselves. For example, a difference exists between the Italian “restauro” and the English “restoration” in the field of architectural conservation. In addition, words that do not have a direct translation in English, such as “museography” and “museology,” and derived terms have been “directly” translated, assuming that their meaning has become clear within a global use of the English language.