A few days ago I wrote about the ongoing controversy surrounding Richard Meier's Ara Pacis Museum in Rome. At the end of my entry, I made a comment about the previous building to house the Ara Pacis on that site, a Fascist-era construction dating from 1938. Thanks to the astute observations of my good friend and fellow New Haven architect, Kyle, I am now able to include a little more information about this first Ara Pacis pavilion.
The 1938 building was designed by architect Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo under the direction of Benito Mussolini, who had the Ara Pacis reconstructed and moved from the outskirts of Rome to its current location in the centro storico near the Mausoleum of Augustus. You can see a vintage postcard image of the building on this blog, and if you would like to see what the building looked like during World War II, when the Ara Pacis itself was sandbagged to protect it, click here!
Now that I have seen a photograph of the Ara Pacis' previous home, I think I appreciate the lightness and simplicity of Meier's building even more. I also question the Mayor's criticism of the new building, as the old one is also somewhat acontextual within its Baroque surroundings. In support of the new building, this article from the New York Times points out that one benefit to Meier's structure over the previous one is that it has helped to set the Ara Pacis free from its Fascist associations with Mussolini. This may or may not be true depending on your point of view on Modern architecture!
In the end, I will leave you to your own aesthetic judgement. But for me, I truly enjoyed Meier's simple and elegant building as a backdrop for the beautiful Ara Pacis.