Bath of the Vestal Virgins // Giardino D’arte del Borghese

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Bath of the Vestal Virgins by Jeff Neo Yu Xuan

For the first half of the studio, we worked on an intervention for an edifice selected from the Roman Forum. The idea was to revitalize the Roman Forum for modern times, so the intervention had to be architectural and urban.

I was assigned the House of the Vestal Virgins, otherwise known as Atrium Vestae. The Atrium Vestae was the palace of virgin priests who worshiped the pagan god Vestal back in Ancient Rome. One of the Important roles of the Vestal Virgins was to ensure the Flame of Romes continual burning as the Flame of Rome was the spirit and prosperity of the city. Situated between the old Imperial Road and Via Sacra( sacred road), the Atrium Vestae housed a prominent central Courtyard and a larged vaulted room at the end of the longitudinal complex. After many years of history, the Atrium Vestae became a magistrate office and even a monastary. Today, it is but ruins.

My intervention at the Atrium Vestae capitalizes its position at the foot of the Palatine Hill, intercepting weary travellers entering the Roman Forum as a modern Bath House; Bath of the Vestal Virgins. These pilgrims can dine at the poolside restaurant or relax in the many baths and pools offered at the Bath of the Vestal Virgins, unwinding with hot baths heated by the Flame of Rome itself and spas by modern day vestal virgins before continuing on their journey into the Roman Forum. The many arches used as a motif in the complex was inspired by the barrel vaulted room of the original Atrium Vestae and calls back to the Aquaducts of rome within the waterscaped complex.

Giardino D’arte Del Borghese

In the second half of the Studio, we intervened at the famous art gallery; the Galleria Borghese. A beautiful Italian villa that houses one of the finest art collections in the world, and formerly owned by cardinal Scopione Borghese. To work on an already functioning museum with heavy historical significance needed sensitivity.

The basement scheme of Giardino D’arte is not a novel one but one that has seen success in many museums across the world such as the Louvre. Its layout follows the geometric logic of the Italian back gardens, leaving the grand ascend when approaching its front facade untouched. The massive use of glass and the open air occulus throughout the sunken courtyard allows the public on the ground level to view the Borghese Collection brought back from the Louvre from Paris (a transfer that resulted from previous wars) amidst nature. Presupposing that these works are returned, allowing the public to see them albeit from afar is a triumphant celebration of Italian art. At the same time, the reference drawn to the Galleria Borghese (framed from the occulus) when in the sunken gardens, pays homage to the grandeur of the original villa and the art it houses. The newly introduced viewing format of appreciating art within a garden throws back to the renaissance and baroque times when sculptures were placed along every Roman Street and were integrated seamlessly into urban life.

Besides the Garden of Art itself, Internal gallery wings provide extra gallery spaces for temporary exhibits to join the oeuvre of the Gallery Borghese. These galleries are linear and are lined with tactile hand guides, making them friendly to the visually impaired. The hand guides are made of cedar wood to help guide the visually impaired with aroma and touch. When at an important display area within the gallery Rosemary planters tucked within the ceiling wall change the mood of the space, indicating to the visually impaired a change in the hierarchy of programme. Off course, visually abled people will also subconsciously experience these nuances. Examples of Gallery exhibits that can take place in the gallery wings include interactive exhibits for the visually impaired to physically touch replicas of existing sculptures as well as impasto paintings with tactile qualities for the same reason. All these help the arts at the Galleria Borghese become more inclusive and accessible.

Again, SUTD staff and students get a 20% discount at the Giardino D’arte del Borghese and RT+Q staff get a whooping 50% discount!(Thank you Rene Tan and co. for the wonderful studio)


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