February 1, 2003
by Marc Boutin
Popular conceptions of Rome highlight the city’s monuments, and similarly, it is these that are represented in our media. For example, the 1953 movie Roman Holiday features, among other monuments, the world-renowned Fontana di Trevi. And yet in the final analysis of the film it is not the monuments that figure prominently in the transformation of the main protagonists. Instead, it is the immaterial forces of the city that engage the characters.
A similar argument for the value of the immaterial can be made with regard to the construction veils that frustrate tourists here on a regular basis, covering baroque facades at every turn. Although the veils conceal the monuments of the city, one can appreciate their presence as another conception of time, one that is fundamentally different from how it is concretized in historic monuments. Instead, the veils speak of time as a process–transitory and continuous, offering a fundamental lens in focusing the essence of Rome. They are representative of the performance of the city as a whole, not its appearance at a fixed isolated moment. In this way, the construction screens may be read as a vertical interstitial space wherein unfolds the continuous process of the physical and temporal layering of the city. This activity has shaped Rome since the technological revolution brought on by the development of Roman concrete, and which continues today in the name of ideological change, or simply maintenance. The veils may be guilty of concealing historic monuments, but credit them with revealing the ongoing history of Rome.
Marc Boutin is the current Prix de Rome laureate. He is studying the transformative potential of public space infrastructure.