The City of Science of Rome

The Project

Vincenzo Vomero
Director of the Organizational Unit for Science Museums
of the Municipal Superintendent's Office

Rome is about to lose an unequalled distinction: or rather the unenviable distinction of being the lone capital of a major nation without a grand museum of science, a center for the spread of scientific knowledge, for the entire public, without distinction.
Rome has made enormous progress in recent years in rendering it immense archeological and artistic heritage more available, but it would have been a dire error to have stopped at this point. Instead, the need was felt to take an additional (and, today, inevitable) step, making the already significant cultural initiatives under way even more global and fully integrated by focusing interest on an effective reinforcement of scientific culture.
It is with this in mind that the grand, ambitious project for Rome's City of Science now gets under way, with the goal being to erase the gap which separates our city from the other major capitals.
20 years of working proposals, projects and unsuccessful attempts have at least contributed to underlining the Capital's rich store of scientific resources, as well as the equally massive quantity and quality of scientific and museum skills found in the City, at the same time establishing important instances of synergy between universities, the Central State and the regional, provincial and municipal governments.
Today the project becomes reality
In order to oversee the project, the City called on Antonio Ruberti, a key figure in Italian scientific culture, who has gathered a great store of experience as a scientist and a teacher, as the director of Italy's largest university and as a minister of the Republic.
What is more, the City created a new and specific sector of the Municipal Superintendent's Office devoted to scientific museums and the advancement of scientific culture.
He appointed a commission of experts which, without clamour, worked throughout 1999, formulating the guidelines for Rome's City of Science project.
Finally, he financed the initial stage of the project with funds of the "Rome Capital" program, achieving the start-up of the concrete operations necessary for such an ambitious effort.
The City Administration has focused particular attention on finding an appropriate location for the new structure. The initial policy decision was that Rome's City of Science should be established in the urban zone of the Ostiense quarter, which played such a significant role in Rome's technology and industry during the last century, and today needs a thorough restoration. Many similar elements have already been located in the area: the Third University, "The Machines and Gods" facility at the old Montemartini power plant, the India Theater at the former Mira Lanza factory and the recycling of the former slaughterhouse; other complexes, such as the General Markets, are soon to be relocated, opening up highly valued space.
An abandoned area suffering from significant decay, but nevertheless fascinating, with major instances of urban archeology and the added value of its location near the river, revolves around the large natural gas silo in the Italgas complex. It is this "Gazometro" area which is to be set aside for the City of Science.
How? By setting up a planning procedure characterized by a streamlined operating logic.
In planning a museum, it is rare to be able to start with the "contents" and then work on find the most suitable "container". Common practice has more often been the adjustment of the contents to suit an existing container.
And so significant strategic importance, and adequate resources, are currently being allocated to the project of the conceptual and material contents of Rome's City of Science.
This phase will immediately be followed by a competition for the architectural design of the container, together with the exploration and formulation of the most appropriate operating format for the entire complex.
While these planning and organizational phases move ahead, plans call for a series of diversified scientific events to act as a calling card and showcase for the City of Science project, both in Italy and abroad.
In the four years that follow, the entire project is to be completed, covering an estimated surface area of more than three hectares, for total space of over 30,000 square meters.
The creation of a complex structure with such important cultural significance, and of such dimensions, obviously calls for major financing. A plausible cost estimate points to investments for approximately 200 billion lire, all of which can definitely not come from the City budget, but must be raised through appropriate synergy between the Central State and local government bodies.
Today the process for the creation of the new Roman structure officially gets under way with the publication of the first and all-important calls for tenders for the identification and planning of the contents of Rome's City of Science.
The Scientific Commission, appointed by the Department of Cultural Policy, has identified and proposed to the Administration a conceptual sequence and a proposed structure for the interior of the system of the City of Science which can make the Roman structure a beacon of excellence on a world level, and which are illustrated in detail in the guidelines presented at the end of the Commission's work.
The winner of the contract tender is to transform these guidelines drawn up by the Commission into a unified project characterized by advanced formulations in the field of scientific culture, communicated by means of languages and methodologies projected towards the future.
The level of integration, coordination, experimentation and cultural quality achieved by this first, basic study will characterize and influence every other effort in the fields of architecture, museum organization and management involving a City of Science which, as in the case with the Rome project, for the very fact of being built at the beginning of the new century, will certainly have the eyes of the entire world pointed its way.