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OMA Designing "Colossal" Redevelopment of Rome's General Market Area

Image Courtesy OMA

After a seven-month judging process, the city of Rome late last year named a consortium of Italian and American developers to take the reins of a self-described "colossal" project on the edge of downtown Rome: the redevelopment of the all-but-abandoned Mercati Generali, or general markets. Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam produced the preliminary scheme for the winning developer. The 882,000 square-moot , $119 million proposal would create an intensely mixed-use building of shops, theaters, restaurants, and sporting facilities, which the developers dub a "city for youth." Other promoters, including the mayor have hailed the project, which lies about a mile south of the Roman Forum. Others in the architecture community fear it may become Les Halles instead—the redevelopment of which, it is rumored, OMA has been shortlisted for.

The Mercati Generali is located in the Garbatella neighborhood of Rome, just outside the 3rd century walls. This zone was laid out as an Ebenezer Howard-inspired Garden City in the 1920s, and features a mix of Liberty Style homes and pre-war industrial sites, such as the Mercati itself. Much of the area was de-industrialized in the 1970s and is only now being redeveloped. Several important cultural organizations have settled in the area, including the Capitoline Museums of Rome, which converted an old electric generating plants into one of the most stunning spaces for viewing ancient sculpture in the city and drew attention to the idea of preserving Rome’s early 20th century industrial heritage. OMA, known for their assiduous research, has incorporated this into their proposal, which preserves parts of the original structure inside of a wrapper of billboards, transparent skins, glowing architecture, and other eye-catching symbols of transformation. Construction on the Mercati Generali slated to begin next summer, with a tentative end date of 2008.

Paul Bennett