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The Good, the Bad, the Remaking of a Libera-Designed Cinema for Ennio Morricone

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Courtesy EMPAIA.

Courtesy Bluoostudio.

Courtesy Bluoostudio.



Cinema Airone, an oddly shaped yet majestic theater in Rome’s Appio Latino-Tuscolano neighborhood, is the center of some decidedly up-to-the-minute buzz. Under an agreement expected to be finalized today, the long-abandoned building by Adalberto Libera is slated for a makeover to house the entire archive of 2007 Oscar recipient and composer Ennio Morricone.

An Italian Rationalist best known for his Casa Malaparte, on the Isle of Capri, and Palace of Congresses, in Rome’s EUR district, Libera designed the 800-seat Airone in 1953. The cinema is one of his more playful designs: a cavernous, 16,145-square-foot structure located mainly below grade level. A precursor to the blob-like buildings that are so common today, such as Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica Auditorium in Rome, its roofline undulates across the site to conform to the rounded volumes of its subterranean theater.

Libera intended the Airone to be a monument to Italy’s important role in film history. But when that heyday passed, the cinema closed—reopening only briefly for contentious stints as a television studio and a disco. The Comune di Roma recently bought the vacant structure with the idea of transforming it into a public cultural center.

Irtem, a research institution co-founded by Morricone and entrusted with his archives, will share the space with Per Corsi, Italian film star Giulio Scarpati’s school for actors. Both organizations will be the Comune’s tenants. They commissioned two young Roman firms, Bluoostudio and Nema Architecture, to bring the building into the 21st century.

Updating the Airone is largely seen as a pet project of Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, known to be a film fanatic. “[Veltroni] wants to create the Italian Oscars and award golden she-wolves,” Matteo Grimaldi, an architect with Nema, says jokingly.

Joking aside, a crucial goal of the project is preserving Morricone’s files, tapes, and sheet music, while providing access to them. Carlo Marinelli, Irtem’s president, decided against presenting materials in digitized format—instead allowing researchers to hear recordings in their original state, without using headphones, and hold Morricone’s sheet music in their hands. To facilitate this, the designers plan to insert a series of listening booths into the cinema hall. They will be enclosed with walls of translucent, sound-blocking material—helping to maintain visual transparency throughout the building, a nod to its public past and future.

An area by the existing stage will become a 250-seat movie, theater, and concert hall. Scarpati’s Per Corsi will use the stage, including the area beneath it, as a rehearsal area. As a balance to serious research facilities and performance space, the building will also feature Morricone film posters and interactive displays that schoolchildren can use to rediscover cinematic history in present-day terms. “We want the building to be alive with a lot of people, with children,” Grimaldi says.Renovations to the Cinema Airone, expected to cost roughly $2.6 million, are scheduled to finish in 2009.

Susan H. Gordon