MAXXI Padding: San Suzie’s preview of Zaha Hadid’s upcoming Rome museum.

The smart museum comes with louvered ceiling panels that open and close automatically with changes in the sun’s position. (Photos by San Suzie.)

Ever since the Guggenheim and Frank Gehry managed to turn a not-particularly-interesting regional capital into a must-see art destination, cities major and minor have been clamoring for their own contemporary art palace designed by a starchitect. Rome’s contribution to the trend is the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo, or MAXXI, a colossus of glass, steel and concrete designed by the prima superstar del momento, Zaha Hadid. Several weeks ago we were fortunate to horn in on architecture writer and Rome Prize winner Cathy Lang Ho‘s tour of the unfinished building. The 20,000 square meters of exhibit space (more than 200,000 square feet) were still full of forklifts, cables, and bellissimi Italian construction workers; nonetheless, we have to admit that we were head over heels for the clean, open spaces, curved walls, and louvered ceiling panels of Ms. Hadid’s “Cultural Space for the [sic] 21st Century Arts.”

The only problem, as we can see it, is that the museum doesn’t have much 21st century art. Or much art of any century for that matter; its collection is tiny. We are hoping that the €80,000,000 price tag (that’s $108 million greenbacks) of the building hasn’t eaten up the entire art budget. If it has, they might consider turning the museum — chock full of graceful ramps — into the world’s most spectacular skatepark.

Click on images to supersize.

MAXXI: Where concrete meets… more concrete.

The colossal entry way. The museum has oodles of big spaces for exhibiting BIG ART. They just have to get some.

The beautiful cantilevered Gallery 3, on the third floor, overlooks historic army barracks that Zaha was reportedly overheard saying she wished she could have torn down.

Said barracks. The rectangular windows were apparently put in after the museum was built.

Staircase to the loading dock. But what’s there to load?

Come si dice “skatepark” in Italiano?

The sculpture galleries, featuring the smart ceiling louvers.

No wonder they can’t afford much art: Recessed hand rails (we were told that Zaha hates handrails) were all custom made.

But, really, who needs art with a space is this beautiful?

A very long and elegant ramp. Perfect for shredding.

More ceiling louvers.

My kingdom for a can of spray paint…

One of our favorite spaces is the escalator down from the sculpture gallery.

Even more louvers.

It’s like getting sucked into an Escher drawing.

The concrete, close up.

We don’t quite get the tubular columns, in stainless steel that’s… painted.

One day, this doorway is likely to be besieged by fanny pack-toting tourists.

Another view.

Guess where all that graffiti will be sprayed once they remove the barrier?


  1. Yvonne Connasse

    Wonderful insider view! Love it. My only disappointment is the lack of pics of the construction workers…ah, well.

  2. Marco

    The NY Guggenheim was the first place thrashers shredded (you have to sneak in when they’re closed). Hooray for the new Roman empty pool.