Rome’s visitors flock incessantly to its ancient ruins and monuments and its thick urban mass of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, out of which piazzas and narrow alleys are carved. But the Eternal City’s urbanistic antithesis lies about 20 minutes by car or metro to the south: it is Esposizione Universale Roma, more familiarly EUR, a 99-acre area of massive, modern-classical buildings arranged along broad, axial streets. Benito Mussolini intended this suburban area to open in 1942 as a world’s fair celebrating his totalitarian reign, but World War II got in the way. Nevertheless, the monumental architecture and planning conceived by Marcello Piacentini and others laid the groundwork for Rome’s expansion into what is now, decades later, a bustling office and residential district.

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Over the years, EUR’s Fascistic architecture, captured evocatively on film by such postwar directors as Fellini and Antonioni, has made it a cult tourist destination, with the haunting de Chirico-esque Palazzo della Cività Italiana as the dominant landmark. (Ironically, this former political symbol has now become a fashion statement, since Fendi, the luxury goods company, purchased and renovated it for offices in 2015.)

Last fall, the most assured vote of confidence in the neighborhood’s future sounded with the opening of the New Rome-EUR Convention Center and Hotel designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. The 439-room, 17-story hotel (and a one-story restaurant), occupying two black-glass volumes along the south wall, still await fit-out, furnishings, and a hospitality manager. But the 592,000-square-foot convention center is open for business. (The marble-clad Palazzo dei Congressi by Adalberto Libera, designed in 1938 and completed in 1954, was deemed too small for larger conferences, and is rented out for cultural events.)

The arresting new, transparent steel-and-glass block, 100 feet high and 655 by 245 feet in plan, sits on a travertine plinth, its scale and proportions fitting in well with the mid-rise stripped classical scenography surrounding it. Within the giant double-glazed steel cage of portal-like frames called the Theca (or case), you see a looming diaphanous cloud or nuvola (now the actual nickname for the building). This nebulous construct, wrapped in a white membrane of fiberglass and silicone held by swirling curvilinear steel ribs, contains three levels of conference spaces and cafés, and an auditorium with 1,800 seats. The nimbus-like form hovers over the main lobby level, itself elevated above the street. Beneath it, depressed 30 feet below grade, is the 84,000-square- foot exposition hall, edged along its north side by a wide concourse and ancillary facilities. Underground parking for 615 cars is provided as well.

Massimiliano Fuksas first came up with the concept in 1998 as a response to an open competition that attracted hundreds of entries.

Although he and his wife and partner, Doriana, were living in Paris, he had grown up in Rome with his Lithuanian father and Italian mother. “I felt I had to do this,” says the architect. “Since I had been an immigrant, I thought, if I don’t build in my hometown, I will be an immigrant all my life.” Massimiliano won the commission out of a short list of seven. But the $255 million project had to weather changes in Rome’s mayors and other political roadblocks. “Finally, in 2008, the mayor of Rome said, ‘Build!’ ” he recalls. EUR SpA, a development company formed by the Italian Ministry of the Economy and the municipality of Rome, did just that. The splashy arrival of the Fuksases’ dramatic Milan Trade Fair (RECORD, August 2005), with its mile-long, organically flowing glass spine, may have helped this project gain momentum.

The basic scheme for the convention center heightens the architectural dichotomy between the container and the contained—a majestic Euclidean cubelike frame contrasting strikingly with its blobular innards, made possible by parametric design tools. “I wanted to put the cloud and the cube together to see what would happen to the space in between,” Massimiliano says as a hint to the experiential quality conveyed in moving around the center.

The entrance is on Via Cristoforo Colombo, the broad road linking Rome’s center to the EUR enclave. Straight away, you take a wide travertine stair down, instead of up, to the exposition level (which may make you think of Fellini’s finale in 8½, where the cast gaily descends an open stairway within the fairground scaffolding). You can linger in the subterranean exhibition hall or take escalators up to the main level, where you find yourself in the vast, daylit interior volume with the white membranous apparition hovering above. Then you ascend gradually into the cloud—by escalators—to find yourself in a luminous space enclosed by the translucent fabric. At some point, the door to the auditorium opens, and you walk into a warm, reddish, curvilinear cocoon. You seem to have entered the heart of the building, where Doriana Fuksas’s choice of cherrywood panels, orange-red seats, and rust-colored oak floors underscores the association with this vital organ. This indeed is a surprising journey.

Solving the technical problems of the complex structure required a host of engineers including Massimo Majowiecki of Studio Majowiecki, who helped Fuksas with the shape of the nuvola, where translucent fabric panels would be attached with brackets to the welded, boldly undulating steel armature. However evanescent and lightweight in appearance, this nebulous entity needed to be structurally propped up: three megalithic steel-frame box piers provide major points of support, two of which easily hold elevators. In addition, three reticulated trusses direct the gravity loads and lateral forces to slender columns at the periphery.

In spite of the center’s ethereal ambience, certain seismic considerations confronted the design team, owing to central Italy’s history of earthquakes. Special bearings isolate the foundation from the structure so that the building, in effect, doesn’t wobble when the ground below oscillates. Energy savings were also a concern: on the roof, a 154.4-kilowatt system of 264 photovoltaic panels provides 20 percent of the electricity for average use in the building. Elsewhere, the team installed radiant heating in the floors, with cooling dependent on reversible heat pumps. Solar gain on the all-glass skin of the Theca is mitigated by a 17-foot-deep double facade that is vented to allow warmer air to escape through the top.

Once the hotel and restaurant are in place, the entire project will offer one more impressive attraction in Rome’s alternate universe. While the Fuksas office has pursued more futuristic parametric experiments recently, such as the biomorphic Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in China (RECORD, March 2014), this Boullée- like frame combined with an inchoate contemporary form achieves a timeless “both/ and” quality. It is at once modern and classical, without any political overtones.



Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Rome, Paris, Shenzhen


Interior design:

Fuksas Design, Rome-Italy


General contractor:

Società Italiana per Condotte d’Acqua SpA, Rome-Italy



Plans: A. I. Engineering, Torino-Italy;

Structures: Studio Majowiecki, Casalecchio di Reno (Bologna)-Italy;

Safety:Studio Sarti, Rimini-Italy, Rome-Italy, Dubai-UAE



XU – Acoustique, Paris-France


Lighting consulting:

Speirs & Major Associates, Edinburgh, London-UK


Cloud membrane consultant:

Form-TL, Radolfzell-Germany



Steel and glass facade consultant

Gruppo Industriale Tosoni S.p.A., Villafranca di Verona (Verona)

Manufacturing firm:


Gruppo Industriale Tosoni- Cordioli S.p.A., Villafranca di Verona (Verona)


AGC Glass Europe,  Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Steel mullions:

Gruppo Industriale Tosoni- Cordioli S.p.A., Villafranca di Verona (Verona)

Membraine coating:

Canobbio spa, Castelnuovo Scrivia (Alessandria)


Maspero Elevatori S.p.a., Appiano Gentile (Como)


Schindler S.p.a., Milan

Photovoltaic panels:

Union Glass S.R.L., Motta di Livenza (TV)

Glass balustrades:

Faraone srl, Tortoreto Lido (TE)


Travertine flooring:

Faraone srl, Tortoreto Lido (TE)

Resin flooring:

SIKA ITALIA S.P.A., Peschiera Borromeo (MI);

Personal Factory SpA, Simbario (VV);

Mapei SpA, Milan

Auditorium wooden flooring:

Alberto Mazzonetto SNC, San Giorgio in Bosco (PD)

Basement wooden flooring:

Alberani Parketti Nociglia (LE)

Floor tile bathroom:

Stone italiana SpA, Zimella (VR )

Other flooring:

Liuni spa, Milan


ATIR Srl, Chiesina Uzzanese (PT);

Metal Tech, Seriate (BG)


Wooden doors:

Sebino Chiusure, Scanzorosciate (Bg);

Wooden frameless doors:

Fratelli Pietrelli Srl, Fano (PU);

Metal doors:

Padilla srl, Parma;

Glass doors:

Palladio SpA, S. Biagio di Callalta (TV);

Giuliani Soc. Coop., Forlì (FC);


Acoustic doors:

Sebino Chiusure, Scanzorosciate (Bg)

Steel frame windows and doors:

Palladio SpA, S. Biagio di Callalta (TV)

Giuliani Soc. Coop., Forlì (FC)

Glass doors accesssories:

Dorma italiana srl, Milan

Light fixtures

Philips S.p.A., Milan, Italy;

Targetti Sankey S.p.A., Florence;

Tre Ti S.p.A, Albano Laziale (RM);

IGuzzini S.p.A., Recanati (MC);

3F Filippi S.p.A., Pianoro (BO);

ERCO  Illuminazione S.r.L., Milan;

Disano S.p.A., Rozzano;

Linergy S.R.L. Acquaviva Picena (AP),Italy (luminous pictograms);

Interior finishing

Interior finishing with back-coated glass - Concourse:


Interior finishing - Multi-purpose hall:

Akustic desing A+G, Lungern, Svizzera;

Wooden panels contractor :Coiver, Cormano (MI)

Wood interior finishing - Auditorium:

Devoto srl, Cisterna di Latina (LT);

NH Akustic design A+G, Lungern, Svizzera

Interior finishing of Director room and Translations room:

Mappy Italia SpA, Cesate (MI)

Wall tile bathroom:

Marazzi Group S.R.L, Sassuolo (MO)

Bathroom mosaics:

Aquae Musivae srl, Genova (GE)

Paint and coating

Intumescent paints:

Donelli, Legnano (MI);

Faid anticorrosine, Portogruaro (VE);

SDF verniciature srl, Venarotta (AP)

Wall paint:

Colorificio Sammarinese , San Marino (RN);

Arreghini SpA, Portogruaro (VE)

Wall painter contractor:

FAID anticorrosione, Portogruaro (VE);

SDF verniciature Srl, Venarotta (AP)


Auditorium seats:

Poltrona Frau SpA, Tolentino (Macerata)

Sliding walls:

Oddicini Industrie S.p.A., Gravellona Toce (VB)


Silent Gliss Italia Srl, Segrate (MI)

Sanitary bath equipments:

Ceramica GLOBO S.p.A., Castel Sant’Elia  (VT);

Ceramica Catalano S.p.A.,  Fabrica di Roma (VT);

Ceramica Dolomite;

Ideal Standard S.R.L., Milan

Plumbing and bathroom accesssories:

Ideal Standard S.R.L., Milan

Shower room:

Grohe-Essence S.p.A, Milan