Guests stepping into the entrance foyer of the new Bulgari Hotel in Rome are greeted by a 2,000-year-old statue of the emperor Augustus. He could even be described as its presiding spirit—it was Augustus who famously claimed to have found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. For the hotel, ACPV Architects took a brick-and-travertine office building facing his mausoleum on Piazza Augusto Imperatore and infused it with rich color, materials of imperial splendor, countless examples of exquisite craftsmanship, furnishings by the reigning greats of modern Italian design, and motifs derived from Bulgari’s main business as a high-end jeweler. Somehow it all comes together in an abstract and sensuous evocation of the proudly Roman brand, and of its home city.
The hotel (1), shown behind the mausoleum, includes a roof terrace (2). Photos courtesy of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, click to enlarge.
“We wanted to stay away from the clichés of Romanness,” says Patricia Viel, ACPV partner with Antonio Citterio. “There is a correspondence with the eclectic feeling that Augustus created in the capital of an empire by bringing together very different cultures, tastes, and languages.”
This is the ninth of the hotels the jeweler has opened since 2001, all designed by Milan-based ACPV. Rome was a natural target from the outset, but finding the right location proved difficult. Several feasibility studies were abandoned before Bulgari acquired the former headquarters of Italy’s social security agency, in a hard-to-beat spot between the Tiber River and the Via del Corso, close to its flagship store on the Via dei Condotti.
The 170,000-square-foot building forms the northern edge of the piazza, which was laid out in the 1930s around the cylindrical mausoleum as part of Mussolini’s effort to emulate the glories of Augustan Rome. Designed by Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo, the building is in the Rationalist style preferred by the fascist regime. Unfortunate associations aside, it seemed a perfect fit for Bulgari. “They are contemporary Italian jewelers,” says Viel, “and there is something timeless in the connection between classicism and modernity in the design of that period.”
Though the building’s outward appearance is little changed, extensive renovation was required for its fragile structure, including careful insertion of two new elevator cores. Little of Morpurgo’s interior survived, but signature details have been reinterpreted. Curved walls in the foyer are lined in the same buttery Chiampo marble used in the original entrance, and distinctive stone door frames have been echoed in marble.
Heavily figured stone abounds throughout, and is used to most lavish effect in the guest bathrooms. “That’s one of the places where we invested a lot on finishes,” says Viel, “not least because you experience materials with your whole body.” Following the example of Augustus, specimens were imported from around the world, and the architects developed a color palette for each type of stone, which was then applied throughout the 114 guest rooms and suites.
Deluxe suites (3) include bathrooms with yellow marble (4). Photos courtesy of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts
Bathroom walls are lined in Sudanese red jasper, an olive green Brazilian quartzite, a deep yellow Iranian marble with swirling veins, and a milky white one from India. There’s a subtle hint of the 1930s in their handling, which recalls Piero Portaluppi’s synthesis of Rationalism, Art Deco, and extravagant materiality at the Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan.
Allusions to other themes that inform the project are low-key. Bathroom mirrors are round—a geometric accent borrowed from Augustus’s tomb and repeated everywhere, from bedside sconces to sculpted plaster recesses for light fixtures in the ceilings. And references are frequently cross-pollinated, so that several are reflected in a single detail. Over every bathtub, large mosaic roundels depicting vintage Bulgari brooches are inlaid in the marble walls. They were made by the same school of Friulian artisans responsible for restoring original mosaics on the facade, who took two years to produce the required number.
The inventory of bespoke pieces is long. There are tailor-made dry bars covered in vellum, and Flos floor lamps were reworked to feature bases made of the same marble used in the bathrooms—something that required unique permission from the estate of designer Achille Castiglioni. In the 3,200-square-foot, $41,000-per-night Bulgari Suite, a freestanding bathtub inspired by basins from the Baths of Caracalla has been carved from a single block of black-and-white Corchia marble. Walls are hung with silk patterned to match a 1930s Bulgari powder compact too.
Despite the evident expense, the aim is not vulgar opulence but rather a heightened sense of comfort and sensory pleasure. “If you tell someone that the walls are lined with silk, they might imagine a baroque palazzo,” says Viel. “It’s nothing like that—the effect is very quiet, very warm, and gives a beautiful goldish color to the light.”
Many of the most important design details can’t be seen at all. “Luxury is not just about things,” Viel adds. “It’s about space, silence, and privacy.” Air-conditioning must be soundless. Close attention was paid to the way luggage is brought to each room, or how information is provided to guests without cluttering tables in the usual way.
If the design of guest rooms is almost muted, the volume is turned up in the hotel’s public spaces. “They need to evoke the glamour of the brand and set the stage for social life,” says Viel. “It’s about showing off and being seen.”
Perhaps the most spectacular of the amenities is the spa. Inspired by the public baths of ancient Rome, it is set up for socializing and sybaritism as much as exercise. Fat fluted columns of figured marble drop directly into the turquoise waters of the pool. Niches lined with glittering gold mosaics have been filled with classical statuary. “It’s too much for my personal taste,” Viel admits, “but it’s what guests expect from a Bulgari hotel.”
Massive columns drop directly into the spa’s pool. Photo courtesy of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts
In other public spaces, diverse elements are held in a delicate tension so that no single one dominates. The cool, Morpurgo-inspired monochrome marble in the reception is balanced by richly veined walnut paneling. Here, formal grandeur meets hints of La Dolce Vita. Simple but significant design pieces such as the Gio Ponti–designed majolica vases form a counterpoint to more florid custom fixtures and finishes.
In a private dining room, for example, walls are lined in terra-cotta-colored Venetian fabric by Rubelli, patterned with signs of the zodiac found on the soffit of a small portico outside. A chandelier comprising 25 handblown glass lamps with gold flecks hangs over Augustus’s head in the foyer. Another team of Murano glassblowers produced the rippling backlit baguettes that edge the counter in a rooftop bar, whose terrace is filled with aromatic plants that were grown in ancient Rome.
The Bulgari Bar, on the same floor as the restaurant, features illuminated hand-blown Murano glass and a black marble bar top. Photo courtesy of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts
Although the Bulgari Suite may be out of reach for many, anyone willing to spend $7 for a coffee can visit the hotel. ACPV wanted to ensure that Romans would get something from the project and that the architecture would signal a welcome, which it accomplished by opening up the ground floor to surrounding streets. “It’s much more exposed than similar hotels,” says Viel. There’s a walnut-paneled library with Franco Albini–designed shelving, where students can consult books on Rome. A café spills out under the double-height entrance portico, where diners sit among a forest of banana plants and gum palms.
Ground-floor amenities include a café (5) and a lounge (6). Photos courtesy of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts
That might have pleased Morpurgo. In its research, ACPV discovered a letter from him, sent while the piazza was being developed, suggesting that the building’s site should ideally be occupied by a hotel, to make a permeable threshold between the historic city and his new quarter. “In my view, he never really lost the idea,” says Viel. It’s anyone’s guess what Augustus might think of the building he inspired twice over, but he’d probably feel right at home.
Click plan to enlarge
ACPV Architects — Antonio Citterio, Patricia Viel, principals; Roberto Mariani, senior project director
ARIATTA Ingegneria dei Sistemi (m/e/p); Ai Engineering (structural)
Metis (lighting); P’ARCNOUVEAU (landscape); AcusticaStudio (acoustic); Kent (kitchen design); Studio Polis (restoration)
Edizione Property S.p.A.
170,000 square feet
Carretta Serramenti (wood); Secco Sistemi (metal)
Friul Mosaic (hand-cut mosaic); Rigo Marmi (marble); Cancian Pavimenti (Venetian terrazzo); Rubelli (tapestry); Skillmax (wood inlay); Barovier&Toso (glass chandeliers); Fornace Sugaroni (opus spicatum); Arte Poli (Venetian crown glass); Vescom (wallcoverings)
Flos, FontanaArte, Oluce, Barovier&Toso