Exhibition - The Physics Institute of Giuseppe Pagano


Giuseppe Pagano's Institute of Physics at the Città Universitaria of Rome
History, memory and present day between Physicists and Architects  

Exhibition and seminar by Simona Salvo - 14 October 2016

The building for the Physics Institute in the main campus of ‘Sapienza’ was realised between 1932 and 1936 following the project of the architect Giuseppe Pagano. The building has been hosting the Physics Department for about 80 years. Designed in strict observance of the needs expressed by the scientists of the time – those ‘via Panisperna boys’ known for sensational discoveries – it was immediately recognised as a functional, rational and beautiful building. After the Second World War the Roman scientific community underwent changes but was still able to be part of the world of physics research with the skilful guidance of Edoardo Amaldi. The building had to adapt to those drastic changes as well; additionally, it had to face a dramatic increase in the number of students and teachers and the necessary adaptation to the plant safety regulations. Nevertheless, the building still retains its original beauty and functionality and continues to be considered among the most important constructions of the Italian twentieth century, as well as a research centre and a high-quality teaching centre.


In order to deepen and better understand the relationship that exists between this valuable building and research on Physics of the Roman school, on 14 October 2016 a meeting between physicists and architects was held. On this occasion, an exhibition was set up, showing drawings - developed in the framework of the five-year degree course in Architecture of 'Sapienza' - which illustrate the architecture and tell the story of the life the building has been hosting for decades.
This occasion was intended to encourage reflection starting from a philological reading of the artefact – for which further studies are expected – to go beyond and look at the analysis of the architecture as a space dedicated to research and a living space for 'special' scientists. Indeed, a formidable liaison between the Pagano building and its functionality, and between its architecture and the Physics research being carried out in Rome in the mid-1930s exist, a sort of 'consubstantiality' that allows an important aspect to emerge for the understanding and appreciation of this architecture and other architectures of the twentieth century. As a matter of fact, they represent buildings with a 'special status' that makes them monuments and, at the same time, places for our daily life. As well as being important from both a historical and an architectural point of view, buildings such as the Institute of Physics in Rome embody values that transcend the practical purpose and the aesthetic perception and lead back to our personal and emotional life.

The idea that these architectures affect the observer modifying her/his mood, arousing emotions and involving her/him sentimentally is inspired by studies on the connection between cognitive sciences and architecture, between philosophy and contemporary aesthetics, aimed at studying the effects that architecture produces in the individual. The proposed interpretation key is therefore different from that of ancient monuments, and aims at understanding their specificity: the attention is still focused on the material essence of architecture, but now, together with this, the sensorial qualities that make the space 'atmospheric' are also examined.


For this reason, recording the testimony of scientists who have trained and worked at the Institute of Physics in Rome is an indispensable step to fully grasp the value of its architecture. The functionalist dimension that Giuseppe Pagano imprinted on his project - devoid of the monumentality that characterizes other buildings in the university city, free from hierarchies, from criteria of axiality and symmetry, and so essential and functional as to be judged cold by some - responded, in fact, to the needs of research in Physics of the time. Here the environments are almost all similar, explicitly designed for a community of collaborating scientists, not for isolated and hierarchically ordered academics. The numerous aligned windows that empty the external elevations meet the necessary and sufficient condition of equipping each research station with a source of natural light and, only in the second instance, represent an architectural and compositional motif. Spaces, therefore, conceived as special places, dedicated to scientists engaged in theoretical speculation and practical experimentation, and useful to serve them without distracting them.
Direct observation also measures the extent of the damage caused by the many transformations that the building has undergone over the years, changes that have fragmented the original compositional clarity of the interior spaces and have obscured their rational character. These consist mostly in having added minor partitions, systems and buildings, while only a few original parts have been removed or demolished, which, at least ideally, allows the most unbearable changes to be considered reversible. Strengthened by this fact and by the growing awareness of the monumental value of the university city, but above all by leveraging on the sense of belonging that today it arouses in those who live there, it will be possible to face those interventions that, even if of small entity, become daily indispensable to update the usability of the building and to preserve the monument as a meeting place, very happy, between Physicists and Architects, or between Physics and Architecture.
We would like to thank those who made the initiative possible, first of all Paolo Mataloni for supporting it, and Carlo Bernardini Gianni Jona-Lasinio, Francesco Guerra, Guido Martinelli and Giorgio Parisi for their exceptional participation, and Gianni Battimelli also for having contributed to the documentary research. The exhibition would not have been possible without the drawings elaborated for the courses of Architectural Restoration by Giuseppe Pecci, Agnese Riccomagno, Andrea Ramaccini, Martina Renzetti, students of the CdL Quinquennale in Architecture of 'Sapienza' University of Rome.


> Graphics on display

L' Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" - Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Roma