Rome: MAXXI and Archiboobs

Photo by Pepe Nero at Unsplash

Spring in Rome. A city for which I already had high expectations, and still it managed to surpass every single one of them. After having had Covid for a couple of weeks right before we flew and receiving the all clear just 48 hours before our flight was due to take off, it was not a certainty that we would make it. But, Covid clear albeit with tight lungs (both) and a mild cough (me), we landed in Roma Ciampino as planned.

We packed it in high, we did. L, that super smart Italian communist who also happens to be my lover, put together an incredible and stimulating itinerary planned out and for seven days straight we walked, and walked and walked around this mesmerising city. Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, EUR, Tre Fontana Monastery, Pyramide of Cestius, Gramsci’s grave, the Forii and Colosseum, Campidoglio, Piazza del Popolo, the Jewish quarter and main Synagogue of Rome and attached fascinating museum Tempio Maggiore (I knew very little about the ancient and sizeable Jewish community of Rome), exploring Tiber island, the belvedere at Gianicolo and Piazzale di Garibaldi, San Lorenzo and a walk around Roma La Sapienza (the biggest university campus I’ve ever seen, and it took us almost half a day to walk around its perimeter as we got off at the wrong metro stop), evening strolls around Travestere neighbourhood, and a very pleasant evening with a comrade of L in the formerly working-class (historically housing mostly factory workers by the look of it) Pigneto neighbourhood, popping into feminist bookshops and super chill café-bars for aperitivo.

Not to mention stuffing our faces with the most delicious Roman food, which was entirely thanks to L’s meticulous research in his Gambero Rosso guide and recommendations from his friends with Roman connections. We did not manage to eat the classic Lazio carbonara or amatriciana, but we did eat lots of both Roman and Romano-Jewish artichoke dishes (including a pasta with lamb and artichoke that I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life), fried courgette flowers, cheese from Lazio region, bona fide porchetta, and a beautifully simple but mindblowing pasta with cherry tomato and toasted almonds which L has since been trying to crack at home. And it goes without saying, incredible street food including Roman pizza by the slice mile and suppli (both al telefono and romano). L almost cried with delight about being in his homeland of filled croissant for breakfast (impossible to find in the UK generally which is an ongoing source of disappointment and frustration for him – although we recently discovered their ubiquity in Glasgow which incidentally has a huge and dynamic Italian diaspora going back several generations), so naturally he insisted that we eat cornetti alla crema every morning from the Sicilian bakery next door to our accommodation.

Overall it was a good thing we covered over 20km on foot each day, otherwise I would have definitely turned into a cornetto alla crema myself.

Anyway. This is not intended to be a travel blog nor a food blog, and I am not particularly skilled about writing about either of these things. So, back to the point: MAXXI, Rome’s museum of contemporary art. We saw GOOD NEWS: Women in Architecture – the fascinating and extremely well-curated exhibition tracing the trajectory of women in architecture throughout the ages, key achievements and their struggle in a (still) highly male dominated profession. Certainly, the recent Guardian exposé about the culture of misogyny, sexism, racism, sexual misconduct, bullying and an overall toxic culture at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture going back decades paints a depressing picture of this world. I would highly doubt that Bartlett is the exception.

While, as L pointed out, the GOOD NEWS: Women In Architecture exhibition did begin with an introductory atrium filled with the photographs and display models of Italian male architects which was a bit of an odd choice given that the whole point was celebrating 85 greatly overshadowed female designers, urban planners, academics, and architects, the exhibition itself was brilliantly curated.

Important to note though: while I’ve referred to the exhibition centred on female architects to highlight what the exhibition is about, a central question posed by the exhibition is why do we collectively still feel the need to attach “female-“ to architect / design etc? We would never refer to a “male architect” in such a way: “MAXXI was designed by female architect Zara Hadid but the Reichstag was designed by the architect Norman Foster.” As the Danish architect Dorte Mandrup was quoted in the exhibition: “I am not a female architect, I am an architect.”


Overall, the exhibition, which also lightly touched on intersectionality as well and highlighted the work of Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first Black woman to be officially commissioned as an architect by New York City, had an positive and optimistic tone. However, to me it shows that while we have come a long way in terms of gender equality in the urbanism field, we still have a hell of a way to go.

So yes, while it is maybe a depressing reflection of how the world around us is configured still requires such an exhibition to highlight the important contribution of women in the field, at the same time I suppose somehow the profile needs to be raised and the point needs to be made that we should really go beyond treating the contribution of women as a parallel, and inferred lesser, than that of male counterparts.

And, as L pointed out, the English translations were actually a lot better than the Italian original. To avoid making architect in the female form, which to an immature mind reads “architette” i.e. “archiboob,” they had translated it in weird and long ways, something like architectrice. All the more reason just to use one common form, right?