«The effects of the climate have already affected the monument». To monitor the variables of the environment and using artificial intelligence to take care of it
The new floor for the Colosseum
Many historic architectural sites are in danger due to climate change and the rising levels of seas and the frequency of rainfalls. Architecture firm Labics in collaboration with architect Fabio Fumagalli and Engineering studio Milan Ingegneria is working on building a new pavement for the Colosseum. The original floor, where the gladiators stood and shows took place, was removed in the Nineteenth century to allow visitors to see and experience the ancient look of the arena. Thanks to the team’s design, tourists are going to be able to experience both. The Italian government, specifically the Ministry of Culture is allocating 18,5 million euros to the project thanks to the funds of Piano Strategico Grandi Progetti Culturali (lit. Major Cultural Projects Strategic Plan). The Design and planning phase will be completed by the end of 2021 and the new floor will be ready by 2023. The main structure will be made in stainless steel covered in Accoya wood, a low-carbon, durable and sustainably sourced engineered wood. Accoya is obtained through the process of Acetylation and has no precious essences, it requires almost no maintenance, and is resistant to xylophagous and bacterial attacks, and is immune to ecological degradation. The structural portion will also incorporate artificial lightning to enlighten the underground area at night, the system for the abatement of threatening biological agents and that used for the rainwater collection. The whole structure will be built by installing different layers that will insulate the underground walls both physically and chemically and make them inert to the horizontal seismic forces and to the movements of the visitors walking on the new floor.
High-tech moving panels: Colosseum’s new ground level
The aim of the team was for their final solution to be as seamless as possible, to protect the Colosseum while leaving its outlook intact. «The whole intervention will be based on adopting extremely light and performing materials that can allow the new structure to lean on the walls of the hypogeum structure, maximizing the load distribution to be able to mold it to the original foundations», says engineer Massimo Milan, so that the original structure can still be seen in full. In order for this to happen, the new ground level will be made of high-tech moving panels, made of a mixture of carbon fibers and tremanto, like the supporting structure, covered with Accoya wood. These plates or foils will be rotable and turnable, will be remotely controlled and move several times per day to reveal the underground corridors and walls. The moving foils will have different lengths and width according to the length and width of the corresponding underlying spaces. «Different movements of the foils» explains Maria Claudia Clemente, founding director of Labics, «will allow for different configurations» and the different experiences and articulations of the dialogue between the underground and the upper part of the arena. The new floor, she comments, «is also a didactic tool» is so far as it enables to show «not just one, but the many faces of the monument»: it will be possible either to show the hypogea almost in its entirety, to create scenic effects by opening the floor only in correspondence of where the ancient hatches used to be, or, when the foils are closed, to observe the arena from its center, which is currently not possible. The structural beams will lean directly on the existing structure, with no mechanical anchors, making it entirely reversible. Meaning that the new floor can be removed completely at any moment in case maintenance is needed. As for the design, it looks back at the original floor both on a visual and on a structural and functional level. Both the structural and moving parts follow the existing underground spaces so that, even when the gills are closed and the hypogea are not visible, visitors can still have an idea of what they look like.
Preserving the Colosseum: the issue of rainwater
The focus of the project is on preserving and safeguarding pre-existing archeological structures, which led to looking at organic and light integration of the new elements rather than implementing different solutions modifying the site. In order to reach this aim, especially when dealing with a site as delicate as the Colosseum, «it is crucial to analyze the criticisms that every intervention implies» explains Fumagalli. In the case of the Colosseum it is imperative to act quickly to protect it from threatening climatic events: «the effects of the climate have already affected the monument» says Fumagalli. As reported from the local Sovrintendenza, inside the hypogea flooding is becoming ever more frequent, with water overflowing up to 1.5 meters above ground level. In 2011, an extraordinary event led to the water reaching six meters in height flooding the whole area, with a total of sixteen million liters. It was essential «to look for strategies to reduce the water load on the hypogeum areas, where the outflow is highly reduced». The plan is to channel and store all the rainwater that will be accumulated on the new structure in order to then reuse it. Considering that the Colosseum pre-pandemic hosted twenty thousand people a day on average, this recycling rainwater will considerably reduce the use of drinking water for toilets and other services. The amount of water stored and running inside the internal system will also be constantly monitored so that it can be emptied in case the level raises above the threshold control.
The use of technology in ancient architectural sites
The policy used with water is just an example of how high-level technology will be embedded and, in a way, hidden in the overall project. «The technological tools designed for the project and dedicated to safeguarding the preservation of the monument will provide with the quantitative and qualitative means to maximize the efficiency of the conservation measures», says Fumagalli who assures that they will be «always and completely hidden to the spectators’ eyes» by «placing them in areas that are excluded from the visit paths» in order to maintain the visual integrity of the roman-age arena. «The only element that will remain visible is the floor itself», which belongs to a wider and more articulated project. Technology will also be present for monitoring a number of variables in order to assess the status of the overall building and evaluate the necessity for maintenance. The elements that will be tracked are the microclimatic conditions of the hypogeum areas, external environmental conditions, the changing geometric configuration of the new floor due to its movements, and the response of the underlying walls. There will be sensors monitoring lighting, temperature, humidity and air speed. All data will be stored and analyzed by an Artificial Intelligence system able to elaborate them and help the local responsible institutions to make the right adjustments to operate the floor at its best. The team is confident that this system will help improve the current conditions of the building by finding new ways to take care of it appropriately.
Tod’s Group for the restoration of the Colosseum
The work of Labics and Fumagalli is part of a bigger picture to ensure the preservation of the monument. On Friday June 25th 2021, the press conference for the closing of the second phase of the restoration was held at the Colosseum. Tod’s Group took part in the restoration of the arena in order to give back to the city of Rome and to the entire world, by improving the state of an icon of the history of all times. The second phase of the works started in 2018 and has brought the hypogea – a monument within the monument – back to its ancient splendor. The plan of interventions will continue as will our commitment to enhance and bring to light one of the most precious jewels of humanity.
Milan Ingegneria can handle all project activities with a multidisciplinary approach, developing feasibility analysis, supporting the client during the different project and contracting phases as well as budget evaluation, site and safety supervision. Innovative building techniques combined with the use of appropriate materials can guarantee safety and functionality, and enable us to reduce building and managing costs.
Graduated with honors in architecture, he obtained a PhD on the structural conservation of historical masonry. He has studied the topics of masonry structures instabilities and seismic vulnerability, both on single buildings as well as at the urban scale, with collaborations, contracts and research grants with La Sapienza, CNR, Abruzzo Region and the Seismic Risk Department of the National Civil Protection in Italy
Based in Rome, is an architectural and urban planning practice founded in 2002 by Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori. The name of the practice – Labics – expresses the concept of a laboratory, a testing ground for advanced ideas