Rome has recently become enriched with a new architectural attraction. On 29th October 2016 the city fathers opened the new conference centre designed by Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas. The magical eye-catching feature inside the building is a gleaming cloud made from membrane, a space within a space structure accommodating a variety of conference facilities on several storeys.

The Palace of Congress lies to the south of the centre of Rome in the modern district of E.U.R., playing an important role in terms of urban planning on the Via Cristoforo Colombo, the district’s main axis. The architect Massimiliano Fuksas describes his design with three elements: “Teca” (counter), “Lama” (sword) and “Nuvola” (cloud). The Teca, a 30-metre high cuboid, interacts with the slim hotel solitaire Lama and is arranged in such a way in relation to the Via Cristoforo Colombo as to create an inviting forecourt. These elements together form a distinctive point of reference within the urban context. With a length of 200 metres and a width of 75 metres, the Teca takes the shape of a container-type cube. Its supporting steel structure is encased in a double-glazed façade which even from afar brings one’s attention to the actual heart of the project: La Nuvola – a white cloud.

© Studio Moreno Maggi

Almost floating and touching the floor at only one point, the elongated, amorphous shape dominates the interior of the glass container. The translucent skin of the Nuvola consists of silicon-coated glass fabric which has in addition been perforated to acoustic effect. Visitors plunge into the interior of the 129-metre long, 65-metre wide and 29-metre high cloud via stairs and bridges. In an area covering several storeys, it houses an auditorium with approximately 1,800 seats, various large conference rooms with a total of around 6,500 seats, foyer areas and a café. The supporting structure of the Nuvola is made of steel and is formed of a close-meshed web of metal ribs. This basic shape, which was developed by the architects in collaboration with the Italian professor Massimo Majowiecki, came about in the following way: The cloudscape was cut virtually in all three axes at firmly defined distances into slices, and the resulting frame was built of steel. The company Cannobio, in charge for the realisation of the skin, appointed the membrane experts from formTL to deal with the complexity of this shape. This was due to fact that the fixed axial spacing of the substructure proved to be a major challenge during planning. Greater or closer spacings would have been advantageous with regard to creating the effect of the lightness of a cloud. The engineers from Radolfzell faced this difficulty by adapting the tension of the membranes to each individual situation and developing a specific bracket system. The brackets are mounted on the steel ribs and are height-adjustable. This enables them to be finely adjusted so that the steel ribs do not collide with the skin and the membrane obtains the appearance of a cloud. The glass fabric is attached and tensioned using clamping lines that sit on the brackets. In keeping with the concept of the design, the individual cutting patterns have also been developed with as few seams as possible between the ribs. Because of its amorphous shape, the skin consists of 2,763 different cutting patterns which were assembled into 607 individual panels. The brackets and clamping lines along the steel ribs are also individually shaped, posing a challenge in terms not only of engineering but also of logistics.

Nevertheless, the effort has been worth it – a feeling of lightness plays around La Nuvola right from first glance. Impressive as the cloud is in daylight, it unfolds an even more exceptional effect at night: a giant, floating illuminous body that can be seen from far away.

Client: E.U.R. S.p.A., Rome/I
Architect :   Massimiliano Fuksas architetto (Studio Fuksas​)
Membrane engineering: formTL ingenieure für tragwerk und leichtbau gmbh, Radolfzell/GER, ww w.form-TL.de
Membrane contractor: Canobbio Textile Engineering S.R.L., Castelnuovo Scrivia/I
Material supplier :  Valmiera Glass UK, Sherborne/UK
Photos :  Studio Moreno Maggi, formTL