Via del Corso is one of the most storied stretches within the historic center of Rome. The boulevard runs from the Porta del Popolo to the Piazza Venezia and is home to some of the ‘greatest hits’ of Italian baroque architecture, and can now count a Foster + Partners-designed Apple Store as one of its denizens. The project opened to the public today and inhabits the historic Palazzo Marignoli, an urban palace designed towards the end of the 19th century by architects Salvatore Bianchi and Giulio Podesti, which, in turn, replaced a 16th-century church and convent.
The design of the 1883 palazzo is certainly sumptuous: it is centered around a sprawling courtyard and vaulted arcade where the design team has planted allees of Camphor trees, and the building is fronted by a rusticated stone facade studded with pediments, friezes, and other historic regalia. The interior is a cavalcade of hand-painted patterned ceilings, patterned tilework, and classical moldings. Foster + Partners’ intervention is relatively subtle, consisting of corridors of locally sourced Carrara marble, light veils of glass, and pale wood-and-leather furniture, which generally highlight and complement the original design. At street level, the sprawling historic storefront entrances and window frames allow natural light to pour into the retail spaces. A significant degree of restoration work led by local craftsmen went into the project, namely repairing the oculus found at the summit of the central stairwell and atrium and deep cleaning the soot-stained facade.
Notably, the Palazzo was, until recently, home to the much-vaunted Cafe Aragno. The cafe functioned as a social venue for many of the city’s artists and writers, and the Foster + Partners design restored and integrated many existing ceiling and wall panels such as those completed by painters Afro Basaldella, Fabio Cipolla, and Ettore Ballerini. In that artistic spirit, the store will also play host to Today at Apple’s curated learning sessions on music and art and design, amongst other topics.
The Palazzo Marignoli conversion is not Apple and Foster + Partners’ first foray into the field of architectural preservation; the two have embedded the brand within such venerable landmarks and locales as Grand Central Terminal and the Champs-Élysées. More recently, and to much acclaim, Apple and Foster + Partners, with the collaboration of preservation gurus Beyer Blinder Belle, completed the restoration of the Beaux-Arts Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C. Considering the pace at which the duo are at work, one is left to wonder which historic building will next join the Apple-verse.