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Zaha Hadid's MAXXI | © Antonella Profeta/Flickr
Zaha Hadid's MAXXI | © Antonella Profeta/Flickr

A Design Lover's Guide to Rome in a Day

Picture of Emma Law
Contributing Writer
Updated: 24 November 2017

Milan might be the design capital of Italy, but Rome can certainly hold its own in the style stakes. From the National Institute for Graphic Design to cutting edge architecture from Zaha Hadid and Richard Meier, there’s plenty going on for art and design lovers in the Eternal City. Here’s how to spend a day of design in Rome. 

MAXXI

Start the day at the MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st-Century Arts, located in the Flaminio district just north of Rome’s centre. Aside from the topical and thought-provoking exhibitions that take place inside, the building is a destination in its own right – a modern landmark in a city of ancient ruins and antique palazzi. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the structure is comprised of long interlocking concrete segments, punctuated with sheets of glass and thin grey columns. Inside, steel staircases gently curve through the building and transport the visitor between exhibition spaces.

MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo – Via Guido Reni 4A, Rome, Italy, +39 06 320 1954

The MAXXI | © Simone Artibani

The MAXXI | © Simone Artibani/Flickr

Museo dell’Ara Pacis

From the MAXXI take a short tram ride south and head to the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. The Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, dates back to 13 BC and was commissioned by the Senate to celebrate Augustus’ return to Rome. This truly ancient monument today stands in one of Rome’s most modern buildings. Designed by American architect Richard Meier to replace a Fascist-era pavilion, the new structure is predominantly steel and glass, with two travertine stone feature walls providing a nod to the ancient artifacts housed within.

Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome, Italy, +39 060608

The Ara Pacis Museu has completely updated its surrounded in Rome's historic centre | © Antonella Profeta/Flickr

The Ara Pacis Museu has completely updated its surrounded in Rome’s historic centre | © Antonella Profeta/Flickr

Il Margutta

Part art gallery, part vegetarian restaurant, Il Margutta has been feeding hungry Romans since 1979. Visitors can not only satisfy hungry stomachs but also get their cultural fill from the artworks on display throughout this locale – often spotlighting local artists and young designers. Order à la carte or help yourself to the colourful buffet and sample a range of fresh seasonal vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Il Margutta, Via Margutta, 118, Rome, Italy, +39 06 3265 0577

Dishes are served with an artistic flair at Il Margutta | © Courtesy of Il Margutta

Dishes are served with an artistic flair at Il Margutta | © Courtesy of Il Margutta

Palazzo Fendi

Designed by French architect Gwenaël Nicolas, the boutique at Palazzo Fendi is so much more than a flagship store for this Roman fashion house. In an unusual move for a luxury brand, Fendi have chosen to showcase their clothing and accessories alongside heavyweight contemporary art and design pieces. Visitors are greeted by Swiss artist Not Vital’s dramatic Moon Ball sculpture while a reworking of the classic Banquete chair by Brazilian designers the Campana Brothers sits near the red Lepanto marble staircase. Upstairs, original sketches by Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld line the walls.

Palazzo Fendi, Largo Carlo Goldoni, 420, Rome, Italy, +39 06 334501

The Armchair of Thousand Eyes is made with 100 of Fendi's iconic Bag Bugs | © Emma Law

The Armchair of Thousand Eyes is made with 100 of Fendi’s iconic Bag Bugs | © Emma Law

Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica

The National Institute for Graphic Design is one of Rome’s most overlooked attractions. The institute is housed in the almost unheard of Palazzo Poli, an 18th century building with a very famous façade – the Trevi Fountain. Despite the legions of tourists in the area, the institute and its museum are often deserted. On display is a rich heritage of works that document the history of graphic design – from 16th century engravings to lumbering printing presses and copper matrices used to print new fonts and typefaces. The institute also spills over into the neighbouring Palazzo della Calcografia, which contains many preparatory chalk drawings for the engravings.

Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Via della Stamperia, 6, Rome, Italy, + 39 06 699801

A printing press, similar those in Palazzo Poli, from 1860 | © Thomas Quine/Flickr

A printing press, similar to those in Palazzo Poli, from 1860 | © Thomas Quine/Flickr

EUR

The final stop of the day is the EUR district in the south of Rome, easily accessible by metro. In the 1930s this area was transformed by a new style of architecture. To celebrate 20 years of Fascism, Benito Mussolini oversaw the construction of a number of bold, symmetrical and dominating buildings. Elements that emphasise Rome’s Imperial past, such as columns, arches and obelisks, are common – check out the cubic reworking of the Colosseum, the Palazzo della Civiltà, as a striking example. Today many of these fascist monuments have new purposes – the Palazzo dei Congressi is an event space while the Palazzo della Civiltà is the headquarters of fashion house Fendi.

EUR District

The Palazzo della Civiltà, sometimes known as the Square Colosseum | © Emma Law

The Palazzo della Civiltà, sometimes known as the Square Colosseum | © Emma Law