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Paestum, A City of Fragments

Part 2 Project 2011
Robert Grover
London Metropolitan University | UK
Dating from the early 1930s, Mies van der Rohe designed a number of unbuilt court house projects which he used as a vehicle for exploring previously undeveloped ideas about space and living. Taken as a point of departure, the proposal is a translation of the courtyard to the urban scale, reuniting archaeology, the landscape and the city in the 2600 year old walled city of Paestum.

Paestum lies on the Sele plain in southern Italy between the Alburni Mountains and the Tyrennhian Sea. A 5m high boundary wall, three Doric temples and a strip of excavated ruins are all that remain of the ancient settlement, the 120 Ha site now used predominantly for agricultural purposes.

Seen as a city of disconnected fragments, surrounded by a boundary wall, Paestum can be considered analogous to Mies’ court houses. The creation of a new wetland refers to a 1000 year period in which the city became a marsh and seeks to unite modern inhabitation and the fragmented archaeology though a landscape infrastructure of pools. These horizontal abstracted planes help reveal the relationship of the temples to the mountains emphasising their figurative qualities.

The new wetland filters agricultural effluent from the surroundings whilst creating anaerobic conditions which preserve the exposed ruins. A series of earth bunds and an aqueduct running along the line of the ancient Decumanus (the city’s main road) create a subtle order comparable to Mies’ vertical planes. This ‘weak urbanism’ links the isolated fragments of city.

At the intersection of the two major routes of the ancient city a small structure acts as a buffalo barn and cheese shop for the area’s mozzarella industry as well as a pump house redistributing water to the surroundings. It is an assemblage of fragments, each gesturing to a key part of Paestum, revealing relationships between the temples, the mountains and the sea.

Robert Grover

Prof Florian Beigel
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