Rome – the Eternal City! Almost nowhere else do past and future mingle as closely. Our exploratory tour in a smart BRABUS fortwo cabrio takes us through antique alleys and past monumental structures. Also on board: architect Francesco Colarossi.
What’s it like to live in Italy’s capital? Can the city’s eminent past keep up with the speed of modern life? What spirit infuses the streets of Rome? To answer these – and many other – questions, we’re joined by a true connoisseur of the city: Roman-born and transformation-savvy architect Francesco Colarossi. As co-founder of Coffice, a studio for sustainable architecture and urban planning, the forty-year-old expert takes us for an unusual spin in a smart BRABUS fortwo cabrio – exploring a city caught between antiquity and future.
Ciao Francesco, thank you for your time. What’s the best place to start a day in Rome?
Francesco Colarossi: To arrive at the heart of Rome without getting lost, I recommend starting at one of Rome’s famous Seven Hills. My personal choice would be Celio – the eponymous old Roman quarter is an ideal spot for discovering the city’s landmarks from an unusual perspective. Here, you also enjoy a great view of one of the city’s obvious highlights: the Colosseum. But before we launch into our tour, we should refuel with a quick caffeine kick. What about a cappuccino at Caffè Propaganda? The bistro also has some delicious homemade cakes.
Great idea. Where are we heading next?
Francesco Colarossi: Although Roman traffic tends to be very heavy, the smart makes a tour of the legendary streets and monuments of antique Rome a real pleasure – no need to fear the tight lanes and alleyways. So, our next stop is the historic Testaccio quarter, a district bypassed by most of the usual tourist hordes. This is also where I started the Coffice architectural studio. It’s a great district where modern cityscapes blend with Roman traditions. The quarter’s 9,000 inhabitants enjoy the air quality of a small town! Here, people still greet and help each other. Which is great because in a city like Rome, interpersonal exchange is a must!
How do you achieve a working symbiosis of contemporary and antique factors in a city like Rome?
Francesco Colarossi: The rich history of Rome can be felt in every street. That’s what makes this city truly unique on a global scale. It’s the job and task of architecture to make the best of our past while also making room for the new. The MACRO museum is a perfect example: The old slaughterhouse has become a vital reference for contemporary art. Here, you can see how modern architecture has helped to repurpose and revitalize obsolete industrial facilities. Today, they host shows and avant-garde art events like the recent Reaction Roma. This video installation, created by a residents’ initiative, portrays urban reality from a new angle.
All the art has whet our appetites – where can we grab a quick and tasty lunch snack?
Francesco Colarossi: If you’re pressed for time, there’s nothing better than Roman street food. The Testaccio Market offers both traditional dishes and innovative creations – it’s the place to be for lovers of authentic cuisine in a laid-back setting. My personal tip would be the Food Box, already featured in the popular Gambero Rosso travel guide. Try Roman rice balls, fried artichokes, or porchetta, the famous rolled pork roast.
The bustling market overwhelms visitors with a wealth of colors, scents, and faces. People’s gestures and smiles reflect the warm spirit of Rome. The easy-going atmosphere makes it a great place to kick back and relax … and to sample the many local delicacies. After all, the city is about more than impressive monuments – the laid-back lifestyle adds to Rome’s unique look and feel.
We’re just a few steps from your studio. What’s on your agenda these days?
Francesco Colarossi: At the moment, we’re working on a study on urban development and the smart city of the future. Naturally, it’s not always easy to combine innovation, sustainability, and attractive design. But that’s our mission!
What’s it like to be an architect in a city with so many famous buildings steeped in rich history?
Francesco Colarossi: In this city, the history of Rome is ever-present. I have been breathing this air since birth – it’s a great source of inspiration. Romans have always been amazing engineers, which is why their works have endured over the ages. It’s impossible not to admire their skills.
As an ardent Roman, do you have an all-time favorite spot in the city?
Francesco Colarossi: I love to visit the Giardino delli Aranci, the “Garden of Oranges.” It’s a place from my childhood, offering a fantastic view of the city. This is where I decided to become an urban planner. I saw my city from above and dreamt of shaping its future.
Roman traffic is notoriously chaotic and it’s almost impossible to find a parking spot. How do you navigate this city?
Francesco Colarossi: While it would be great if we could all move around on foot or by bike, Rome is simply too big for that. A small, compact car is the only sensible solution. I always recommend leaving large, high-consumption vehicles outside the city gates and switching to a smart or, in the near future, smart electric drive, for a quick dash to the center.
Care to elaborate?
Francesco Colarossi: I would like to relegate public parking for cars with combustion engines to the city limits: People could swap their rides for electric cars or bikes if they wanted to venture further into the city. This would ameliorate smog and traffic in the historic city center and also make it easier for everyone to move through the city.
Francesco – is it time for refreshments yet?
Francesco Colarossi: I’m taking you to Porto Fluviale, the “river harbor” – it’s one of the hippest restaurants at the moment. The starters are amazing. Actually, enjoying a small snack with friends pre-dinner and winding down after work is typically Italian. A glass of wine and finger food dispels small pangs of hunger without filling you up too much.
The aperitif was delicious, but now we would love to sample a proper Roman dish …
Francesco Colarossi: Let’s try Angelina, a bistro with heaps of industrial charm and a pinch of shabby chic. It has a large selection of choices and the Roman pasta dishes are especially recommended: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), carbonara, amatriciana, or spaghetti alla gricia. Plus a decent chianti and fresh pan-fried chicory – naturally, with plenty of garlic!
How should we wind down this beautiful day?
Francesco Colarossi: I don’t think you’ll be able to guess … I’m taking you to the movies. Pigneto, one of the newer Roman districts, has a cultural center that’s a small gem. I like to come here for documentaries and independent films you never get to see in a mainstream movie theater.
Francesco Colarossi is a Roman architect. Right at the heart of the city’s Testaccio district, he runs the Coffice design studio. A passionate urban planner, he dreams of a green city and ubiquitous e-mobility. His “Solar Wind” design, which integrates wind turbines in the supporting structure of highway bridges, has received a World Infrastructure Energy Award. In Rome, Coffice has installed stylish solar panels for electric vehicle charging stations.
Local Secrets Rome:
Via Claudia 15
Macro Testaccio e La Pelanda
Centro di produzione culturale
Piazza Orazio Giustiniani 4
Mercato di Testaccio
Via Beniamino Franklin 12/C
Via Luca della Robbia 35
Giardino degli Aranci
Via di Santa Sabina
Via del Porto Fluviale 22
Ristorante Angelina a Testaccio
Via Galvani 24a