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5/04 2016

Light on a great story 2000 years after: the house of augustus on the palatine hill

The Palatine Hill is connected to Romulus’s legendary foundation of Rome and it was mostly considered Rome’s aristocratic neighbourhood, before turning into the Emperor’s private area from Augustus onwards. When the young Octavianus was adopted by Julius Caesar, thus becoming a public figure, he chose orator Hortensius’s former house, in the year 42 B.C. This was to be the first nucleus of a system of buildings, that he destined to represent the elevated  and refined image of his power.

The House of Augustus and the House of Livia, his beloved third wife, are part of the imperial compound whose re-opening was a memorable event, in celebration of the second millennium of Augustus’s death in 14 A.D. The decorations of the Houses are an exquisite example of well-preserved, figurative Roman art, composed of vivid colours, charming floral themes, illusive architectural perspectives and theatrical scenic designs, which stunningly burst through the space.

The Augustan compound shows a complex overlapping of archeological layers belonging to the different building epochs and scholars still debate on  the interpretation of  the whole area and its transformation.

A new roofing to protect the archeological site was designed to reproduce the effect of the feeling of the architectural space within the house.

Carolina De Camillis and Riccardo Fibbi, architects and lighting designer, conceived and carried out the lighting project, in close cooperation with Barbara Nazzaro and Luigi Greco from the Archaelogical Superintendence of Rome, authors of the restoration project, with the whole working team, using the light as a tool for visual reconstruction, with the following main goals:

  • To revive, through artificial lighting, the original balance between light and shadows in the different rooms. We observed that in patrician Roman houses sunlight penetrated obliquely in the internal rooms, shielded by the peristilio. This peculiar light penetration created a shadow gradation that varied with the distance from the porch.
  • To create a visual hierarchy through light distribution and variation of chromatic perception, between the rooms of the private home (domus privata) and those of the public house (domus publica); in this way we would be able to achieve a more intimate sensation in the former and a more majestic brightness in the latter.
  • To use the chromatic variation and the lighting level regulation of artificial light not for a scenographic purpose, but with the aim of fully integrating the restoration project by facilitating its interpretation.

The lighting systems, all with LED sources, are mainly integrated into the stretched ceiling of the new roof. A series of grooves accommodate groups of spots with various optical beams and different colour temperatures.

The luminaires, track-mounted with modified adaptors, all have remote DMX drivers and are controlled via a touch panel. Each pair of spots has the same aim thus producing a single lighting beam whose total spectrum can be adjusted according to the flux dimming of each single luminaire and its colour temperature.

By regulating the level of each spot the lighting helps to narrate the different rooms, each with subtle variations of luminance and colour temperature, in order to suggest the firelight in the private rooms and the cool daylight that penetrated into the rooms of imperial power.

The lighting project includes the replacement of the lighting system in the rooms of the nearby House of Livia, which can still be entered through its original access thanks to a corridor with a sloping mosaic floor.

From there the visitor enters the ancient court (atrium) that today is roofed, where the main rooms (tablinum, the side rooms and triclinium), all splendidly painted, open onto. Here, likewise, both natural and artificial lighting recall the sunlight that once penetrated the court.

Here it’s reproduced the sensation of the transition from full daylight to the shadier perimetral area under the lost roofing.

In the frescoed rooms the lighting designers planned a suspended metal framework incorporating a series of low glare recessed adjustable downlighters flooding the frescoes, so as to obtain an excellent, glare-free perception of the details of the paintings.


-       COMMITTENTE: Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il MNR e l’Area Archeologica di Roma
-       GRUPPO DI PROGETTAZIONE ED ESECUZIONE : F. Catalli, B. Nazzaro, L. Greco, C. Conti, M. Bartoli con M.A. Tomei, R. Egidi, S. De Felice, S. Murrone, M. Lasco; U. Baruffaldi, C. Iaconi, P. Pastorello, D. Pellandra, M.L. Santarelli, S.Vellucci,
-       COLLABORAZIONI ESTERNE: L. Borrello, R. Rossi, G. Farre, V. Sedia, Studio MCM, Arcotec, Modus
-       PROGETTO DI ILLUMINAZIONE: Carolina De Camillis, Riccardo Fibbi
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