The City and the Masque

Natalie Imran
Savannah, Georgia

Project Location: Rome, Italy
Owner: Savannah College of Art and Design

Project Description

Rome is a tale of two cities: the illusion of its historic center runs parallel to the reality of its modern periphery. Within this duality of the city, Rome’s Aurelian Wall—the boundary which divides the city’s valorized past with its neglected present –has become the ‘masque’ of Rome, and actor within the city spectacle. Both seductive and compelling, the mask is an instrument of the illusion, altering the city’s image, memories, and perceptions, with its ability to both conceal and reveal.
In an investigation of the city’s boundaries, the dialogue between interior and exterior becomes a means of understanding the self in relation to society. Beyond the function of delineating space, boundaries and walls materialize both ideological separation and connection, allowing the memory of the city to be continually defined and redefined through their presence. For those willing to pull back the masque, meaning is not acquired through the façade or exterior surface, but rather, by experiencing the complexities and realities hidden within the city spectacle.

Read as both a factual and a fictional scenario, the project becomes a visual manifesto for understanding the multiple issues of the city’s constructed space. As a point of convergence between Rome’s two narratives, the project uses an isolated fragment of Rome’s Aurelian Wall to set the stage for a dialogue between inside and outside, past and present, illusion and reality. Building around the historic wall fragment, three imaginary houses offer a new point of view from which to observe and experience the city, each manifesting the masked conditions caused by the wall: Oppression, Estrangement, and Eviction. A fourth imaginary house for ‘The Commons’ unveils itself as a final utopia freed from boundaries and barriers.
Descending beneath the footprint of the wall, the House of Oppression narrates a sense of the uncanny, as those imprisoned below are watched by those above. Operating within the poche of the mask itself, The House of Estrangement is neither inside nor out. Producers of the House of Estrangement find themselves estranged by the performance, remaining unseen by both center and periphery. The House of Eviction speaks to those evicted from Rome’s historic center. It narrates geometries of collapse, demolition, and forced nomadism—all conditions of the contemporary periphery.
Once reality reveals itself to those willing to pull back the mask, one emerges as an inhabitant of the House of the Commons. In this idealized utopia free from barriers and boundaries, the mask disintegrates. Reality and illusion now stand face to face, without being afraid to speak.