A Cloud Behind Glass

Products, 27. January 2017
By: John Hill, Thomas Geuder

Palace of Congress
Rome, Italy

EUR S.p.A. 

Studio Fuksas
Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas

Membrane Engineering
formTL ingenieure für tragwerk und leichtbau gmbh  

Material Supplier
Valmiera Glass UK

Membrane Contractor
Canobbio Textile Engineering SRL

Interior Architecture
Studio Fuksas

Structural Engineering
AI Engineering 
Studio Majowiecki 
Studio Sarti 

XU - Acoustique 
AI Engineering 

Speirs + Major 

239 million EUR 

November 1998 
Jury Chair: Lord Norman Foster 


Photo: Moreno Maggi / Fuksas

​Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas worked on the New Convention Center in Rome's EUR district from 1998, when they won a competition for its design, until October 2016, when it officially opened. Most striking is the Cloud suspended within the glass box exterior. The engineers at formTL oversaw the membrane covering the Cloud's steel structure.

The complex, which also includes a hotel in a separate volume, totals 55,000 square meters, making it the largest project realized in Rome in more than 50 years. The building sits in the EUR business district in the south of Rome. This area is named for the Esposizione Universale Roma, a world's fair planned by Mussolini that would have taken place in 1942 if not for the war. Some buildings were completed at the time – most notably the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana from 1940, now home to Fendi – while others followed after the war, such as Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport that was built for the 1960 Summer Olympics.

The "Theka" and "Lama" sit next to each other on Via Cristoforo Colombo. (Photo: Moreno Maggi / formTL)

The convention center and hotel designed by Studio Fuksas are located on Via Cristoforo Colombo, EUR's main axis, which points north to Rome's city center and south to the sea. The main cube of the ensemble is 200 meters long, 75 meters wide and 30 meters tall, forming one – the "Theka" – of Fuksas's three design elements. Theka means "container," and one thing it contains is the "Cloud," what the architects describe as "the heart of the project." The third element is the "Lama," which means "sword" and refers to the dark, slab-like form of the hotel positioned next to the convention center.

The "Cloud," accessed by bridges and escalators, appears to magically float, only touching the floor in one spot. (Photo: Moreno Maggi / formTL)

The convention center's glass box is made up of a double-skinned, steel-glass construction with a glass wall that frames a view of the Cloud when seen from the main axis. A sloping plaza leads to the entrance and a lower level where some of the exhibition spaces are located. Escalators lead up to a raised floor – a universal space that is column-free and completely open, minus the Cloud suspended overhead. Developed with structural engineer Massimo Majowiecki, the apparently weightless (only touching the floor in one spot) construction is 129 meters long, 65 meters wide, and 29 meters tall. Stairs, escalators and bridges provide access to the Cloud's interior, where an auditorium for 1,600 people, various meeting rooms, foyers, and a cafe are found.

Photo: Moreno Maggi / formTL

The cover of the Cloud is made of a silicon-coated glass fabric from Valmiera Glass UK that was perforated for acoustical considerations. Studio Fuksas brought on Cannobio Textile Engineering to realize the shell, which in turn involved the membrane experts at formTL due to the Cloud's complex shape. The supporting structure consists of steel ribs and a bracket system developed by formTL that the fabric was mounted to; the system allowed the tension of the membranes to be fine tuned so the desired cloud-like appearance could be achieved. Furthermore, the fabric's cutting patterns were laid out to have as few seams as possible between the ribs; ultimately 2,763 unique cutting patterns were assembled into just over 600 individual panels. Described by formTL as a "challenge in terms not only of engineering but also of logistics," the impressive result means the effort paid off.

Photo: Moreno Maggi / formTL

The convention center was built with 37,000 tons of steel, the equivalent of four Eiffel Towers. (Construction photo: formTL)

Construction photo: formTL

3d model of the cloud (Image: formTL)

View of cloud from below with seam layout (Drawing: formTL)

Elevations of cloud with seam layout (Drawing: formTL)

A version of this article originally appeared on German-Architects as "Wolke im Glasraum."

ItalyRomeMassimiliano FuksasformTL