Ruth W. Lo Looks at How Food Relates to Rome's Architecture and Urbanism in the Early Twentieth Century

April 11, 2014
Mercato rionale on Cola di Rienzo, designed by Domenico De Moncaco, construction ca. 1926-8. Photo: Ruth W. Lo
Floats parading down the Via Cola di Rienzo, 1933 Festa dell'Uva. Photo: Gente Nostra, 16 October 1933.
Float design, 1930 Festa dell'Uva. Photo: Gente nostra, 05 October 1930.
Mercato rionale at Piazza Alessandria, designed by Elena Luzzatto, construction ca. 1928-9. Photo: Ruth W. Lo.
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Ruth W. Lo is the Donald and Maria Cox Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize Winner in Modern Italian Studies and a Ph.D candidate in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Brown University.

What part of the United States did you come from?

I was born in Taipei and grew up in Los Angeles. Before coming to Rome, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, where I am a graduate student at Brown University.

Why did you apply for the Rome Prize?

My research is about the city of Rome in the early twentieth century, so I wanted to have an extended period of time here to work in the municipal archives. I have also heard wonderful things about the Academy community and experiences from my friends Michael J. Waters, FAAR ’11, and Emily Morash.

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.

These are too numerous to name a particular one. Sharing my life with the fellows, fellow travelers, visiting artists, and the AAR staff continues to inspire me everyday. The people in this community are so passionate and dedicated to their work, and I find this energy palpable and infectious.

To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?

The overall premise of my project remains more or less the same, but my access to research materials here is changing parts of my dissertation. The unpredictability of available material for consultation in Rome’s municipal archives presents a constant challenge. I have had to work around the access issue, and this is reshaping my project.

Have you had any "eureka!" moments or unanticipated breakthroughs in the course of your work here?

There have been many. One incidence occurred when I was researching for a fellows’ walk of the Garbatella neighborhood. I had not thought to juxtapose the garden city design of the Garbatella with the gridded plan of Testaccio, the adjacent neighborhood. Both are inextricably linked to buildings I study, namely the Wholesale Market and the slaughterhouse. Both were conceived to respond to the city’s industrialization and expansion south of Rome, but their plans were very different.

What aspect of your project are you most looking forward to?

Getting unfettered access to the city’s Public Works archives and poring over all its archival documents (but this is probably more of a fantasy).

What part of your project has been or do you anticipate will be the most challenging?

Same as above, and finishing my dissertation.

What's surprised you most about living in Rome?

The quality of light here – its intensity and warm hues – never ceases to amaze me.

The aerial view of Rome from the Passeggiata del Gianicolo is ever-changing because of the dramatic lighting, and I especially enjoy the view when the city appears golden. I also like finding hidden fountains throughout the city, in particular, the “nasoni” (drinking fountains).

How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?

Finding the right balance has been very challenging but also very rewarding. I am not very good at this, though I try everyday to work and also do something else. On the weekends, I like to explore the many neighborhoods of Rome or go on daytrips to nearby towns. Thanks to the recommendation of Stephanie Malia Hom (FAAR ’11), I joined the Club Alpino Italiano and have been on hikes in the surrounding mountains.

What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?

My favorite spot at the Academy changes constantly. Currently, I love spending time in the garden where spring flowers are starting to populate grassy fields and appear on trees. In Rome, I really like going to the Chiostro del Bramante, an architecturally beautiful space that offers a rare oasis of quietude in the middle of the bustling city.