Jeffrey Inaba of Inaba Projects has a new pavilion on display now in Rome, sponsored by Enel, Italy's largest utilities provider. Because of that sponsorship, Inaba "wanted to use numerous forms of alternative energy applications," but decided, in the end, to apply "just one that was highly productive and cost effective." The pavilion is thus solar-powered – Inaba describes it as an "Alice in Wonderland mushroom meets solar-ray chomping Pac-Man."
So what is the project? Solar-powered and lit from within, with a DVD player and monitors, it tries to rethink the hospital waiting room; in fact, the cartoon-like, festive structure with a kind of external tattoo of abstract graphics, is "sited at Policlinico Umberto 1, Rome's largest public hospital, and one that has been recently controversial because of scandals of unsafe and unsanitary conditions."
As an "enlightenment" era hospital, it was planned in a decentralized way, with specialties (pediatrics, respiratory maladies, contagious diseases) distributed throughout the campus, with no single central space. The project attempts to create a centralized space for all kinds of waiting (waiting for an appointment, to be picked up, the diagnosis of a loved one, for treatment, convalescing to recover).
As Inaba himself explained in a recent issue of Art Review, the real purpose was “to create an environment to cope with our restlessness, if not through easing the irritation of having to wait, then at least through distraction from it." "The aim," Inaba writes in a short essay about the project, "is to produce a distraction from waiting by introducing a mix of people, activity and stimulation to thwart the inward feeling of inertia that is triggered by delays." Of course, this raises the possibility of a building so immersive, visually interesting, or simply distracting that you don't realize you're waiting for something. Time passes; nothing happens; you don't notice. It's a sort of anti-prison.
The website for Enel Contemporanea adds that "[c]olours, lights, geometric shapes and various environmentally friendly elements" bring "an element of comfort to an architectural space normally seen as a temporary and highly emotional environment."
All of which is another way of saying that the project enlivens the experience of waiting inside architecture – highlighting the general but overlooked surreality of the waiting room, as a space in which you simply wait for something else to happen.