Thomas G. Rankin


Many cities have rediscovered and reinvented their river fronts as public spaces in recent years. From New York to Seoul, urban waterways which were forgotten, marginalized, or outright abandoned are now filled with life. In each case the transformation was spurred by a combination of grass roots, bottom-up initiative and savvy government recognition of the projects’ potentials. Once the city leaders embraced the projects - and not a moment sooner - public and private funding materialized and bureaucratic barriers disappeared.
In Rome, whether due to the complexity of the chain of responsibility for the river front, or simply an ingrained aversion to progressive planning - saying no or saying nothing is much easier than taking responsibility for positive change - initiatives to renew the urban riverfront have been small and disconnected. Diverse interests ranging from green space to water transit, from river front commerce to ecological restoration, have all vied for a role in the river’s regeneration.
But one particular discipline, that of art, has succeeded more than others in attracting international attention and changing the way people in Rome and throughout the (art) world see the Tiber. Artist William Kentridge, with his project ‘Triumphs and Laments’, using the simple technique of selective cleaning of the Tiber embankment walls, revealed to the world a procession of figures which populate the riverfront with a life that it hasn’t seen in centuries.  


How to Cite
Rankin, T. G. (2018) “Art as a catalyst to activate public space: the experience of ‘Triumphs and Laments’ in Rome”, The Journal of Public Space, 3(3), pp. 139–148. doi: 10.32891/jps.v3i3.1137.
Author Biography

Thomas G. Rankin, California Polytechnic Rome Program

American architect Tom Rankin received his Master's in Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a BA in Architecture at Princeton, and a "Laurea" in Architecture at Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza’. Hs has lived in Rome, practicing architecture and teaching, since 1991. He teaches at the at Università di Roma “La Sapienza” (School of Engineering), the California Polytechnic Rome Program in Architecture and the Iowa State Rome Program. He is a founding member of ISAR (isarome.org) and was Director of the association Tevereterno Onlus from 2013-2016. Tom is the author of 'Rome Works: An Architect Explores the World’s Most Sustainable City' and has written numerous articles on sustainable urbanism and presented frequently at conferences. His blog on the Still SustainableCity was chosen by Guardian Cities as the best Italian city blog and is a reference point for sustainable urbanism in Rome.