This museum on the bank of the Tiber River has been designed as a renewed setting for the Ara Pacis, a sacrificial altar dating to 9 B.C. and now located on the western edge of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore. Planned as part of an effort to protect Rome's cultural legacy, the new structure replaces the monument's previous enclosure, which was in a state of advanced decay. The structure consists of a long, single-story glazed loggia elevated above a shallow podium providing a transparent barrier between the embankment of the Tiber and the existing circular perimeter of the mausoleum of Augustus, built circa 28 B.C.
The Ara Pacis Museum, located along the Tiber River, near the Ponte Cavour, on the western edge of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, is an integral part of the urban context of the Augustean Area.
The clarity of the volumes and the building's proportions relate in scale to Rome's ancient structures. The Museum is designed to house the ancient relic, the Ara Pacis Augustae, a sacrificial altar dating to 9 B.C., originally housed in a building designed by Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo in 1938. The only surviving part of the Morpurgo structure is a low travertine wall that Mussolini had engraved with the "Res Gestae" (the Acts of the Divine Augustus). The new design by Richard Meier protects and enhances the relic.
The building materials include glass, concrete and an indigenous fine beige Roman travertine marble. The predominant feature is a 13.5 meters high and 50 meters long glass curtain wall. The 8.5 meter high entry hall, defined by four slender columns in reinforced concrete, finished with white waxed marble plaster, leads to the Main Hall which houses the Ara Pacis. The entrance space with its subdued lighting, in contrast to the expansive top-lighting in the Great Hall, encourages a natural progression and circulation. Skylights were used to obtain the most natural lighting and to eliminate "false shadows".Although housing and protecting the ancient altar was the main focus of this museum, the building also provides 700 square metres space for temporary exhibitions and installations dedicated to archaeological themes, as well as a digital library of Augustan culture with state-of-the-art technology.
An outdoor roof terrace above the auditorium is an essential part of the circulation of the museum. It includes a contiguous bar and cafe with views over the Mausoleum of Augustus to the east and the Tiber River to the west.
The Ara Pacis Museum is the first work of modern architecture in the Historic Center of Rome since the 1930's. The altar, which has not been moved from its original location, was protected during construction and will be unveiled for the first time in six years on 22 September, 2005 on the occasion of the Emperor Augustus's birthday.