Interiors Awards 2017: Student

The project builds around an isolated fragment of Rome’s Aurelian Wall, unraveling the idea of it as a physical and ideological divide with the ability to cast illusions as it conceals, reveals, and creates multiple realities. Renderings by Natalie Imran

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The Masque of the Interior
Designer: Natalie Imran
School: Savannah College of Art and Design
Proposed Location: Rome

“Featuring beautiful drawings and a collaged approach, this strong project presents an inspirational and provocative concept. Drawn with an artistic hand, it sets the stage for a new dialogue between the past and present using the wall as a symbol, with a Da Vinci–esque quality.”—Jury

With beautifully expressive illustrations, Natalie Imran selected the Aurelian Wall—built in ancient Rome during the third century A.D.— as the primary point of exploration for her graduate thesis project at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Entitled the Masque of the Interior, Imran’s design delivers a visual manifesto for understanding the integral issues of the contemporary Italian city’s constructed space. Delving into the notion of architectural narrative, Imran began her research by dissecting the role of the built environment as a physical materialization of memory, which she defines as a “topos of layered stories, continuously written and rewritten to tell the narratives of human life.”

The combined historical and contemporary significance of Rome, as a multidimensional metropolis with an influential past that constantly overlaps with its present, provided the perfect site of study for Imran, who toured the Italian capital to gather empirical evidence on its intricate narrative. Imran discovered two parallel realities present within the city: the historic center and the modern periphery.

“Throughout its history, Rome’s historic center has dominated cultural representations of the city and continues to drive its image today,” she says. “However, I found this vision of the city to be an illusion—an image of the past, which often excludes the lived realities of the present city. These stories of the periphery lay dormant outside of the historic wall, waiting to be excavated.”

Circumscribing the city’s center, the Aurelian Wall operates as a point of both separation and convergence within Imran’s project. Her design focuses on the idea of the wall as not only an architectural element but also a physical and ideological divide, or mask, with the ability to cast illusions as it conceals, reveals, and creates multiple realities.

Imran, a Miami native who graduated with a Master of Architecture degree in spring 2016 and currently works at Atlanta’s hospitality-focused firm BLUR Workshop, delivered exquisitely detailed renderings to illustrate her visual manifesto. Her design implements an isolated portion of the Aurelian Wall to set the stage for a dialogue between three central dichotomies: interior and exterior, past and present, and fact and fiction. As such, Imran’s thesis proposes imaginary “houses” to offer a new reading of reality as an ambiguous and illusory state of consciousness where one is permitted to enter a different state of mind within each moment.

“The imaginary houses offer a new point of view from which to observe and experience the city,” says Imran. “They transcend the physical realm and become an architecture of poetic intervention.” The experience builds around the existing Aurelian Wall fragment with the introduction of the imaginary houses that individually manifest the masked conditions caused by the wall, including oppression, estrangement, and eviction. A fourth imaginary house, called “the commons,” unveils itself as a final utopia, freed from boundaries and barriers.

Illustrating the circumstances of each outcome, Imran’s imagined houses portray immersive environments—marked by a feeling of dystopia—to capture the intangible tensions of a city divided by reality and illusion. “Allowing the visitor to experience both deception and a suspended state of consciousness, the imaginary houses encourage one to search for new meanings behind conventional perception and thought,” Imran says. “The final house of the commons presents a utopia—an idealized state of mind where the mask disintegrates. Reality and illusion now stand face-to-face, without being afraid to speak.”