Maxxi: Italy's New Contemporary Art Museum In the city of the ancient Romans and Michelangelo, architecture buffs got a preview over the weekend of something decidedly modern: Rome's new museum of contemporary art. It was designed by Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid.

Maxxi: Italy's New Contemporary Art Museum

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Rome is about to experience a first. The city's history stretches back to its legendary founding in 753 B.C., and some of its architecture goes back millennia. Now it's getting a very modern building to house Italy's first museum of contemporary arts. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli got a peek.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: In the Eternal City, the Maxxi is a rare example of the avant-garde. The first glimpse is the bland facade of a 19th-century military barracks. But lurking just behind, curves of steel and concrete soar upward to a glass roof that bathes the museum in natural light.

Designed by Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid, the Maxxi inspires fairy-tale comparisons, like entering the belly of a giant whale, and its slippery surfaces give the feel of a flying carpet.

Hadid appears mindful that in recent years, Rome has not warmly welcomed contemporary architects.

Ms. ZAHA HADID (Architect): I hope I'll come back regularly to visit to make sure they have not done anything odd. I'm watching, okay.

POGGIOLI: She says she was inspired by Rome's many layers of history and architectural styles. But the style Hadid seems most inspired by is the baroque. The Maxxi echoes its fluid and sinuous forms, concave and convex spaces, and white, curving lines that mysteriously disappear and reappear.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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