With the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale in full swing, the city is overflowing with innumerable exhibitions and installations by leading architects and designers from around the world. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be picking out some of our personal highlights from this year’s Biennale – but today, we’re shining a spotlight on Carlo Scarpa (1906 – 1978), one of Venice’s very own home-grown architects, whose modernist masterpieces form an integral part of the city’s rich architectural fabric.
Born and raised in Venice, Scarpa is widely regarded as one of the most important Italian architects of the 20th century. Before focusing his career on architecture, he worked with glass, serving as creative director of the prestigious Venini glassworks on Murano from 1933 to 1947. It was here that he first displayed his appreciation for craft, often working with the Venini glassblowers late into the night to perfect new designs.
It was not until after WW2 that Scarpa began to be recognized internationally for his architecture, leading to a series of commissions in and around Venice – many of them involving the renovation of existing buildings. As an architect, he became known for his instinctive approach to materials, combining artisanal techniques with modern production methods.
Utterly imbued with the textures of Venice, he worked primarily with wood, glass, stone and concrete to blend his very modern designs into the historical context of his native city.
We’ve picked out a few of our favourites:
Negozio Olivetti: Tucked under the Procaturie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco, this showroom for Olivetti typewriters and counting machines was recently restored and reopened under the auspices of FAI – the Italian equivalent of Britain’s National Trust. Originally envisioned as a “calling card” for the iconic Olivetti brand, the immaculately designed interior features mosaics and water channels that mimic acqua alta across the floor, while an irregular floating staircase is both perplexing and harmonious.
Aula Mario Baratto, Ca’ Foscari: Serving as the main seat of Venice’s main University, Ca’ Foscari is one of the city’s most important palazzi, dating from the 15th century. Scarpa worked on it between the 1930s and 1950s, with notable interventions including the Aula Mario Baratto – a magnificent space dominated by high Venetian gothic windows – which he masterfully overlayed with a striking wood-framed screen.
Monumento alla Partigiana: Situated on the edge of the lagoon near the Giardini vaporetto stop, this poignant monument honours the memory of the Venetian women who participated in the Italian Resistance. Partially submerged by the water, it features a bronze figure of a fallen woman designed by Augusto Murer lying sprawled across a series of terraced concrete plinths designed by Scarpa.
Università IUAV: Scarpa taught drawing and interior decoration at Venice’s ‘Istituto universitario di architettura di Venezia’ (IUAV) from the late 1940s until the end of his life. The University is housed in a former convent attached to the impressive Tolentini church near Piazzale Roma, with a futuristic entrance added in 1985 following a futuristic design by Scarpa.
Fondazione Querini Stampalia: Based on Campo Santa Maria Formosa, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia is one of Venice’s most fascinating museums – once home to the noble Querini family, and now housing a rich collection of art and furniture. Scarpa worked from 1961 to 1963 on improving the entrance, courtyard and garden, to brilliant and dramatic effect.
Giardini: Finally, if you’re planning to visit the Architecture Biennale at the Giardini this year, be sure to keep an eye out for some of Scarpa’s own designs in the gardens, such as the Venezuela Pavilion, Ticketing Booth and Sculpture Garden designed for the Central Pavilion in 1952.