Alongside 18 of his peers and 15 Italian students the design studio explored historical Venice while in tandem discovering it as a modern city through contemporary projects by Alvaro Siza, Tadao Ando, David Chipperfield, Santiago Calatrava, Renzo Piano and Carlo Scarpa.
Aided by gumboots, amidst the worst flooding Venice has seen in decades, our eager studio was undeterred and determined to take in every moment of our time in the city. We started with iconic locations including Piazza San Marco and the Arsenale though it wasn’t long before we found ourselves drawn into the web of smaller streets and alleyways that traverse the city. We visited a number of different islands, from the traditional colourful buildings of Burano to the unique modern architecture of the Giudecca student housing.
Visiting the Biennale of Arts at the Giardini was by all accounts as awe-inspiring as its reputation. Split between the expansive parklands of Giardini and the Arsenale heritage site, the quantity and diversity of post-modern art was beyond imagination. Similarly, inspirational were famous works by Carlo Scarpa, the Venezuala Pavillion and Sverre Fehn, the Nordic Pavillion.
On the mainland, the Brion Cemetery and Museo Canova by Carlo Scarpa were likewise tour highlights. By experiencing these spaces in person, the true power of their architecture is made evident. While the image of these buildings is widely recognised and admired, appreciating the volume, light and scale firsthand is something else entirely.
Concurrent with our exploration of Venice, the design studio ran for the duration of our visit. Working collaboratively with IUAV students and staff our brief to masterplan the island of Sacca San Mattia, part of Murano, was broad and challenging. As an artificial island historically used for the waste deposits of Murano’s glassmaking industry the site’s current environmental conditions are very poor. The island is the largest piece of available empty land in Venice, approximately 26 undeveloped hectares and hence has been the subject of countless speculative initiatives. It was an exciting prospect to consider how our ideas could transform this underutilized piece of the city.
With limited time, the studio was divided into four teams so that we could work with IUAV students and tutors to develop a concept solution. Flexibility within the brief allowed each group to propose their own programme for the island, which created four unique design directions. Our team worked to explore the island’s potential as a modern extension of the lagoon, attempting to appropriate the Venetian genius loci without being too overt or appearing kitsch. We considered how people could experience the site through themes of compression and expansion, temporality and circularity. These concepts, in hand with the island’s practical needs drove our masterplan, visualized as a series of three concentric circles, or ripples.
After becoming so well acquainted with Venice it was difficult to farewell the city at the end of our two weeks. New friendships and experiences will endure though, as will the Studio’s legacy to provide all participants with an array of insights allowing allow us to continue travelling ‘the world with an Architect’s eye’.