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Venice, in the footsteps of architect Carlo Scarpa

Venice enthusiasts invariably become admirers of Carlo Scarpa, even if they don’t initially recognize the name of this famed Italian architect. As they wander through the intricate web of Venetian canals and piazze, they unwittingly follow in the footsteps of his masterpieces. In the arcades of St. Mark’s Square, they gaze in awe through the Olivetti showroom window at his marble staircase, a marvel of light and form. At the Querini-Stampalia Foundation, they gaze at the ingenious system Scarpa designed to protect the palazzo's hall from the threat of acqua alta. In short, Carlo Scarpa is everywhere in Venice!

La Fondazione Querini Stampalia, a marvel of renovation by architect Carlo Scarpa in Venice

Carlo Scarpa, the ever-discreet master


Born in Venice in 1906, Carlo Scarpa had a lifelong intimate relationship with his city, making his work inseparable from Venice itself. "Many travelers know him without having identified him," wrote the French art critic André Chastel. Indeed, this versatile genius discreetly left his mark on the sometimes faded remnants of the Serenissima.


In a city where beauty freezes everything in time, Carlo Scarpa designed works that seamlessly integrate with the past, respecting it to the point of reinvention. Ironically, while visitors wish for Venice's wonders—its canals and palaces—to remain unchanged forever, Scarpa modernized, restored, and expanded the historic buildings of his beloved city.


Carlo Scarpa remains relatively unknown in the architectural world due to his focus on interventions within existing buildings rather than creating entirely new structures. While his contemporaries and friends such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn shine brightly in the realm of contemporary architecture, Scarpa chose a different artistic path on reconciling opposites.


He seamlessly blends the past with the modern, rough concrete with centuries-old marble, gold leaf with rough-hewn stone, and crisp forms with the tranquil waters of the Grand Canal. In doing so, Scarpa crafts a unique narrative where contrasts harmonize, creating a timeless allure that quietly captivates those who encounter his work in Venice and beyond.


"Architecture is a very difficult language to understand, it is mysterious, unlike other arts, particularly music, which are easier to understand"
Scarpa restored various parts of the Ca' Foscari University in Venice, including the iconic entrance

Bold and intricate architecture


At the Querini-Stampalia (1961-1963), Scarpa undertook the renovation of a 16th-century palazzo housing the foundation, its library, and its art collection. His work revitalized the previously unusable ground floor and the garden, which had suffered from periodic flooding, diverging from the prevailing notion of mere restoration at the time. Scarpa approached the building's interior and exterior spaces with remarkable finesse and precision.


For instance, the museum's main entrance stands as a testament to his mastery of design. Scarpa crafted a seamless journey through the various rooms, employing materials like marble, wood, and glass to create harmonious transitions between spaces. The incorporation of water features and indoor gardens, inspired by the Wabi Sabi aesthetic, adds a sublime touch and pays homage to the importance of water in Venetian culture.


Another of the architect's outstanding achievements is Negozio Olivetti located on St. Mark's Square (1958). Designed for the Olivetti typewriter company, this small gallery is a marvel of interior design. The cantilevered staircase, suspended showcases, and play of natural light create a spatial dynamic that intuitively and harmoniously guides visitors through the store.


Scarpa also designed the Venezuela Pavilion in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale (1954-1956), which surprises with its massive concrete form and large windows. Similarly, the Japan Pavilion (1956) stands out as striking example of spaces that interact with the exhibited works through clever use of natural light. Undoubtedly, Scarpa's tenure as artistic director of the renowned Venini glassworks in Murano shaped his penchant for playing with light and shadow.

Scarpa's innovative approach to time


How ironic that Scarpa's creations have hardly been restored by the Italian authorities. The scars of time can be surprising: paintings fade, ivy covers concrete, and water relentlessly erodes stone.


Water is omnipresent in Venice. It flows incessantly around the blocks that Scarpa placed towards the lagoon to house the partisan monument on the bank of the Seven Martyrs, next to Castello gardens. It rusts iron, etches glass, stains bronze and attacks cement. But Scarpa, in his obsessive and loving relationship with the venitian lagoon, anticipates it, foresees it. It's as if, from the beginning, the designer foresaw this patina, these scars that would give his work another dimension. The fate of contemporary "ruins" so bold in the context of Venice, so threatened by the waters.


Carlo Scarpa, one of Italy's most captivating yet discreet architects, passed away during a visit to Japan in 1978. His body was returned to Italy and laid to rest in the cemetery he designed for the Brion family near Venice.


Today, Scarpa's influence in Venice is still felt, especially with the recent emergence of Negropontes Gallery in a 17th-century private mansion meticulously restored by Scarpa himself in the 1970s. Amidst this striking backdrop, the woodwork and ironmongery are adorned with joints and mechanisms intricately assembled with copper bolts and rivets.


This Venetian architectural maestro has thus created an exceptional setting for the works of contemporary artists, where a curious blend of history and modernity revitalizes the space.


 

The Venice wonders crafted by Carlo Scarpa with Hiddenist 


Embark on a Chef's Escape with Chiara Pavan in Venice, where Hiddenist invites you to delve into the architectural legacy of Carlo Scarpa. This bespoke journey includes expert-guided tours exploring Scarpa's iconic works, alongside encounters with Venetian artisans and a unique nomadic opera experience amidst the enchanting Venetian lagoon.


Immerse yourself in cultural discoveries intertwined with tastings of Chiara Pavan's finest produce, culinary workshops, and a gourmet dinner at Michelin-starred restaurant Venissa on the picturesque island of Mazzorbo. Whether you're planning a gourmet weekend getaway in Venice or an extended exploration of the Veneto region, Hiddenist promises an unforgettable blend of gastronomy, culture, and architectural marvels.

 










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