The history of Venice’s architecture, as seen today, is a semblance of styles centuries old. A destination rich in culture, many of Venice’s existing buildings, from homes alongside the thin interior canals to the grand domed churches of Palladio, have remained stagnant in their overall design and layout since the 16th century. Once a hub of Byzantine and European trade, the city now thrives on a steady stream of tourism and a foundational group of local residents.
The structures that make up the city’s compact matrix, once integral to its function as a commercial empire, have come to take on new functions through architectural intervention; notably, architects such as Carlo Scarpa, OMA, and Tadao Ando have had a large hand in this process.
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi at the foot of the Rialto has served many functions since its initial construction in 1228. As referenced in its name, it was once the main trading post for German merchants. During the reign of Napoleon, the building served as a customs house, while under Mussolini it was transformed into the fascist regime’s central post office. In 1506, the building, as seen today, was constructed. In 2009, OMA devised an extensive architectural and programming scheme that preserved the historic nature of the building.
The OMA design team emphasized the importance of maintaining the integrity of the interior courtyard as a public gathering space while expanding the limitations of the structure to create new vantage points of the city. The interior rooms, preserved in their original sequence, now house designer retail displays. The rooftop viewing deck was one of the firm’s largest interventions.
“Both subtle and ambitious, (it) continues the Fondaco’s tradition of vitality and adaptation, its preservation yet another chapter of the building’s illustrious and multi-layered history. It avoids nostalgic reconstructions of the past and it demystifies the ‘sacred’ image of a historical building.”
For many traveling by ship, Punta della Dogana, the customs house at the western tip of Dorsoduro, marked the maritime entrance into the city. Originally designed by Giuseppe Benoni, the building maintained this function until the 1980s. Abandoned for twenty years, at the turn of the 21st century the city of Venice began the restoration and revitalization of the structure and transformed it into a contemporary exhibition space. Architect Tadao Ando preserved the integrity of the structure, revitalizing the history of the building by designing a space in which the old and the new coexist in equilibrium.
Bridges in the city of Venice are almost as important as the buildings themselves. Santiago Calatrava’s Ponte della Constituzione was commissioned to connect Piazzale Roma, the main vehicle parking and passenger drop-off area, to the Venice's central train station. In an entirely pedestrian-centric city, these terminals are bustling hubs that allow people to feed in and out of the city daily.
Beginning the process in 1999, Calatrava was commissioned to design a 94-meter long bridge that spanned the canal. It was seamlessly integrated, with careful consideration of pedestrian traffic routes, into the aesthetics of the surrounding buildings. At either end, the light hue of the Venetian pavement meets blocks of embedded Istria and Trachite stone. The tempered glass of the bridge’s main curvature is lit to expose the central backbone of shallow steps, allowing persons with limited mobility to utilize the main pedestrian path into Venice – a novel feature for the ancient city.