Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Culture vs. commerce in Venice

Trouble in Venice, reported in today's Guardian, as a scheme to convert the historic Fondaco dei Tedeschi near the Rialto bridge into a shopping centre, designed by architect Ippolito Pestellini working with Rem Koolhaas, is criticised by heritage interests.

Mixed feelings about this, but surely there is scope for bringing some C21 commerce to a city that could only afford the cultural heritage that we now enjoy there because of its commercial activity back in the day.  Trying to make it work the other way round is not sustainable for somewhere this big.

Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright both designed projects for Venice that did not see the light of day; Carlo Scarpa fared better with some masterly but less in-your-face projects in a number of places in the city.  Scarpa's work is hugely admired in the UK and a model for tasteful yet characterful intervention in historic buildings of a kind that I suspect doesn't really interest Koolhaas, so it will be interesting to see how this project, a few years in the making already, gets on.

There are already lots of ironies to enjoy and probably more to come -  Fondaco dei Tedeschi was the medieval HQ of  Venice's German merchants - today, presumably, euros of German origin are helping to keep Venice afloat through the tourist economy, and if Italy follows in the footsteps of Greece, a lot more will be needed, and not just from tourists.  I wouldn't turn down the chance for them to spend a bit more in the city.

I can't remember if Italo Calvino's multiple versions of Venice in Invisible Cities included 'Emporio, a city of shopkeepers and bartenders who have forgotten that once they were merchant adventurers...'.

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