Thoughts after experiencing an exhibition at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice, Fall, 2014, by Randy Bosch.
Rarely has an architect with a relatively limited body of work, primarily located in one region of one country, had such an impact upon the world of architecture than has Carlo Scarpa. Many volumes have been produced illustrating and explicating Scarpa’s work – even some by Scarpa!
The source is always the best place to seek comprehension!
The Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, is an extraordinary public institution housed in co-joined, phenomenal palazzi on the eastern edge of Campo Santa Maria Formosa that were gifted to the City of Venice by the also extraordinary Giovanni Querini in 1868.
In the Summer and Fall of 2014, simultaneously with the Biennale Architettura and its fundamentals – elements of architecture theme, the Fondazione mounted a unique exhibit to share specific insight into one of the seminal works of Carlo Scarpa —
Scarpa’s design interventions within the Palazzo Querini itself.
The exhibition gave a too-rare opportunity to see his creative background sketches – the gestation of ideas for the spaces and their detailed implementation sketches — with limited verbal explanation, within the designed space itself. The spaces “speak” volumes for themselves. You are the interpreter.
The Scarpa designed interventions from the early 1960’s are primarily on the Ground Floor of this venerable building, extended upwards by a phenomenal stairway enveloping an elevator shaft. The intervention also extends laterally into a signature garden (Giardino) on the east side of the palazzo and a bridge across the Rio della Santa Maria Formosa on the west side.
Director Giuseppe Mazzariol recalled the creation of what are now referenced as the “Scarpa Spaces” to be “saturated with light from the very beginning. “ Said Mazzariol,
“One morning in 1961 at the Querini Stampalia, I asked him to keep water outside the palace… He looked at me and after a pause he said: ”Inside, inside! Water must be inside, like everywhere in the city. We just need to control and use it as a shining and reflecting substance. You will see the light reflections on the yellow and purple stuccos on the ceiling. That is so gorgeous!”
The Scarpa bridge, water door and water lobby are unique in the world. The adjacent aula Luzzatto – the hall in which the formative design drawings were displayed – is a design tour de force in itself. The adjacent Giardino is small by contemporary Western standards, but large in Venice. Within it, Scarpa created a complete world replete with movement, light, sound, water, and details formed together like the notes on the page of a symphonic score. Even the stairway, winding around the elevator shaft, is a complete work, fully informed by Scarpa’s design sensitivity to the least detail.
Curators Yuko Hasegawa and Chiara Bertola understood the sign of Scarpa:
“Scarpa left a sign which is both ancient and modern, full of forerunner energy whose propelling push has not run out yet. As a blooming tree, it has favored the architectural works of Valeriano Pastor, Mario Botta, and inspired an engaging interaction with other different art expressions: photography, video, music, dance.”
Botta and Pastor were indeed favored by nel segno di Carlo Scarpa, including in interventions of their own designs in adjacent areas of the Querini-Stampalia. Even if you missed this exhibition, the Palazzo itself exhibits their inspirations from Scarpa’s work alongside them for you to experience at leisure.
Many others have “quoted” from these interventions in their own design work, but few show evidence of having comprehended their import, merely plucking a few petals from the blossoms of the Querini’s “blooming tree”. I believe that in proper and ethical architectural design, no lesser attention can be paid to a building’s sides, rear, floors, ceilings, interrelationship with surrounding spaces, or any detail than is paid to its primary façade and key spaces. A well-designed building is not a few jewels stuck on and into a crate of banality, that class spaces and details (that is, people and experiences) to be on a sliding scale of import. Architecture needs to be a complete work, not the too-often seen “lipstick on a pig” version prevalent in our cultures today.
Go, find Carlo Scarpa in his work. Study the fertility and creative work in Scarpa’s sign, as did the exhibition curators and those who learned from it in their later work in the Querini and elsewhere.
Dare to never again ignore what it means to truly create architecture.
nel segno di Carlo Scarpa