The Venice Seascraper 2013

Student projects investigate the vertical future of a former industrial site.

While Venice is known the world over for the romance of its canals, it’s also a modern city facing the challenges of expansion, renewal and decline of industry. During the 20th century, industrial and chemical plants grew on the border of its lagoon, namely in the borough of Marghera. Mestre, the adjacent urban mainland area of Venice, is expanding and welcoming new offices, hotels and university facilities alongside monuments such as Forte Marghera. The development is pushing up to the industrial canals of Mestre. The challenge now is to revamp this unique area, so as to connect it to the surrounding city. The time has come for Venice to start thinking about building, building up that is.

In the summer of 2013, alongside IUAV faculty, visiting professors and representatives from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, I taught an architecture workshop at IUAV University of Venice for two weeks. lectured on the Chicago skyline and Roosevelt University as part of “The Venice Seascrapers” international workshop.

“The Venice Seascrapers” workshop guided architecture students from Europe, Australia and the United States through the design of a tall building development in the unique natural and cultural context of the Venice lagoon. Designs had to include a single tower or complex of towers (usually two) 100-150 meters tall as well as a master plan for an adjacent residential complex to connect with Mestre on the industrial west part of lagoon.

Pierre Cardin and his architect nephew Rodrigo Basilicati designed a building for the same site.  The 60-story, three-finned Palais Lumière (Palace of Light) skyscraper was to be built on Venice’s mainland in the former industrial area of Porto Marghera. However, after two years of debate and opposition, the project has not been approved. Critics were concerned about the 245 meter high structure’s impact on the Venetian landscape and its medieval city.

The workshop considered another dimension to the future development of the site:  redefining the border between the lagoon and the mainland, creating public spaces and open areas with the mixed-use tall building structure in order to recreate the complexity of an urban district.

The first week the workshop was held at the new IUAV Magazzini Ligabue Building. Students worked on developing a preliminary master plan and schematic design for the tower(s). During that week we did a lot of conceptual sketches and studies of site development and building ideas. We spent a full day on the site, combining careful study and documenting existing conditions and the surrounding industrial and residential landscape. To help the students see beyond “romantic Venice” and approach it as place with specific problems, “The Venice Seascraper” workshop featured lectures on skyscrapers, as well as the urban history of this unique city. My lecture described the development of the history of skyscrapers along the Chicago skyline, presenting Roosevelt University as an example of a successful tall building integrated with a historic, dense urban context. Workshops included drawing, model-building and periodic site visits to assist in project creation, as well as public debates.

Workshop days were very intense, due to the limited two week span. Each work day lasted from 8am to 8pm. This being Venice, however, there was no starting the day without coffee. Each morning, as soon as everyone arrived in the studio the first minutes were spent on the rituals of coffee preparation. No matter how busy or stressed out everybody was, espresso was a must.

Week two of the workshop was held at the Ca’Foscari Palace, by the Grand Canal. Built in 1453, it offers amazing views of the city. That week we worked on developing the tower design, building models and preparing final presentations. The students were tireless, creative, inspiring and a delight to work with. The workshop culminated with a competition in which all teaching faculty, together with the dean and other professors, selected winning teams. VOA has awarded a summer internship to Giovanni Zampieron from the winning team.

I’ve been invited back for this year’s workshop. The 2014 workshop, called “The Venice Towers,” will once again be held at the IUAV University of Venice—July 7-18, and will coincide with, and be a part of, Architecture Bienalle 2014 directed by Rem Koolhaas. During the 2014 workshop I will present “Tall in Historical Context” a lecture open to public and Biennalle visitors. Look for a preview of it on the VOA blog soon!

For more information on this summer’s event visit Venice Towers online and follow the Venice Architectural Association on Facebook.

Leave a Comment

Write your comment