This walk around Venice explores the city from the west side of Canal Grande to the east side of Castello. It will bring you to 8 interesting sites which have been (re)designed by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. Along the way, you will start to recognize his typical style. I will give also you a few insider tips on where you can stop for a drink or a small bite.
Carlo Scarpa (1906 – 1978) is an important Venetian architect from the 20th century. Even though he fits into the list of modern masters such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto, he is less known outside the architectural world. If you have already visited Venice, you probably have seen some of his work, even without realizing it.
Scarpa was born in Venice, but his family moved to Vicenza when we was 2. He returned to Venice with his father and brother at the age of 13, after his mother died. He graduated in architectural studies at the Accademia, but he refused to take part in the professional exam for architects which was administrated by the Italian Government. As a consequence, he was officially not allowed to work as an architect.
DID YOU KNOW? Carlo Scarpa didn’t bother about the license and did work as an architect anyway. When he was indicted for practicing architecture, he had to appear in the Manilo Capitolo courtroom which he was redesigning at that time. Even his lawyer didn’t really mind about the license and asked Scarpa to design his house.
Before focusing his career on architecture, Scarpa worked as a glass designer at Venini, one of the most prominent producers of Murano glass. You can still buy some of his designs. (More on the art of glassmaking in Murano and the impact from designers such as Scarpa in its history in my post ‘Murano glassmasters: artisans or artists?‘.) This might have triggered his passion for and his exceptional understanding of raw materials. Scarpa also taught drawing and interior decoration at the ‘Istituto universitario di architettura di Venezia’ (IUAV) from the late 1940s. He died in Japan at the age of 72.
Carlo Scarpa is known for his instinctive approach of materials, combining artisanal techniques with modern production methods. His architecture is tightly linked to Venice, but it is also influenced by the Japanese culture and numerology. He was obsessed by details, such as the relationship between floor and walls. Time and time again, he wondered where one had to end and the other had to start.
He has a very recognizable style, even though I find it very hard to describe. I will therefore limit myself to some keywords which pop up in my mind when I think about this work: concrete, steps, tiles, square, grey, water and levels. I doubt whether you can now imagine it with your eyes closed, but the pictures might give you a clue. Of course, the best thing is to follow this walk and see it for yourself. If you prefer eloquent narratives about Carlo Scarpa, you can find plenty in the book ‘Dream of Venice – Architecture. The texts written by his former colleagues, students or architects-fans read like a homage and are accompanied by stunning pictures.
While most of his work is located in the Veneto region, he also made designs of landscapes, gardens, and buildings for other regions in Italy, as well as in Canada, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France and Switzerland.
This walk around Venice will take you to his most important realizations. We will start at the Ca’Foscari University, pass the Accademia Galleria to go the Olivetti shop on San Marco. The second part of the walk is almost entirely in Castello, with the Fondazione Querini Stampalia and different works in and around Giardini. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for the hidden beauty of Venice while you walk from one place to another.
The Ca’Foscari University is based in a beautiful 15th century palazzo in Dorsoduro. The Aula Baratto on the first floor is the showpiece of the university. It opens onto Canal Grande and used to be very popular for parties. In 1936, Carlo Scarpa transformed it into the main auditorium of the university. His typical style can be recognized in the wooden windows, but especially in the furniture and the marble stage. Originally, the bustes of Mussolini and Emmanual II were presented on the marble pillars, but these have been removed. The painting ‘Venice, Italy and Scholarship’ of Mario Sironi, which dates from the fascist era of the Italian government, is however still hanging on the wall. In 1956, the auditorium was converted into a smaller hall for lectures, again by Scarpa. The woodwork that separates the corridor from the auditorium is a real gem. The Aula Baratto can be visited as part of a guided tour or by attending a lecture. More information on the Ca’Foscari University and the tour can be found in my posts ‘Why you will never forget your visit to Ca’Foscari’ and ‘Dorsoduro: An amazing tour of intriguing architecture’.
2. Galleria dell’Accademia
(Campo della Carità, Dorsoduro 1050)
The Galleria dell’Accademia is located next to the wooden Accademia bridge. It used to be the Santa Maria della Carità convent, until it was transformed into the Galleria in 1806 by the Napoleonic administration. The museum shows the development of classic Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries, with works by Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto (see also ‘Where to find the most stunning masterpieces of Tintoretto’), Veronese and Canaletto among others. Between 1945 and 1959, Carlo Scarpa worked on restoring the building and setting the new exhibition area. His intervention consists essentially of small elements such as new stairs, new panels to hold the paintings and new panels to guide the visitors.
INSIDER TIP: After you cross the Accademia bridge in the direction of San Marco, take a rest at one of the terraces on the Campo Santo Stefano. My favourite is the Art Blu Cafè, the first one on your right hand side in the yellow house. It’s simple, but perfect for a glass of prosecco and a pizza while you spy on the crowds walking by and enjoy the sun. We have been going there for more than 10 years and we stop there almost every time we pass by. (Campo Santo Stefano, San Marco 2808)
3. Negozio Olivetti
(Piazza San Marco 101)
The Olivetti showroom in the old Procuratie building on the Piazza San Marco was transformed by Carlo Scarpa in 1957 and 1958. He changed the long, dark alley into a light, comfortable place. He added windows, created transparencies in the interior and used artificial lighting and glass tiled floors to reflect the light. The marble staircase in the back of the showroom is a real eye catcher. You can admire some of it from the outside, but if you want to have a decent look, you should really go inside. The changes in colour of the mosaic floor (red at the main entrance, blue at the side entrance, yellow at the rear and white in the central area) will certainly surprise you. The Negozio Olivetti shows the company’s historical collection of typewriters.
4. Fondazione Querini Stampalia
(Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 5252)
The historic residence of the noble Querini family, who were amongst the first founders of the city of Venice, was given to the city of Venice by the last descendant Count Giovanni. It has been redeveloped as a cultural center thanks to Carlo Scarpa and the other famous architects Valeriano Pastor and Mario Botta. Carlo Scarpa worked from 1961 to 1963 on improving the entrance and the courtyard.
The first thing you notice at the Querini Stampalia, is the flow of water from the canal into the palazzo. It surprises you from the outside and lures you inside to take a closer look. When Carlo Scarpa was asked to address the problem of the flooding of the palazzo during acqua alta, he created different levels and internal channels to allow the water to run inside without damaging the building. He turned the water into an attraction instead of a burden.
The marble mosaic floor in the entrance hall seems to have been put there at random, without any pattern at all. It is however beautiful, even though, or maybe because, the combination of different colors and mix of L-shapes and squares doesn’t make sense. They are put in a pattern similar to the one used by Athos Bulcão, a collaborator of Oscar Niemeyer, in Brasilia and Belo Horizonte.
Carlo Scarpa also redesigned the ancient courtyard at the back of the palazzo. He created a similar construction as in the front with different levels, where fresh water could flow and irrigate the grass. The concrete walls of the inner garden are decorated with a line of colored glass tiles.
If you want to know more about the Querini Stampalia or other points of interest nearby, you can read my post ‘Castello: Mark this hidden gems on your map.
INSIDER TIP: On your way to Giardini, make sure to stop for a coffee or a Venetian beer at Serra dei Giardini. The beautiful Serra Margherita was built in 1894 to host and protect the palm trees and other decorative plants of the Biennale. It was also used for the production and propagation of plants to decorate the municipality flowerbeds in Lido and Venice, as well as the Venetian aristocratic ballrooms. This former greenhouse has now been transformed into a bar, annex meeting place annex cultural center. You can sit inside or outside on the grass. It’s a quiet area where you won’t notice the crowds you just left behind you. (Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi, Castello 1254)
5. Sculpture garden
Carlo Scarpa designed the sculpture garden for the central pavilion of La Biennale di Venezia in 1952. The pavilion itself was designed in 1932 by Duilio Torres. The little garden is located in the back of the pavilion, near the library. It isn’t clearly indicated, so you might have to locate it on your map. Alternatively, you can follow the stream of people going through the only door to the outside. The courtyard is rather bleak, but the geometry of the construction is a good example of the typical Scarpa style. You can only visit it during events organized by La Biennale or if you visit the library.
6. Pavilion of Venezuela
In 1953, the Venezuelan commissioner for the Biennale asked Carlo Scarpa to design a pavilion for Venezuela in the public gardens (Giardini) of Castello. In January 1954, the design was approved, but it took until 1956 before it was completely finished. The form is simple and is conceived as three volumes sliding against each other. It has a typical 60s feeling to it. Similar to his other works, the pavilion is realized in rough concrete. The pavilion was in quite a bad shape and has recently been restored. You can only visit it during the Art Biennale or Architecture Biennale, when the Venezuelan organization takes part in the events.
7. Ticketing booth
When you exit the Giardini grounds towards the lagoon, you will find a small ticketing booth on your right hand side. It looks like a small pavilion and is built with a mix of concrete, iron and wood. The booth was designed by Carlo Scarpa for the 26th Venice Art Biennale in 1952 and was used for many decades. Even though it was completely restored in 2004, it is no longer in use. It has been replaced by a series of modern booths at the other side of the gate.
INSIDER TIP: Before you move on to the last step of the walk, take a seat at In Paradiso, next to the ticketing booth. You can choose to sit under the trees, but my favourite place is outside the gate with the view on the lagoon. They often have art exhibitions inside which you can visit for free. By now, it’s probably time for the spritz happy hour or to order a meal. Enjoy! (Giardini della Biennale, Castello 1260)
8. La Partigiana
(Riva dei Sette Martiri, Castello)
When you return towards the historical center, you will notice a bronze sculpture of a woman with her hands tied, lying in the water of the lagoon. This sculpture represents the women of the resistance and was created by Augusto Murer. The base was designed by Carlo Scarpa and dates from 1961. It is made from concrete with copper plates, and is surrounded by an irregular field of concrete stones with varying heights. This was my first encounter with Carlo Scarpa and I have admired it many times, even before I ever heard of the name Scarpa.
This is the end of the walk, but there are plenty of other works of Carlo Scarpa all over Venice. I have marked some of these on the map above so you can explore them on one of your other walks around Venice: the entrance of the Architecture university building at I tolentini (near Piazzale Roma), the wall to the left of the San Sebastiano church, the interior at Ca d’Oro, the spiral staircase at Casa Balboni or some elements in the Correr Museum.
If you can’t get enough of the works of Carlo Scarpa, here are 3 additional tips. 1. The beautiful book ‘Carlo Scarpa’ has been published by Robert McCarter and includes more than 350 photographs, sketches, and architectural plans. It’s ideal to browse at home before or after your trip to Venice. 2. You can buy one of the 200 books on Carlo Scarpa which are available via Amazon or one of the books from my list ‘The architecture of Venice captured in 8 books’. 3. If you would like to dive even deeper into the architecture of Carlo Scarpa, you will certainly like the digital archive with many drawings and pictures from the Castelvecchio museum in Verona, which has also been restored by Carlo Scarpa.
Enjoy your walk!
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