Architecture and art are inextricably linked in Venice, as indeed are the surviving architectural styles. Our Contemporary Venice Tour, a professional-guided urban trek, focuses on the architectural and places the accent decidedly on modern and contemporary. So while you might be temporarily seduced by the various masterpieces of Mauro Codussi (1440-1504), Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) or Baldassarre Longhena (1598-1682) along the way, your Venetian architect-guide will be gearing up to centuries XX and XXI, from Carlo Scarpa onwards.
What’s to see? Here are our suggestions, making their way more or less west to east on the main island (itself composed of 118 tiny islands or thereabouts… who’s counting?).
Main access point Piazzale Roma is a good place to start, not least because two conspicuous wholly-contemporary projects live at this address. One is the graceful if controversial arch of Santiago Calatrava’s Ponte della Costituzione, more commonly and prosaically known as the Calatrava Bridge. It opened for the business of crossing the Grand Canal at this focal point in 2008, after off-site construction in steel, glass and Istrian stone. The other is an addition by C+S to the Law Courts on the opposite side of the square, a compact geometrical volume reflecting the style of Venetian industrial buildings and the height of the huge car park next door, and wholly clad in pre-oxidised copper.
On the Grand Canal, in the historic district of Santa Croce, is Cà Corner della Regina, a superb seventeenth-century palazzo and the Venetian branch of the Fondazione Prada. The Milanese fashion house has been hosting contemporary arts events there (curated by Rem Koolhaas) since 2011, all the while restoring and adapting its small but exquisite share of the Venetian heritage.
Beyond the Rialto bridge and still on the shores of the Grand Canal, where Venetian nobles of yore vied to build the most magnificent family seat, is another arts foundation in another splendid palace. Palazzo Grassi is synonymous with the Fondazione François Pinault, which commissioned Tadao Ando in 2005 to restore neoclassical rooms for its collection and plan contemporary display spaces. The same maverick architect overhauled the Foundation’s second, stunning space, Punta della Dogana, a complex of monumental parallel warehouses on the triangular point at the other end of the Grand Canal, with a fascinating project to save it from water damage and forge unique exhibition halls.
Having jumped the Canal down to the Dorsoduro district for Punta della Dogana, we really should take a look at that temple of Venetian painting, the Gallerie dell’Accademia, and the renovations by Tobia Scarpa completed in 2013 which have doubled the museum area. And then wander down to the Fondamenta delle Zattere (where Venetians stroll and take one another’s measure while soaking up the views of La Giudecca across the water) for a rare spot of modernism in Casa Cicogna alle Zattere (Ignazio Gardella, 1958).
Back into San Marco now for Museo Mariano Fortuny, a favourite among natives. It’s dedicated largely to the fascinating life and works of the Spanish artist and his partner and muse Henriette Nigrin who worked and then lived here, one way or another, from 1898 until Fortuny’s death in 1949. It hosts contemporary art shows too. A stone’s throw away is La Fenice, Venice’s iconic opera house, rebuilt after a devastating fire in early 1996 to conservative plans by Aldo Rossi, and reopened in 2004.
Cà Giustinian of the majestic halls and design furnishings, HQ of the Biennale, lies at the very end of the Grand Canal, just short of Piazza San Marco. Its repair and revamp were completed in 2009. And on the square itself is the unmissable Negozio Olivetti of 1959, designed by Carlo Scarpa. A masterpiece of modern architecture, it’s also a design museum with a priceless collection of Olivetti typewriters and calculators.
We’re getting towards the eastern end of the island now – but not quite the end of our list.
Yet another arts foundation lives on splendid Campo Santa Maria Formosa: Fondazione Querini Stampalia. In a fascinating architectural complex, part of which dates back at least to the 1500s, are the sumptuous living quarters, library and collections of this venerable Venetian family, alongside twentieth-century interventions by Carlo Scarpa (1963), Valeriano Pastor (1982 to 1997) and Mario Botta (1994).
And not far away is the Arsenale, a Byzantine complex of shipyards and armouries founded at the very beginning of the twelfth century and undergoing complex, long-term restoration. 50,000 square metres of it, half indoors and half out, are now one of the a stable venues of the Biennale.
And last, but only because it’s over on the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore (actually it is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore) come the architectural wonders in the care of another – you guessed! – no-profit cultural institution, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. The complex consisting of church and Benedictine monastery was built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to plans by Andrea Palladio, Giovanni and Andrea Buora and Baldassarre Longhena. Vast contemporary exhibition spaces have been forged in lesser buildings, including a museum dedicated to the art and history of glass-making by Annabelle Selldorf, Le Stanze del Vetro (2012).
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