14 October 2014
Whenever Venice, the city, is brought up in a conversation, all one could think of is its unique architecture. A floating city entirely built on a wooden foundation is a constant mesmerizing factor. Its individuality is a feature that cannot be dismissed. Typical Venetian houses flank the lagoon and Grand Canal with a very specific architectural identity that gives the city its particular aesthetic. Made essentially out of brick or stone with layers of sand and mud, each house has a similar set of windows and a layer of paint that starts high above the ground level as well as a few doors directly on the water passages. But there is more to this fascinating city, hidden gems of modern and contemporary architecture that can only be found by keen seekers, such as the Junghans Theater, several residential buildings in Giudecca and the Constitution Bridge.
The view of residential buildings at Guidecca’s entrance Hidden away from any direct contact with lightheaded tourists visiting Venice lies the Junghans Theater in Giudecca, totally separate from the Venetian mainland. As you walk through the typical Venetian alleys flanked by the typical residential architecture and once you arrive in Giudecca, you suddenly face the southern side of this island, an area filled with contemporary architecture. Having a totally different language than the one before, visitors cross a threshold of a modern bridge that prepares them for what lies ahead. With curved exterior walls, glazed facades, extended steel beams and circular windows, the Junghans Theater definitely stands out in its environment. Originally opened in 2005, it is considered the latest addition to the collection of Venetian theaters and now houses the Academia Teatrale Veneta, the original school of theater studies. Large extended balconies wrap around the building, a feature rarely seen in typical Venetian architecture. Fully glazed parts of the building allow a large amount of natural light to infiltrate the building as well as give an exterior-interior relationship. With asymmetrical elevations and steel beams creating canopies and railings for plantations, the architect’s clear intention was for it to stand out. The only connection that it might have with the original Venetian architecture is that the façade is made out if stone, a weak attempt in connecting it to the basic architectural element of the island.
Modern Bridge that leads to the Junghans Theater
Curved façade of the Junghans Theater
Glass façade of the Junghans Theater
Located in the same square or “campo” in true Italian fashion, many residential buildings continue the same contemporary aesthetic. The key buildings that stood out were the G1-G2, E1, A2-A3 and D Residential buildings all designed by Cino Zucchi Architects (CZA). Due to having facades made out of the same materials, the G1-G2 and E1 residential buildings in Guidecca have the closest resemblance to Venetian architecture. Made out of exposed brick at the bottom and painted brick at the top, the E1 building continues an important aesthetic in Venetian homes. However, the G1-G2 building has it reversed, with the exposed brick being the upper part and the addition of glass boxes as entrances and curved punctures in the elevation, finished in concrete. Despite the windows varying in size and aligned asymmetrically, they still maintain the importance of the rectangular form found throughout the city of Venice. Both buildings have that distinct difference between the ground level and the rest of the building, a continuation of the “piano nobile” notion found in all Italian houses. In contrast, the A2-A3 and D buildings are characterized with an unusual architectural style to the city of Venice. Slightly similar to the Junghans Theater, these two buildings cannot help but be noticeable amidst their surroundings. Although the architects decided to keep the main form of Venetian windows, their panels slide to the side rather than protrude and fold to the exterior or move vertically. The finish of the facade is concrete with a certain highlight to the windows, either with a white paint border in the D residential building, or with the cladding on the windows in the E1-E2 building. Other elements further alienate the building from its environment such as the introduction of a courtyard with a very distinct form in plan or frosted glass doors that lead to the interior.
E1 Residential Building
G1-G2 Residential Building
Also known as the “City of Bridges,” Venice is famous for its endless number of bridges, varying in all sizes and forms. However, the bridge that stands out entirely is the Constitution Bridge or Ponte della Costituzione, which connects Piazzale Roma and Santa Lucia train station. Being the fourth pedestrian bridge to cross the Grand Canal, it is designed by the Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava and was inaugurated in 2008. It is mostly made out of modern materials such as exposed and painted steel as the structural skeleton, frosted or tempered glass for the steps with the exception of the use of marble in certain zones, an attempt to create a relationship with original Venetian materials for bridges. Even though it takes after an alienating fluid form in contrast to its neighboring bridges, the architect has managed to come up with a design that makes the bridge sit in its surroundings gracefully. With its exposed bolts and structural mechanisms, the Constitution Bridge embodies the true meaning of contemporary architecture, closely relating function and aesthetic. Its sleek nature and minimalism makes it easy on the eyes in spite of choosing the color red for the steel skeleton. Despite it having a comfortable slope, many Venetians have slipped on this bridge’s steps due them being made out of glass, which might get slippery during the rainy season in the winter. This caused certain uproar while installing it that lead to a delay in its completion, among other reasons such as its modern architectural style and difficulties in transporting the prefabricated parts and their installation.
Constitution Bridge details
Almost everyone knows the typical Venetian architecture, either its common residential style or Gothic palaces in Piazza San Marco. However, your average tourist will not explore Venice far enough to come across its modern masterpieces of architecture, such as the Junghans theater, Guidecca’s residential buildings and the Constitution Bridge. Although the buildings discussed are entirely different from typical Venetian architecture, even in height, they don’t really disturb the harmony of the existing environment by standing higher than usual or by being painted in a distinct color. In certain cases, the classic alley lighting of Venice is installed on the modern buildings in Giudecca, attempting to relate these buildings to their surroundings. Even though they are aesthetically completely different, they are tucked away behind the real architecture in Venice. In a sense, it forces visitors and tenants, in its own way, to appreciate the existing architecture and not dismiss or diminish its value. Architects showed their sensitivity to the existing structures in their surroundings by continuing the use of typical Venetian building materials, which might be more successful in some cases and not in others.