National Pavilion UAE - First Impressions of Venice / By Khadija Al Mulla and Amal Murad
  • First Impressions of Venice / By Khadija Al Mulla and Amal Murad

    Venice, usually described as the city of lagoons, is a very unique city in terms of its architecture and urban development. Some might say that in order to “keep the city alive”, more modernity is required to preserve and maintain the state it is in. We, however, feel that what makes Venice so special is its authenticity and its peculiarity as a whole. The most prominent elements that make Venice so distinct, in our opinion, is the texture of the aged walls and the juxtaposition of water and land that pushes you to maneuver your way around the city. Throughout this essay, we’re hoping to highlight our fascination with Venetian architecture and the right balance between the graceful nature and geometric complexity that it possesses.

    It becomes very clear that Venice has its own identity. Regardless of modernity creeping its way into architecture around the world, Venice retains its individuality. St. Mark’s Plaza, for example, is considered the city’s main symbol, embodying a mixture of spaces, volumes and styles: the Procurator’s residence, the bell tower, the Doge’s Palace and the Sansoviniana Bookshop. Although it might look modern and contemporary, people have gathered there since the 9th century. It was constructed as a small square dotted with trees. Today, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions that still holds true to the culture and history of Venice. Historically speaking, Venice’s architecture is a combination of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Moorish architecture influences. The Byzantine influence is apparent when observing the churches around Venice and the complexity of their domes.

    What is intriguing about the Venetian Gothic architecture is the desire for lightness and grace in structure. Although Venice can feel quite claustrophobic as you walk through the narrow alleyways, there’s something very special about the feeling of proximity and interconnectedness amongst its neighborhoods. In contrast to the urban conditions in the United Arab Emirates, you quickly get a sense of a cohesive scale of buildings in Venice, somewhat unified in shape and size.

    It is important to point out that we, as interns, have both studied different majors in university. This diversity in backgrounds allows us to share our different outlooks on Venice; and subsequently appreciate things the other might not notice. For example, as an Interior Designer, you’ll notice elements such as the spacing and lighting. On the other hand, as a Multimedia Designer, you recognize the importance of interactivity and navigation.

    Collectively, after having lived here for a week, we have somewhat scratched the surface of this beautiful city. There are endless features to be discussed but what is most important in our opinion is Venice’s authenticity in both architecturally and historically. From the framing of the doors, to the parallel houses all the way to the bridges that help you cross the canals; these nooks and crannies all play a role in making Venice the endearing city that it is today.

    Modernism and its application differ greatly from one region to another. Many countries struggle to find a balance or identity of its own while falling within the lines of being “modern”. In some areas such conception can be viewed as repetition and identical to all places of which many try to avoid as well, including Venice.

    The definition of contemporary has been redefined in an authentic and historical city such as Venice, it still carries a certain amount of identification regardless of the modern notions of architecture nowadays. Some claim (Kusch & Gelhaar, 2014) that the idea of urban planning such as using the canals on the lagoon instead of present and common rail road is innovative and “modernistic” in itself despite the methodology of transportation. In my opinion, the functionality of Venice in itself is quite modern and ageless since its inception, the planning is so amiably profound until now that the city knows it cannot be drastically changed or fully renovated just yet. Many architects who tried to influence the state with a call for modernism in design were not able to realize projects such as the Palazzo Film Festival and Ex-Umberto Ground I.

    Nevertheless, Scarpa notably has contributed to the perception of Venice’s spirit; an apparent example would be the Fondazione Querini Stampalia where the interior reflects clear understanding of the Venetian taste. He kept it simple but redefined a few elements such as the shutters and also used local materials such as Istria stone and the brick masonry. Another structure is the IUAV (University of Architecture Venezia) where the color of wood and brick embrace the warmth of the institution. While IUAV’s laboratory contradicts the façade and language of the original building- it does not fit as a unit since the laboratory has approached a seemingly cubical design with minimalist touch of neutrality instead of shutters and masonry (ironically- the fort and the tower structure is similarly close to Al Bastakiya’s barajeel).

    Apparently, modernism crept its way into the city after World War I when Miozzi introduced the Ponte Della Libertò Bridge and connected the areas around the Grand Canal. Later came Gallerie Dell’ Academia, Scarpa’s design, as well as terminals and trains which enhanced Venice’s new identity. One can also find a clear division of what is viewed to be modern and traditional Venice in some of the residential areas such as Junghan’s or Giorgio Maggiore’s (in Giudecca mostly) suburbs profoundly preserved the historic elements or rules of architecture but at the same time gave a different aspect of design to the distinguished city. The differences seen are the usage of materiality on the walls (clean paint rather than bricks) and the placement of “shutters” as the new buildings tend to have a unique sense of position on a single wall. A stronger distinct change would be the Palazzo Grassi by Tadao Ando in which he used his usual trademark: concrete. Clean cuts and slides are stretched all over the place, an unusual addition to the Venetian textures. In our opinion, Venice should be kept as it is without having any drastic alterations made to the city. Renovation might be called for but elimination is out of the question.

    The most convincing part of all this is that despite the irregularity of new design meshed with the maintained and preserved ancient gothic façade, there is still a sense that the entire state functions as an entity in sync.

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