Venice is known as a mysterious city – ancient masterplanning combined with car free roads and flowing waterways makes it unique and around 20 million tourists every year seem to agree with that. Thanks to it’s geographical location it has always been a stop point for tradesman from all around the globe. Venice has been a centre of art and culture and exchange extends far beyond the material goods.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is one of the largest and most noticeable buildings in Venice and its presence in the city has been remarkable since it was built in 13th century. It is just steps away from the Rialto bridge, the oldest of the bridges spanning across the Grand Canal. The central location justifies the buildings original purpose – as a commercial trading centre. It has undergone several use changes since it was initially built as a warehouse and marketplace for German merchants, then was used as a customs house under Napoleon and most recently served as a post office under Mussolini.
The original Fondaco was destroyed twice by fire and rebuilt in it’s current form in 1506 using classical Roman principles, although it has gone through many alterations since then. To bring the life back to the building the Benetton family commissioned OMA to create a department store like no other. The project was led by OMA partners Rem Koolhaas and Ippolito Pastellini Laparelli and project architects Francesco Moncada and Silvia Sandor. Fondaco dei Tedeschi established a monument status in 1987 therefore any interventions to the building had to be carefully considered.
“OMA’s renovation scheme is based on a finite number of strategic interventions and vertical distribution devices that support the new program and define a sequence of public spaces and paths. Each intervention is conceived as an excavation through the existing mass, liberating new perspectives and unveiling the real substance of the building to its visitors, as an accumulation of authenticities” said OMA.
Existing entrances into courtyard have been retained and new entrances to the shopping centre were created from the Rialto and Campo San Bartolomeo. An additional floor made of steel and glass hovering over the internal central courtyard doubles up as events / gallery space together with a provision of roof terrace which offers spectacular views of Venice. The roof terrace and events pavilion will be open to public and accessible at all times, hosting series of exhibitions and events, such as talks, screenings and concerts.
New beautifully crafted lifts together with grand red-hued escalators with wood panelled sides allow visitors to create routes around the building. The red escalator can be glimpsed through the inversed arch cut-out in one of the terracotta toned partitions, which was one of the main alterations to original structure. The simple yet beautiful lift doors with oversized red buttons gradually change colour from floor to floor varying from oxidized black to bright brass, uniformly blending with the 4th floor, which is clad in brass and mirrors.
9000 square meters of carefully balanced new and old, revealing the history and celebrating the exciting future of the building. It has now become a common approach to renovation, but was a revelation when first introduced by Carlo Scarpa. An influence of Scarpa’s work can be seen in Fondaco dei Tedeschi – from the use of materials such as terrazzo and brass to beautifully crafted individual display cases.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is an important new landmark for both Venetians and tourists. OMA’s extraordinary yet subtle renovation has opened another chapter for a building that has gone through so many transformations. The new carefully considered interventions together with traces of the original building create an understanding of the historic and contemporary structure and its original and current purpose.
Words: Lina Viluma