Rem Koolhaas and his colleagues at OMA spoke briefly about the restoration and rebuilding of the Venetian former post office and previously wholesale warehouse Fondaco dei Tedeschi for the Benetton’ s real estate company (Edizione Srl), a Veneto region billionaire family from Treviso. The occasion has been the presentation of a luxury and extralarge, and really heavy, book that will be in the bookshops since next October 3rd. It speaks of the what we will see in a short time (after October 1st) in real proportion by entering the building beside Rialto Bridge – the most rumoured restoration in town.
The affaire Fondaco is the one that has been whipped with lots of art for the convenience of more than one: the local Heritage council getting cocky by the name of the archistar; the architects delusional of the client and viceversa, breaking up drawings and so many truths surrounded by an incredible – and sole – misunderstanding (the initial one, the one of the buyer of the building, who made a bargain and maybe never had in his radar to manage it).
A full theatre was welcoming the discussants at the book presentation. Koolhaas must love very much Scarpa’s building where it is located and where he presented a book by Renata Codello few years ago: he defines Querini Stampalia building as ‘the most coherent example of preservation in which symbolism, interpretation of local qualities and materials are combined to create an unconventional unicuum’. He put this restoration against the ones he tells are just preserving facades but are brutalising the interiors. Apart from the entrance procedures where the curious citizens were preferred to the infield specialists, we tell below either about the book and a bit about the conference where the Dutch architect had to be translated by his collaborator and to receive from him translations of at least the conclusions of the other speakers, the inexorable Dalcò and colleagues authors that were not speaking in English.
If soporific and uselessly doctrinal, the presentations of the essay writers of the volume (in Italian for a volume we would have loved international for a monument that has been international since its edification), the Koolhaas’ specch has been short and gave quite good remarks (more spicy given the whispered friction between the client and the architect).
This speech can be also called a last rescue system, of course, because Fondaco we will enter for the first time on October 1st (press and VIP have been already visiting it during a two days opening ending today), is a mall managed by a duty free agency part of the Luxury LVMH group by Arnauld (that in the city has already the Espace and is contending, with a total different approach, the commercial and cultural presence with another French-‘Venetian’, Pinault). Koolhaas does not sign also the interior design and, a part the fact is having doubts on the contractual agreements (maybe) of the affaire, likes to stamp his periods on the ‘I’ as possible in order to do not have impure paternities.
We ask ourselves on which side is the publisher in this affaire – the publisher who is printing and distributing the book, Electaarchitettura, and the one of the architecture, Edizione Srl, both different by the real user that makes his business and is just thinking to that – and from the conference we did not get their positions clearly.
Koolhaas told about Fondaco first in English translated by his right hand in Italy, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, that was also his half during the Architecture Biennale he curated but ended to leave the entire speech to Ippolito just in Italian to shorten the times.
Koolhaas tells that ‘preservation’ todays does not go flat on ‘restoration’ because ‘heritage’ today can be also something born today that becomes a monument for various reasons.
The stories and the history of the discipline as it has been studied by OMA for this case, are different from the traditional ones and what interested them has been to give back, as a whole, the different souls of the building that have been produced at least after two important restorations happened in its long history dating back 1200. The Renaissance one around 1500 and especially the ‘brutalist’ one of the XIXth Century when it has been transformed in a post office, followed by a prolonged abandonment (in the between, the Napoleon’s restoration that made Fondaco a custom office). The XIXth Centory restoration was using lots of nude concrete, that he loved and highlighted, beside to add volumes (for service spaces) that of course required additional concrete.
The OMA architectural signature included also the reinforcement and the valorization of all the materials could be saved from the abandoned building (as to restore the last storey and to restage the ceiling of the covered terrace) by adding metals with controlled and diverse oxidation patinas who giving, according to them, lots of modernity to the building (we speak of brass, so criticized for the possible bling bling effect by local and rushed press: in some cases it has blue colour).
The Fondaco has been build by Germans for Germans, it has been originated as a place on the other side of the Alps and it is the same now. It has been owned by a ‘stranger’ and had a series of foreigner architects since its birth. It has been a place for wholesale commerce and it comes back to that after being neglected for years (as Koolhaas told, the sketch idea was born in a class of architecture he was holding at Harvard University on 2009, but its official start is on 2013 and with lots of polemics leading the Dutch architect to change the beloved performing and almost gyroscopic staircase, his favourite creature). Who buys Fondaco is a family of the Venetian mainland that moves on the idea to cash immediately its investment by maybe betting also on the selection of which archistar signature to call.
I leave you to read – within and beyond the book – the, varied and different, shorts of this story. The only steady plan on which to base is that Venice is hovered in its inexorable decline and none, Fondaco included, will save it.
Back to the book with a stunning graphic design and the overwhelming weight (around 2,4 kg: every guest received a gift copy of it at the talk), it opens up with a very touching preface by Gilberto Benetton – the mainland owner who repeatedly walks into the place in ruin and then when Poste SPA ask for bidders to buy, he makes his offers and win because it has been the sole to participate to the acquisition).
Fondaco’s roots, its fundamentals, are intertwined as he says with Rialto Bridge itself. This has been restored by another ‘son’ of the mainland, the Veneto Region boss of OTB, Renzo Rosso. It has been the cheapest adv campaign on ‘be stupid’ ever paid in the world, by calculating the figures of 30 million/year tourists passing under the Diesel banners over the arcs of the bridge and the other thousands ways the company used the restoration for its branding.
If you’re interested about history, Elisabetta Molteni tells (in Italian) about the story of the Fondaco, just after the Benetton’s preface and over more than 67 pages the conclusions are banal and, I summarize, say that architecture is not of who designs it but of those living it, it is not enough the name of the archistar to carve it.
Dal Co delves into a conspicuous shaker of history – with very pretty quotations by Marx – and by figuring some ‘paradoxes’ (which personally I did not get). In the practical parts of his essay, he tells about the start of the friction OMA/Edizione, 2014, when the client sells the management of the place to the Arnault’s company (we did not yet quoted it, it is DFS). The executive OMA design dated back only one year before (and was seriously limited about the most genious ideas, as the mobile staircase that could ‘raise’ to leave, when it was occurred, the court free by spatial constraints. And a ‘tank’ as a terrace, not the super-altana that has been approved. Bot the spaces are the ‘public’ areas of the Fondaco that DFS should leave all the time of the year to the city).
Dal Co, obsequious, reminds that the Fondaco will be also degenerated from interiors and furniture others will sign, assigned by DFS: where the interiors an initial assignment by OMA? The question remains open because we did not yet get what happens on the assignment when Edizione sells the management to DFS.
Finally, from page 105, the design section (in English) of the volume about Fondaco restoration starts (the strategy book by AMO has a ‘magazine’ look whose logo lettering reminds a bit the one of Flash Art). There are all the pictures from the working site and the ones of the accomplished building (very nice the Delfino Sisto Legnani’s one), beside any architecture plan and lots of historical pictures. Of course this is the section of the publication where to find datas, beside the history of the interpretation of a space and of a city, by considering the context of the building – the topic and the phenomenological and the social.
Venice is a city where there is not a square (and none covered by a performing glass and iron ceiling ‘a la Zumthor Vals Therms free block technique enriched with a computerized lighting that looks after a court whose new flooring is a series of strips of Verona red marble and Istria stone). Yes, of course, there is a ‘piazza’ in the city and is the main one, San Marco Square, that is even more carved to the low guts of the trade and the low tastes of curators much more of what Fondaco will be, especially if we think back to the horrible carnival stages every year are placed in San Marco without any single shout of the Heritage Council, they should be in a paid vacation for that.
Venice is a city where there are not yet ‘democratic’ terraces (we do not event think the Fondaco one will be democratic). If you cannot afford hotels, rich dinners and stunning Redentore parties, there is not a terrace with a view that is affordable and the few ones shut down one after the other. By returning on the design side, last but not least OMA selected Viabizzuno for the lighting.
On 9159 squared meters in total, 2657 are not commercial even if enclosed in the mall. And the Fondaco became a mall because on a row of possible alternatives as a luxury hotel or a foundation for culture, OMA suggested to Edizione to make a mall. Useful and wished either by locals and by tourists. In the architect’s intentions, this must be a must give the city residents are overwhelmed by the quantity of tourists. In any case, as Koolhaas states in the final part of the very short preface he writes for the volume, the project did not reach his maximum potential. And that will be not him to be recognized in that ‘paraphernalia’ will open, an extravagant mean to serve shopping appetites of ‘rich tourists’.
In a way also Koolhaas loves some paraphernalia, I remind the one that closes to navigation the Grand Canal during the opening nights of his Biennial given the movement of a special pontoon at the Fondaco. Sinister coincidence or grandeur?
Anyway, Koolhaas wanted to experiment in Venice after Fondazione Prada in Milan his idea of ‘preservation’: to red and make alive the sequence of changes in a life of a building. And, in term of strategies for the public side of Fondaco, he designed it as a ‘condenser’ where curators (of any discipline) will alternate each season (as what happens to Prada but more rationae materiae). And also he designed an anonymous competition to win your moment of glory to curate an event there. We believe that LVMH, a wide luxury group that has other reference architects (as Gehry, around ten years older than Koolhaas) and other curators, by considering what the Foundation and the Espaces present around the globe.
We have visited the Fondaco yesterday and we will speak about the interior design and the architecture in other articles because here we wished to review the big and nicely designed architecture and history book.
We liked many features of the building and of the interiors and as well as many others not but this is not the point: we think OMA/AMO were not right for Arnault and viceversa. They were like far and dissonant grammars. It is a shame for Gilberto Benetton: he had (and has) Fabrica (that can be a good cultural producer), he did as the other Serenissima people, he gained after his investment (he is an entrepreneur not a sponsor, it’s right) and gave the building, better the monument, to the foreigners. He was not yet feeling a Doge from Treviso, he prefers more business oriented toward ports, airports and automation. Beside, of course, fashion. And he prefer the world scale, rather than the small and crowded Venice with its cheap 50 cents merchandise all around his (former) luxury mall.
‘Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venezia, OMA. Il restauro e il riuso di un monumento veneziano’
Authors: Francesco Dal Co (IT), Rem Koolhaas (EN), Elisabetta Molteni (IT)
Euro 40, 17×24 cm
Release: October 3rd, 2016
Picture cover: Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the panoramic terrace, ph. Alessandra Chemollo – courtesy the author and Electaarchitettura