Veni, Vidi, Venezia: a photo contemplation with a twist

Venice, in order not to sink, will need to take up its historical function of a microcosm once more, and it will be the testing ground for radical experiments of solutions.

by Anne FeenstraPublished on : Apr 12, 2022

I barely told half of what I actually saw. These are the famous words Marco Polo uttered in 1324, just before he passed away in Venice. The written account of his unique journey made him famous, but many believed it was all fiction, fantasies of a wild man. Marco, his father and his uncle, after their homecoming, were found to have a smack of Tartar both in air and accent, according to Polo expert Prof. LF Benedetto[1]. We will never know really, but we can surely imagine Marco’s expansive spectrum of impressions and experiences he encountered while travelling the world between 1271-95.

Constitution Bridge by Santiago Calatrava (2008) Santa Croce, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Constitution Bridge by Santiago Calatrava (2008), Santa Croce, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Sunlight reflects via Canal Grande water on the underside of Rialto bridge, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Sunlight reflects via Canal Grande water on the underside of Rialto bridge, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Sketch of four types outside Venetian shutter doors; four timber shutters and metal grills, San Polo, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Sketch of four types outside Venetian shutter doors; four timber shutters and metal grills, San Polo, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra

Today, most visitors to Venice come from all over the world, to submerge themselves in stereotypical tourist behaviour. They blindly follow the tick-off-the-box list they were promised when their agent booked their visit[2]. Clueless un-cultured gazes at the San Marco square follow the cheesy must-click pictures on the Rialto bridge. Even on a cold November rainy day, you can see rich foreign couples in open gondolas, not having the curated romantic moment they longed for. Perhaps, I thought, they will later watch one of the four James Bond movies shot in the city.  

Art work in restaurant garden Al Giardinetto, Castello, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Art work in restaurant garden Al Giardinetto, Castello, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
IUAV Library Special section with its centuries-old roof beams, Santa Croce, Venice; Outside structure of the Chilean Pavilion (2021), Arsenale, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
IUAV Library Special section with its centuries-old roof beams, Santa Croce, Venice; Outside structure of the Chilean Pavilion (2021), Arsenale, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Cartoon window painting bar Canton, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Cartoon window painting bar Canton, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra

My own itinerary, for the first half of my stay in Venice, veered towards academics. I met up with Prof. Hans Skotte and his Norwegian Professors colleagues as we prepared for the NTNU PhD jury[3] at the Arsenale during the last days of the Architecture Biennale 2021. Next was delivering a lecture at Prof. Benno Albrecht's[4] famous School of Architecture, the IUVA. During the questions, for me always the most interesting part, the New European Bauhaus[5] initiative came up. Albrecht had written to me about this initiative, but it had only become alive, as I intensely experienced the intricate interplay of lagoon water, timber pilings and stone slabs in the first days in Venice.

As a Dutchman, who lived many years in the historic canal cities of Delft, Utrecht and Amsterdam, this context was very familiar, but the ambition levels expressed by Jacopo Galli were impressive. He told me at IUVA’s Ca Tron building: The lagoon city exists only thanks to strenuous interventions and strategic planning, continuous care and administrative courage. Venice, in order not to sink, will need to take up its historical function as a microcosm once more and it will be the testing ground for radical experiments of solutions. This condition of permanent risk now applies to the whole planet, which is experiencing the first effects of a climate and environmental crisis that will radically alter lifestyles and social models. This is a much bigger challenge than figuring out where 'the next bridge over the Canal Grande'[6] will come. Can Venice make the necessary ecological transition, by making the slogan Form Follows Planet effective? Can the lagoon become a laboratory, with a dynamic group of thinkers, environmentalists, designers, artists, scientists, and filmmakers coming up with long term future scenarios?

Poster of Maria Callas ‘lettere e memorie’ by Monica Bellucci, teatro Coldoni, San Marco, Venice. The 1947 performance in Venice, at the tender age of 24 by the NYC-born Maria Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos (Greek parents) was important for her career | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Poster of Maria Callas ‘lettere e memorie’ by Monica Bellucci, teatro Coldoni, San Marco, Venice. The 1947 performance in Venice, at the tender age of 24 by the NYC-born Maria Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos (Greek parents) was important for her career Image: Anne Feenstra
Ave Aalto, detail Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto (1956), Giardini, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Ave Aalto, detail Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto (1956), Giardini, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Ave Scarpa, detail Sculpture Garden of the Central Pavilion by Carlo Scarpa (1952), Giardini, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Ave Scarpa, detail Sculpture Garden of the Central Pavilion by Carlo Scarpa (1952), Giardini, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra

The second part of my visit was an attempt to go beyond the obvious, to sail away from the crowded waterways. I tried to figure out what lessons we can already learn today from a city without cars, motorcycles and scooters. Be it the hotel’s laundry, the restocking of restaurants, the complete waste management, the police, ambulance, taxis, everybody uses a boat as it is, besides walking, the only mode of transportation. I also wanted to use the Modern Venice Map[7] by Marco Mulazzani to take a different plunge into the deeper modern architectural layers of Venice. Besides the massive amount of traditional and historical architecture, the city which rejected Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright has ample contemporary design to offer.

Communist party office door, Castello, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Communist party office door, Castello, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Emergency entry for boat ambulance of the Ss. Giovanni e Paolo civil hospital, Cannaregio, Venice; Entry hall of the Ss. Giovanni e Paolo civil hospital (1505), Cannaregio, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Emergency entry for boat ambulance of the Ss. Giovanni e Paolo civil hospital, Cannaregio, Venice; Entry hall of the Ss. Giovanni e Paolo civil hospital (1505), Cannaregio, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra
Two windows of the Santa Maria Formosa church (1492), Castello, Venice; Detail of a copper-clad door Santa Maria Assunta (1728), Cannaregio, Venice | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Two windows of the Santa Maria Formosa church (1492), Castello, Venice; Detail of a copper-clad door Santa Maria Assunta (1728), Cannaregio, Venice Image: Anne Feenstra

During my exploration walks, Amitav Ghosh’s vivid descriptions in his novel Gun Island[8] came to mind. He was in a search for Bengali connections and interacted with climate refugees from the Bay of Bengal. At a certain point, he sails into a docking station with the ambulance boat to get his friend Cinta admitted. They take the Northern emergency entry of the civil hospital at Fondamente Nove and later find the Bengali Rafi already being hospitalised there. I also ended up here, while I was following a speeding ambulance boat in the evening. Not in need to visit friends or acquaintances, I could take ample time to see the living heritage (1505) of the Ss. Giovanni e Paolo civil hospital’s south-facing main entry and study the pattern of a copper-clad door nearby. 

Changing rooms at the Adriatic sea, Alberoni beach, Lido | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Changing rooms at the Adriatic sea, Alberoni beach, Lido Image: Anne Feenstra
Adriatic sea shells on Alberoni beach, Lido; Artwork on the wall of changing rooms at the Alberoni beach, Lido| Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Adriatic sea shells on Alberoni beach, Lido; Artwork on the wall of changing rooms at the Alberoni beach, Lido Image: Anne Feenstra

Once on the island of Lido, the public transportation boats get assistance from public buses. I used these, as I had become curious to see the November beach and visit the small town of Chioggia. Off the beaten track[9], hospitality and tourism have not taken over here from the traditional livelihood of fishery. As there is less tourism madness, I felt like taking time to make a few hand sketches. Historically, the town was in the middle of a dispute between the great maritime republics of Genoa and Venice. In the Naval War of Chioggia (1378-81)[10], Venice came out as the winner, and there is still a bit of a dislike between its residents. But rivalries are better set aside as all of the lagoon islands and towns; Murano, Burano, Torcello, Vignole, Sant’Erasmo, Giudecca, Lido, Alberoni, Pellestrina and Chioggia are all in need of the New European Bauhaus. To find the most creative solutions of resilience and adaptation for their own future existence.

Art of drilling, the interior harbour of Chioggia | Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Sketch of the Vigo bridge over the Canal Vena, Chioggia; Art of drilling, the interior harbour of Chioggia Image: Anne Feenstra
Radicettio vegetables in a yellow basket, Corso del Populo market, Chioggia| Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Radicettio vegetables in a yellow basket, Corso del Populo market, Chioggia Image: Anne Feenstra
Sketch of four inverted buttresses which allow the upper floor footprint to be more than the ground floor footprint. Calle Muneghette, Chioggia; Bakery product looks like dragon fruit, Chioggia| Venice | Venezia | Anne Feenstra | STIRworld
Sketch of four inverted buttresses which allow the upper floor footprint to be more than the ground floor footprint. Calle Muneghette, Chioggia; Bakery product looks like dragon fruit, Chioggia Image: Anne Feenstra

References:-

[1] Ricci Aldo; The travels of Marco Polo, London, 1931; Translation of Prof. L.F.Benedetto’s Il Milione, Florence, 1928.
[2] Pre-Covid annual visitors are five million (2019) as compared to the 60,000 inhabitants of Venice.
[3] Ass. Prof. Cecilie Andersson from the Bergen School of Architecture and Prof. Markus Schwai from the NTNU, Trondheim are also on this jury.
[4] He became the head of IUVA as ‘Il Rettore’ in 2021.
[5] http://www.iuav.it/INTERNATIO/STUDENT-LI/news/2021/new-europe/index.htm
[6] Santiago Calatrava designed the first to be built bridge over the Canal Grande in 75 years.
[7] My map came from the bookshop of The New Institute, Rotterdam ISBN 978-1-912018-95-6 incl. photography of Alessandro Chemollo, published by Blue Crow Media.
[8] Ghosh, Amitav; Gun Island published by Penguin Random House India, 2019.
[9] Chioggia is not even mentioned in Lonely Planet’s Italy, 2010 edition
[10] https://www.britannica.com/place/Chioggia 

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