“I want to see things. This is the only thing I can relate to” -Carlo Scarpa.
Scarpa is best known for his instinctive approach to materials, combining time-honored crafts with modern manufacturing processes and his intuitive ability for reimagining museums and public spaces.
Through his seminal works, he has redefined ‘preservation,’ ‘conservation,’ ‘restoration,’ ‘renovation,’ ‘intervention’ and ‘reconstitution.’ Scarpa’s hyper intensive use of simple devices or ideas to create art stems from his influences of Venetian tradition and Japanese sensibilities.
Let us take a look at 15 of his projects.
1. Olivetti Showroom, Venice
Located on the northern edge of Piazza San Marco, Scarpa masterfully transforms a long, dark alley into a light, comfortable retail space. The brief was to spatially translate the company’s reputation for its attention to design in manufacturing typewriters and calculators. He used glass windows to improve transparencies and to blend the exterior with the interior. The stunning marble staircase, floating weightlessly, catches the eye with its bespoke artistic metal details. Changing colors and sizes of Venetian smalti mosaic used for flooring captures the spirit of the water’s iridescent surface. The thoughtful composition of the materials and textures’ juxtaposition makes up this Pop Minimalist interior.
2. Aula Baratto, Palazzo Ca’Foscari, Venice
The popular party-venue Aula Baratto, was transformed into the main auditorium and later into smaller lecture rooms. Scarpa innovated the delicate wooden paneling that separated the hall and external corridor using new diagonal shapes such as Y-shaped crutches. The furniture and the marble stage are very recognizable as typical Scarpa style.
3. Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice
The historical residence of the noble Querini family underwent redevelopment as a cultural center with Carlo Scarpa working on the entrance and courtyard. He converted the burdening inflow of water from the canal at the entry into a design feature by using multilevel water basins made of copper and alabaster. The marble mosaic floor, randomly designed with different colors and a mix of shapes, added to the chaos of the ever-mutating intimate atmosphere. A cherry tree, magnolia, and pomegranate dot the unique courtyard at the back of the palazzo, attesting Scarpa’s love for Japan.
4. Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona
Carlos Scarpa restored this 14th-century fortress by designing a new approachable museography. He skillfully guides the visitor throughout the exhibition without a hitch via an ingenious succession of spaces. He excavated sections of the medieval structure, exposing its foundation and designed concrete platforms to hold objects. Sensitized detailing of doorways, staircases, furnishings, and fixtures enhance the user experience. His contemporary layer of interventions keeps the history active and relevant in the present.
5. Brion-Vega Cemetery
Touted as an ‘Architectural story,’ an example of ‘narrative architecture,’ Scarpa practices minimalist elegance in this 2000 sq.m project. The cemetery consists of two main buildings – the tomb and the meditation pavilion in a garden. He has attempted to create poetry in architecture, which is evident in the iconic double circle, two intertwined rings symbolizing love and encounter. The tomb is an evocative place, a garden where the water and the forms assumed by the combination of different materials such as concrete, metal, marble, glass, guide visitors toward a calm reflection on the transient nature of life.
6. Palazzo Attabelis, Palermo
Scarpa refined his creative museography in this 15th-century noble building. He ordered the rooms in chronological succession and expertly arranged the works exhibited. The paintings, artifacts, sculptures, and statues displayed in innovative techniques create a dialogue.
7. Sculpture Garden, Castello
The garden designed for the Venice Biennale plays with light, shadow, and water. The canopy, supported by three massive elliptical columns, looks like a rectangular roof with three circles subtracted from it. The sensual geometry screams of Scarpa’s signature.
8. Pavilion of Venezuela, Venice
He designed a simple form, conceived as three volumes sliding against each other in Castello’s public gardens. The 60-s building possesses the expressive power of construction and materials (majorly rough concrete).
9. Casa Tabarelli, North Italy
Constructed on a foundation of five parallel concrete slabs embedded in the hill, 3000 sq. Ft house appears almost suspended. Asymmetrical roof mimicking the mountain peaks is a series of undulating, overlapping platforms. The exterior covered in thick, textured concrete to endure harsh alpine winters erases the distinctions between inside and out. It invades the interior with almost every room opening onto a private garden. The choppy, rough texture of the quartzite stone floor and the pastel rainbow of glossy stucco Veneziano in the ceiling is testimony to Scarpa’s mastery in materials and textures.
10. Casa Zentner, Zurich
With restrained, almost musical elegance, this 6000 sq.ft house overlooks Lake Zurich. His tryst with calibrated contrast of materials continues with the concrete base ribboned with Murano glass tiles, top floor cladding of African hardwood Afzelia, exterior edges lined with brass plating, and the exterior walls coated with soft tinged stucco. Small, subversive details like a floating step leading to the dining, light fixtures that slide into deep wall recesses give insight into his ever-innovating pursuits.
11. Casa Scatturin, Venezia
Scarpa created it as an office and home for a lawyer named Luigi Scatturin. He segregated the space according to use: law offices in the front, common areas in the middle, and private quarters in the back. Most of the apartment walls are coated with a labor-intensive application of the Stucco Veneziano. The eight-foot-high ceiling accentuated by sponge-painted cement layer ocher, brick red, and bluish-gray shades produces exciting patterns as the light pours through wooden casement windows.
12. Casa Ottolenghi, Bardolino
Set in the hills of Valpolicella on the eastern edge of Lake Garda, the house takes shape from the natural terrain and the nine seemingly haphazard structural pillars built with cement, Prun, and Trani stone. These pillars support the habitable roof, shape the living spaces, and highlight height differences between living areas, kitchen, dining room, and bathroom.
13. Casa Veritti, Udine
The design promotes a close relationship between the interior and the exterior, with every route or opening in the house overlooking the garden. Instead of typical straight walls, Scarpa has employed cylindrical walls and sliding doors to ensure spatial continuity. Spread over two floors above ground, an elegant wooden staircase connects this freestanding single-family unit.
14. Gavina Showroom, Bologna
Messy and divided by load-bearing walls, the space intended for Gavina showroom was a hardware store. Scarpa reshaped the place entirely and designed the iconic large round windows on the exterior facade, which became a unique place in the urban panorama.
15. La Partigiana, Venice
Augusto Murer created a bronze sculpture of a woman with her hands tied, lying in the lagoon’s water representing women of resistance. Carlo Scarpa designed the base with concrete and copper plates and positioned the sculpture at a lower height than the observer. An irregular field of concrete stones with varying height surrounds it, drawing focus on the object at the display.
Scarpa’s yearning for radical beauty over practicality had made him a controversial figure of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the skillfully seamless mix of ancient and modern – buildings, objects, and furniture handcrafted in stone, wood, forged metals, stucco, and glass is garnering reverential attention from the Architectural fraternity in the present.