The Guilds of Venice

Yesterday Nana and I introduced our design studio at the Kingston School of Art Department of Architecture and Landscape. We return to Venice, more or less, every other year, and this is an ‘on’ year. This is what we’re up to:

This was not so much Death in Venice as the death of Venice, a gorgeous ruin we have chosen to shore up —no longer a productive city of watching, scheming, inventive, restlessly alive Venetians taking on the world, but of multilingual fixed menus for passive consumers of a culture every bit as dead, every bit as alluring as that of ancient Egypt. Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian, 2004

As parts of Europe fragment, many countries find themselves, or would like to find themselves, fracturing into either their ancient constituent countries (UK, England, Scotland, Wales, perhaps Cornwall, for example) or even into independent city-states, much as medieval Italy used to be. Studio 2.2 proposed, two years ago, that encouraged by these changes, and some 219 years since losing its thousand-year independence to Napoleon, Venice had proclaimed itself, once more, an independent republic: La Nuova Repubblica di Venezia (NRV). Migrants flocked to the NVR and, because of Venice’s shrinking population, were made welcome. This year we build on that scenario:
The growing population of the New Republic of Venice needs new, or at least revitalised, institutions to cope with the influx of recently arrived energetic and predominantly youthful inhabitants. Venetians, new and established, look to the ancient Scuole: both the Scuole Piccole – a form of trade guild and the Scuole Grandi – charitable foundations with strong artistic pretensions. Both of these organisations combined roles in the social life of the city with its less tangible, perhaps even, spiritual life. In both cases, but especially with the Scuole Grandi, these aspects were manifested in bold architectural forms following clear urban and internal forms and typologies.

In Semester 1 we will be looking at the Scuole Piccole. Not many of them had their own building, but here are a couple that did:

SPFig.1  Scuole Piccole

In Semester 2, with our students, we will be asking, what would a contemporary Scuola Grande be like, what would or could it do? With our help, and using Venetian and wider precedents, they will decide what kinds of institutions the New Venetian Republic with its new and old inhabitants needs. Here are a couple of the better know Scuole Grandi:

SGFig.2  Scuole Grande

We have invented a scenario which is not fanciful, which is rooted in clear and present political realities and which considers the architectural implications of those realities. In the same sense your buildings will also not be fanciful; instead we encourage sophisticated material, formal and theoretical responses to place, history and community. We disagree with Jonathan Glancey, Venice is not a dead, museum city – it is alive and kicking.

The image at the top is my quick analysis of Scuola ‘type’ at an urban scale, but the Scuole also follow an internal pattern closely tied to their programme. Fig.3 shows three of them.

Pages from Studio2_2_2018-2019_Presentation

Fig.3  Scuole Grandi–floor plans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s