Archive for June, 2011

Churches, Venice

San Giorgio Maggiore, Palladio

Venice has a rich tradition of ecclesiastical architecture. The dome of the nearest church is never far on the horizon. Ironically, some of the best buildings are outside the city limits, on the island of Giudecca.

Buoyed by his success elsewhere in the Veneto, Palladio moved to Venice in the mid-16th century. Two of his most famous commissions, San Giorgio Maggiore (1565) and Il Redentore (1576-77) are located here.

Il Redentore, Palladio

Palladio’s churches solve the problem of designing a facade to fit the basilican cross section. A taller temple front, with four Corinthian columns, covers the nave; whilst a low, wide pediment fits the aisles. The churches exploit the Renaissance dome, but do not result from central planning. Columns on the exterior are replicated indoors, with barrel vaults forming the structure. Palladio’s crisp, monumental churches contrast with more decorative architecture found inside Venice.

First published in 1570, the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (four books of architecture) are Palladio’s legacy. The collection contains accurate drawings of Palladio’s own designs and reconstructions of Antiquity. The books have proved useful to many famous architects, including the British architect Inigo Jones, who used the Quattro Libri as his guide for a journey to Rome.

Santa Maria della Salute, Baldassare

Another remarkable Venetian church, Santa Maria della Salute (began 1631), sits at the southern end of the Grand Canal. To commemorate the Plague, Longheno Baldassare designed an octagonal church in the Baroque style. The central plan, in the form of a rotunda, depicts Mary as the Queen of Heaven. Views within the church are carefully controlled. Arches serve to frame vistas outdoors to the Grand Canal, whilst allowing passers-by to view the altar. Like the Teatro Olympico, lighting is designed to enhance the spectacle. Structural elements are picked out in grey stone, contrasting with the white-washed walls behind. Externally, the facade is decorated with elaborate scrolls. Baldassare’s dome can been seen from many parts of Venice, contributing to the city’s picturesque skyline.

Santa Maria della Salute, from the Ponte dell'Accademia


Ponte di Calatrava, Venice

Ponte di Calatrava, Venice

Ponte della Constituzione, better known as Ponte di Calatrava, opened in 2008. The bridge spans across the Grand Canal at its most northerly point, linking Santa Lucia railway station with the car, bus and ferry terminal at Piazzale Roma. From its inception, the project has polarised opinion, with proponents describing the structure both a ‘carpet of light’ and a ‘lobster’ respectively.

Santiago Calatrava’s design investigates rhythm and transparency. The 94 m single span bridge is achieved using a futuristic structure of glass and steel, which rises from 3.45 m to 9.38 m at the centre.  Stairs are made from toughened glass and istria stone. Each ascending tread becomes progressively wider, forming a curve perpendicular to the span direction. Bronze handrails nimbly vault the Grand Canal, whilst glass panels enclose the bridge deck without obstructing views. At night, illumination in the handrail and beneath the decking, turn the structure into a ribbon of light.

View South along the Grand Canal

Commissioned in 1999, the Ponte di Calatrava is the newest bridge in the city to be constructed in more than 70 years. Venetians first spanned the Grand Canal at Rialto in the 16th century. The Scalzi and Accademia bridges followed later, in the 1930s. Calatrava, a Spanish architect, is well known for projects that fuse Architecture and Engineering, including the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, and the Tenerife Concert Hall. Although Calatrava has designed over forty bridges worldwide, he believes this his ‘most beautiful’, declaring it ‘an act of love to Venice and of love to Italian civilisation in general’. Aside from linking two important districts, the bridge forms a symbolic gateway to Venice, where visitors leave behind road traffic and enter the domain of vaporetti, motor boats and the gondola. The vista South, along the Grand Canal is particularly key to this transition. The architect believes Venetian bridges ‘serve as landmarks, points of definition in an urban fabric that is utterly unique’. Alongside its function, the bridge has acted as a catalyst, regenerating  the canal side. For example, the abutments provide seating and allow access to the new vaporetto landing stages.

Bridge abutment

Although hailed as ‘the  most important architectural achievement in recent decades’, the Ponte di Calatrava has come under much criticism. The project was completed late and came in four times over budget. Construction had to be halted for two years, due to uncertainty about stability of the canal banks. A further criticism was the lack of disabled access. During the design process, it was always assumed wheelchairs would use the existing vaporetto connection to cross the canal. (Retrofitted lifts have now been installed). The bridge was finally unveiled in September 2008.

As a piece of design, the Ponte di Calatrava both contrasts with and complements its historic context, successfully functioning as the gateway to Venice.

Big Bambu, Mike + Doug Starn

Big Bambu, Venice Biennale

Recently on view at the 54th Venice Biennale, Big Bambu is a remarkable experiment in art and structure. Located next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the 50 feet hollow bamboo tower supported a pathway to a 20 feet wide rooftop lounge. The Stairns employed a team of 11 rock climbers to continually build and support the evolving structure, throughout the exhibition period of May 29th to June 15th. Mike Stairn comments “It is a sculpture – but not a static sculpture…growth and change remain inevitable. Furthermore, the sculpture is a physical construct that embodies the philosophy of inter-dependence within natural systems. Doug Stairns adds, “Everything depends upon one another and the loads are distributed throughout…There is not too much weight applied to any one thing.” A previous exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2010), proved popular, being rated the 4th highest attended contemporary art exhibition in the world. Hopefully the success of Big Bambu will inspire similar projects.

Aerial Pathway

Getting Hitched: simple roped connections

The Teatro Olympico, Vicenza

The Teatro Olympico

Billed as the first permanent covered theatre of the Renaissance,
the Teatro Olympico forms a unique blend of architectural spectacle and drama.

In 1579, the Olympic Accademian society asked Palladio to create a
new theatre on the site of Vicenza’s former city prison. His response considers
Classical theatres, as described by the Latin writer Vitruvius, and his own
archaeological investigations. Presented in 1580, the design is constructed
from an ellipse, with sunken orchestra pit, and a grand loggia behind the
seating. The frons scenae (stage wall) marks new construction away from the
existing prison fabric, and frames remarkable perspective scenery. Above, the
auditorium ceiling is painted with sky.

For the inauguration in 1585, the Accademians chose to perform
Sophocles drama, Oedipus Rex. This was seen as the ultimate Greek drama to be
staged in a strongly classical setting. After the death of Palladio in 1580,
Vicenzo Scamozzi (1552-1616) stepped in to design the stage set. Resembling the
city of Thebes, the scenery fits into a 12 metre space behind the stage wall. A
sloped floor and buildings of diminishing scale mean that actors appear to retreat
down one of the three streets. The perspective illusion is enhanced by
positioning hidden lights in the wood and plaster scenery. In front, a
chequered marble floor allowed the director to accurately place characters. The
stage wall contains statues of the patrons who provided finance for the
project. It serves as the setting for a palace, with the foremost area of stage
replicating a city piazza.

On the 3rd March 1585, 3000 patrons attended the
inauguration. By all accounts it was a moving performance.

Villa La Rotunda, Vicenza

La Rotunda, Vicenza

One of the all time architectural greats has to be Palladio. A recent trip to the
Veneto region of Italy allowed me to see his work at first hand.

Andrea Palladio was born 1508, in the town of Padua. He originally trained as a stone
mason, before being sent to Vicenza, where he was mentored by Giangiorgio
Trissino. A two year stay in Rome allowed Palladio to collect accurate
information on the proportions of classical buildings, which he later explored
in his own work. Palladio was fascinated by Bramante, Raphael and classical
Rome. He also benefited from new translations of texts by Vitruvius and Alberti.

After winning a competition to remodel the Palazzo della Ragione, Vicenza, Palladio
built a steady career designing country villas. These grand estates were owned
by Venetian nobles, providing them with an additional income. Palladio had
already become skilled at incorporating agricultural functions such as livestock
stabling, hay storage and grain threshing into a single building. His designs are
often sited on a low hill, with a central living block and symmetrical end pavilions.
By adding Greek temple fronts to his villas, Palladio believed he was mimicking
Antiquity. In fact, he was doing something completely new. Harmonic ratios,
based on intervals in music, enabled Palladio to achieve mathematical
perfection between wall thickness, plan dimensions and room height.

The Villa Americo Capra (1566-70), known as La Rotonda, is perhaps the most famous
Palladian villa. Commissioned by a retired churchman, the villa is located on
the outskirts of Vicenza. The owner lived elsewhere, using the property for
agriculture and entertaining guests brought from the town. Palladio created a
square plan villa, with a large double-storey rotunda at the centre. Each face
has an identical portico, making the building appear the same on every side.
Internally, harmonic proportion and symmetry decide the layout and size of the
corner rooms on the main floor. Stucco and rich frescoes complete the interior.
To Palladio, pure geometric forms (such as the square and
circle), use of symmetry and proportions represented his idea of architectural

Dance Centre, Barcelona

Firstly, here’s a little self promotion! My final project in second year involved designing a comunity dance centre within a city square, located in the Barcelona contemporary arts district. The project references surrounding sites, splitting the square into an active side, used for outdoor performance, and a resting square facing a retirement home.

Composed from a simple language of studio volumes, roof canopy and frame, the design places emphasis on permitting/restricting movement through building facades. Interior and exterior social space interpenetrate, forming a boundary condition that protects and shades observers. In the studios, relation to the external environment is through the roof, creating a volume for dancing. High quality material finish ensures these are uplifting spaces.

An Introduction of Sorts

Canal bridge in Venice

Canal bridge in Venice

Welcome to my blog. As an Architecture student, based at the University of Edinburgh, I am passionate about Architecture, its history, and the world of design in general. My mission is to inform and entertain, ranging from the web-surfing public to those in the profession. Thought provoking posts will offer a window on the ‘delight’ to be found in our built environment. Architectural design has a strong impact on our everyday lives, providing the setting for work, rest and play. Like the backing score for a successful film, we can often choose to ignore architecture completely, or only recognise when good design is absent. With this blog, I am asking you to spend more time exploring our built world, discovering its merits and history. The journey will include plenty of interest, facts, and some things to make you smile.